The contrast in Turkey’s relations with France and Russia

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Turkey and France are at odds on geopolitical issues relating to the Mediterranean region. The two governments are not on the same wavelength in Syria and Libya.

According to some French diplomatic sources, one of the reasons for the tension is Turkey’s “Islamic inclination”. The French authorities are increasingly irritated by Ankara’s activities towards Turks living in France.

But when you look at European nationals who have been radicalized and have gone to join extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), only a few of them are Turks living in Europe. In this sense, officials sent to Europe by Turkey’s religious affairs directorate, Diyanet, could be seen as a factor in preventing radicalization.

There is no doubt that the profile of these officials during the two decades of governance of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has changed and the activities of some of them could be seen as contrary to the way of life. “Secular”, which means that they could disturb the public. order in France.

While some independent Turkish observers might find some truth in this view, Turkish diplomats believe that the tension between Ankara and Paris is purely geopolitical in nature, the claim stemming from French diplomatic failures in Syria and Libya. What infuriates France is that its tactical and strategic moves failed in both cases directly due to Turkish intervention.

In Syria, the French choose to support the country’s Kurdish faction, considered by Turkey to be the illegal Syrian wing of the PKK, to fight ISIS. Turkey claims that any support, especially military, to the YPG / PYD poses a threat to national security, even if it is supposed to be used against ISIL. Indeed, who can guarantee that these weapons will not or will not be used against Turkey? Ankara’s military operations in Syria were a game-changer, and when Turkey secured a US military withdrawal (albeit limited), French soldiers were left behind. Blame NATO or blame US President Donald Trump. But will things change if Trump loses the election in November?

In Libya, France gave itself a losing hand by supporting a warlord. Paris secretly helped arm and train Khalifa Haftar, who challenged the UN-backed government in Tripoli. Everyone is aware of France’s double game, starting with Italy, whose interests are directly threatened. However, it was not Italy, but Turkey who came to spoil the match. Why?

France has the great advantage of capitalizing on Turkey’s bad image because it is increasingly seen as a government “with an Islamic tendency”. There is no doubt that Turkish actions such as reopening Hagia Sophia as a mosque will reinforce this image.

France could therefore just as easily use the propaganda that Turkey is trying to support fundamentalist Islamic groups. The problem here is that Turkey has offered assistance to a government backed by the United Nations. And for the most part, Turkey was just looking to get out of the corner where it squeezed in the eastern Mediterranean when Egypt, Israel, Greece and Greek Cyprus united against Turkey to explore the region’s natural resources.

On the other hand, although they present themselves as the rival of the Islamists, Haftar’s supporters are not exactly secular warriors, while they have also committed crimes against humanity. In any case, it seems that the atrocities committed in the fight against Islamist terrorists are considered as collateral damage, because the crimes of pro-government military forces supported by France in the Sahel have not elicited a reaction. France’s policy in West Africa has only fueled support for the Islamists, according to Human Rights Watch.

In the eyes of Turkish diplomats, France’s policy is less about fighting the Islamists but more about maintaining its eroding presence as tectonic shifts occur in the Middle East and Africa.

In a recent article, Didier Billion, of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, underlined the remarkable contrast in Turkey’s relations with Russia and France. While Turkey and Russia are on the opposite side in Syria and Libya, and despite occasional but very serious crises, they avoid direct confrontation at the political level, remain open to dialogue and work together in Syria and Libya.

Why can’t the two NATO countries do the same? One would expect the French free press to ask this question more often and seek answers.

However, an article by the editorial director of Le Monde Sylvie Kauffmann in the New York Times avoids asking this question while displaying a myriad of contradictions.

“On the one hand, Turkey, as a member of NATO, is part of the very alliance it is disrupting. On the other hand, Russia has also expanded its role in the region and most Westerners are largely hesitant to get involved there.

It does not explain how Turkey is disrupting the alliance, as its presence in both Syria and Libya hinders the growing role of Russia, which actually serves NATO interests.

“Turkey is bringing Syrian mercenaries to Libya,” she writes, but forgets to mention French missiles found in Haftar’s hands or French support for Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to help Haftar.
Complaining about Trump’s indifference and Europe’s inaction, she ends the article by saying that Europe will likely wait quietly for November 3.

If Paris thinks things will change drastically under a Biden administration, it means betting on the wrong horse based on the flawed analysis that has become the norm, rather than the exception, in French diplomacy.

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