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Shanghai organization: Erdogan’s new friends

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During the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan last week, a photo of a group of men enjoying themselves appeared in Turkish media. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev, Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko and other participants during a break.

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For Erdogan supporters, the picture from the city of Samarkand was proof of their country’s global importance. For critics of the Turkish president, on the other hand, it symbolized the country’s drifting into the autocracy camp.

After the summit, Erdogan announced that he wants NATO country Turkey to join the Russian-Chinese-dominated SCO – a victory for the so-called Eurasians in Ankara. They distrust the USA and Europe and advocate a reorientation from West to East.

Arm in arm with Putin

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Erdogan personally also seems to have enjoyed the trip to Uzbekistan: Video recordings showed him arm in arm with Putin – Erdogan doesn’t get along with any Western head of state or government as well as he does.

Erdogan is certain that Turkey’s special position will pay off. Ankara supplies combat drones to Ukraine, but at the same time maintains close contact with Moscow. While the West is imposing sanctions on Putin’s government, NATO member Turkey is increasing its trade with Russia.

Turkey’s exports to Russia shot up almost 90 percent in August compared to the same month last year.

Connection to the non-western block

Erdogan sees Turkey’s accession to the SCO as an opportunity to join a non-Western bloc, which would increase the country’s geostrategic importance. The move is intended to open up new markets for the crisis-ridden Turkish economy. For the SCO, which sealed Iran’s admission as the ninth full member in Uzbekistan, accession would be an asset. But it’s not that far yet.

Economically, Turkey is firmly integrated into the West. America and Europe make up seven of the ten largest buyers of Turkish exports. The country exports ten times as many goods to Germany as to China.

Ankara cannot expand trade relations with SCO countries such as Russia at will: Europe and America are already warning Turkey that, as a partner of Russia, they could get caught up in the sanctions maelstrom. Even China is wary of trade with Russia.

Confidious Alliance

Politically, too, the SCO world is not as conflict-free as the photo from Samarkand suggests. Putin failed in an attempt to enlist the support of Chinese leader Xi Jinping for his campaign against Ukraine.

The economic and military weakening of Russia as a result of the war shifts the balance in the SCO in China’s favour. Two other SCO members – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – engaged in heavy border fighting during the meeting.

As a SCO member, Turkey may eventually find itself forced to choose between its NATO allies and its new friends. Russia wants to expand the Shanghai organization into a military alliance and has proposed joint maneuvers for the coming year. According to the European think tank ECFR, Moscow sees the SCO as “a kind of anti-NATO”.

In the service of their own electorate

It is very unlikely that Turkey will renounce the Western alliance’s promise of assistance and entrust itself entirely to Russia.

Rather, Erdogan wants to impress his voters with his flirtation with the SCO, strengthen his relations with Putin and increase his threat potential against the West: Look, we can do things differently.

New friction between Ankara and the USA and Europe is foreseeable – but the SCO is not a realistic alternative to the West for Turkey in the foreseeable future.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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