Turkey: Scholz meets Erdogan – but the initial visit is under new auspices
Antalya When members of the federal government travel to Turkey, they often meet members of the opposition and representatives of civil society. None of this is on the agenda when Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) visits Ankara on Monday – and that is a sign of how relations between Berlin and Ankara could change.
The talks remained without concrete results, the bloodshed continues. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently stated that he had taken positive developments from the trilateral summit. There could be movement in the matter – but the federal government is threatened that it will lose touch.
Several European countries and NATO had already sent their top representatives to Turkey over the weekend to find out about the course of the meeting.
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Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had already spoken with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, as well as with numerous foreign and defense ministers from the EU and other countries, including the Venezuelan foreign minister. Even three representatives of the Taliban from Afghanistan were present at the meeting.
No member of federal government at diplomacy summit
With the exception of its ambassador in Ankara, the federal government had not sent anyone on an official mission to the meeting. “More than 2,500 foreign guests accepted the invitation, but unfortunately only a few from Germany,” criticized former Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who had traveled to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, among other things.
>> Read here: The new Erdogan – from splitter to mediator?
He considers the talks between the two foreign ministers, Lavrov and Kuleba, to be important, but at the same time calls for a rethink of German energy policy. “We thought for too long that there would be a peace dividend in energy policy,” criticized Gabriel to the Handelsblatt. “Now it’s clear: Russia has taught us better.”
Gabriel described Turkey’s strategy towards Russia as wise. The country has refrained from sanctions against Russia since the beginning of the war, thus keeping a channel of communication with Moscow open. “Anyone who blindly criticizes the waiver of sanctions has not understood Turkey’s geopolitical situation,” which differs fundamentally from that of Central European countries, explained Gabriel.
Meanwhile, Scholz is receiving support from the opposition. Armin Laschet, former CDU candidate for chancellor and now the party’s representative for Turkey, believes that the federal government’s course on Russia is the right one. “In particular, Robert Habeck’s rational strategy of not completely stopping German raw material imports from Russia overnight to protect our jobs in industry is to be welcomed,” said Laschet in an interview with the Handelsblatt. Laschet met, among others, the Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and the Luxembourg chief diplomat Jean Asselborn.
“The fact that the Ukrainian and Russian sides met at all under Turkish moderation is a great diplomatic achievement,” says Laschet. “Even if the result is frustrating, the basis for further talks has now been created.”
During his visit to Turkey five days after the summit, Chancellor Scholz is likely to try to hastily introduce the official German position into a possible further negotiation process between Russia and Ukraine. Apparently there is no time for talks with the opposition or human rights organizations.
From the founder of the state to the head of state and back to Berlin
At 3:30 p.m. local time, Scholz wants to lay a wreath at the grave of the founder of the state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and then go straight to Erdogan. After a subsequent discussion with journalists, the plan is to board the plane back to Berlin.
Discussions with the Turkish opposition or representatives of civil society, which is normally a must for European politicians in Turkey, are not on the agenda. Unusual: After a new federal government takes office, the foreign minister is usually responsible for inaugural visits to partner countries. But Annalena Baerbock has not yet been to Turkey – Scholz is coming alone.
A protocol detail that speaks volumes. For at least five years, German Turkey policy was aimed at denouncing abuses in human rights. And there are still enough cases.
In January, the Federal Foreign Office officially demanded the release of entrepreneur Osman Kavala, who worked with the Goethe Institute, among others, and has been in prison since 2017. Last week, a Turkish journalist was sentenced to more than two years in prison for insulting Erdogan – without naming him.
Normally reason enough for public protest from Berlin. But now Scholz is coming to listen to Erdogan. To find out how the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine went. And to bring the German position into the debate before it’s too late. Scholz should certainly not appear as a petitioner. But definitely as someone who now has to negotiate with Erdogan on an equal footing.
Pressure from NATO
Pressure is also coming from partners in the EU and NATO. Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, called on Germany to adopt a more active foreign and security policy and wants to cooperate more closely with the Bundeswehr.
Pabriks is convinced that such cooperation could close important gaps in the European security architecture. “In the 21st century and with such a threat right on our doorstep, I think it’s time to adjust the outdated German world view.” In view of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, he demands a sober view from Berlin. “Germany is slowly waking up.”
Erdogan could take advantage of this situation. The Turkish president is a man of power and registers diplomatic subtleties like a seismograph. It cannot be ruled out that he will use the situation to address his own issues alongside the Ukraine conflict. For example Turkey’s sluggish EU accession process or the EU-Turkey refugee pact, which has still not been fully implemented. In addition, Erdogan has long been demanding that the sea borders in the Aegean be redrawn – to the detriment of EU member Greece.
More: Russia threatens counter-sanctions