Oct 27, 2021 - World

The view from Ankara: Expulsion threat is sign of things to come

Erdoğan at the UN.

Erdoğan at the UN. Photo: Timothy A. Clary-Pool/Getty Images

The standoff over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threat to expel 10 Western ambassadors has ended in an expensive draw with short-term political gains.

Why it matters: Erdoğan’s nationalist posturing appeared to be intended to please his voters and divert attention from domestic troubles at a time when public support for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is eroding.

Driving the news: On Oct. 23, Erdoğan said he'd ordered the Foreign Ministry to declare the ambassadors of 10 European and North American countries, including the U.S., as “persona non grata."

  • That came in response to a joint declaration from the ambassadors of those countries urging the release of jailed philanthropist and businessperson Osman Kavala, in line with a 2019 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Erdoğan claimed that the statement, which coincided with the fourth anniversary of Kavala’s detention on terrorism and espionage charges, was a violation of Turkey's sovereignty.
  • If Erdoğan had followed through in expelling the diplomats, it would have prompted one of the worst diplomatic crises between Turkey and its Western allies since the AKP came to power in 2002.

Behind the scenes: The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted intense negotiations over the past week to avoid such a crisis.

  • Finally, they managed to get a deal.
  • Erdoğan backtracked, and the 10 foreign embassies released a statement on Monday reiterating their commitment to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — i.e. the duty of non-interference in a host country's domestic affairs.

Between the lines: The 10 countries are among the largest investors in and trading partners for Turkey's battered economy, and the de-escalation prevented another economic shock after the Turkish lira hit a record low of 9.85 against the dollar on Monday.

  • More crises can be expected between now and the 2023 elections as Erdoğan seeks to consolidate the AKP's base of nationalistic voters.

What’s next: The Council of Europe may begin the disciplinary proceedings against Turkey by Nov. 30 for not complying with its 2019 ruling to release Kavala.

  • Kavala said he would not attend his next hearing on Nov. 26 to deliver his defense, as he believes he will not get a fair trial.
  • The crisis erupted just days ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, where Erdoğan is expected to meet President Biden in person for the first time since Biden took office.

The bottom line: Diplomats in Ankara may become more cautious in voicing their criticisms about judicial abuses, but tensions on these issues and others will remain.

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