Interview with Evangelos D. Kokkinos
"It is difficult to predict whether this time this earthquake will be enough for Erdogan to drop the hostile tones he has been using up until now," says Dr. Aspasia Aligizaki*, Professor in International and European Studies at the University of Piraeus and deputy mayor of Piraeus, in the exclusive interview she gave to Pentapostagma.
She recalled the birth of "seismic or anti-seismic diplomacy" between Greece and Turkey after the 1999 earthquakes, which led to a long-term lull in the previously tense situation in relations with the neighbor.
"Erdogan may, in view of the unforeseen problems and "fronts" he is now facing on the inside of his country, avoid other fronts abroad (at least for the next period of time)", emphasizes Ms. Aligizaki and adds, however, that "because it is in a pre-election period, it is not improbable that it will also work micro-politically".
"As long as Turkey feels strong, it will wish to impose its power, to serve its national interest"
Analyzing the political effects of the earthquakes on Erdoğan's election campaign, Ms. Aligizaki pointed out that the 1999 earthquake and the people's disillusionment with the related government policy brought Erdogan himself to power. At the same time, she asserts that "Erdogan will not make his decisions in the heat of the moment, but in the context of a broader strategy that may also hold surprises."
In addition, he states that "this year will be a critical turning point for Turkey as the earthquake will leave an indelible mark on Turkey's economy. An economy that has been in hibernation for a long time." "Being in a pre-election 'fever' [Erdogan], which until yesterday he was trying to counter with nationalist fireworks, it doesn't seem very likely that he will change his attitude and profile of foreign policy", she adds.
Regarding the war in Ukraine, Ms. Aligizaki estimates that "it is most likely that Russia's war in Ukraine will continue". As she states, "the outcome of the war is also closely intertwined with the future position of Ukraine in NATO and the EU. More specifically, in any outcome - with the exception of the less likely total defeat and retreat of Russia - the contract that will seal the war it will probably contain a clause of Ukraine not joining NATO and, secondly, the EU (mainly because Russian energy supply pipelines to Europe pass through Ukraine, which Russia wants to control completely)".
"Ukraine's eventual accession to these two international organizations was also a generative cause of the Russian-Ukrainian rift"
On the occasion of the recent drone raid in Isfahan, Iran, attributed to the Israeli Mossad, Ms. Aligizaki, estimates that "any possible future strikes by Israel on Iran, if they happen, will be part of the prevention of the geopolitical strengthening of Iran and the weakening of Russia, and not the provoking of a new regional conflict".
At the same time, regarding the renewed US-China tensions after the spy balloon case, the Piraeus University professor clarifies that "a US-China cold war is already raging". "I think at this stage we're going into a period of a prolonged new US-CHINA cold war," he adds.
Finally, analyzing the lessons learned so far from the war in Ukraine, as well as the possibility of using Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Ms. Aligizaki says that "law and morality regulate relations between equal states, but between a powerful and a less powerful state, international law is subordinated to the law of power."
"However, the knowledge of the total destruction that Weapons of Mass Destruction bring [WMD] ultimately weakens the very argument of deterrence, as everyone understands that it would be very difficult for a leadership to make the decision to use them," she concludes.
The interview in detail:
- How do you think Greek-Turkish relations will be developed after the recent earthquakes? How long will it take the Turkish leadership to start threatening Greece again?
It is a fact that in 1999, three years after the Imia crisis, the two earthquakes, in Turkey and in our country, gave birth to the so-called "seismic or anti-seismic diplomacy", which led to a long-term recession of the tense situation in relations with the neighbor. It is difficult to predict, however, whether this time the earthquake will be enough for Erdogan to drop his hitherto hostile tone.
Indeed, as natural disasters have historically proven, they can lead to long-term cooperation. Natural disasters affect people's psychology. Even sworn enemies realize the limits of their power and may choose to resolve differences through dialogue. There are many historical precedents.
However, since each disaster case is different, we must point out that disasters can lead to a long-term dialogue between states that were at rift. But historically this has been shown to occur when one party providing disaster relief to another party is followed by a similar reciprocal gesture, when there is a mutual understanding that neighbors should help each other in times of disaster and above all when there is a favorable wider context, a process of rapprochement that follows the natural disaster and favors the maintenance of long-term cooperation. I am not at all sure that at this juncture the above circumstances are observed.
So in 2020 the 7.0 Richter earthquake that hit the coast of Turkey, although it killed several people, did not contribute to the warming of Greek-Turkish relations. The competition for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean (which until today, also due to the energy crisis, is of the highest economic and geopolitical value) then pushed the neighbor to aggressively insist on its goals, without any inclination to approach. Just a few days after the heated telephone conversation between the Turkish and Greek leadership, Turkey issued a new naval warning extending the mission of the Oruc Reis.
Of course, this earthquake is different. The destruction it has caused to the neighbor is not comparable to any of the recent earthquakes it has suffered. Therefore, Erdogan may, in view of the unforeseen problems and "fronts" he is now facing at home, avoid other fronts abroad (at least for the next period of time).
However, because it is in a pre-election period, it is not unlikely that it will also work micro-politically. And not to the real benefit of his country. Anyway, nationalism and the disorientation of Turkish opinion from internal issues to foreign policy has been a successful demagogic ploy of his until today. It is pointed out that as long as the electoral victory will seem improbable and the defeat unbearable, a military rupture may be selfishly used by Erdogan as a vehicle of "escape" from a possible post-election disaster.
We should also not dismiss that states (not people!) do not think humanly, nor do they have feelings. They are rational - even cynical actors - who in the international system operate on the basis of national interest. The law of power and not morality prevails between states. So, as long as Turkey feels strong, it will wish to impose its power, to serve its national interest.
- Is it open to Erdogan to postpone the elections? What do you think is the likely outcome if he holds them on May 14 or later?
Earthquakes have indeed affected political developments in Turkey in the past. The 1999 earthquake for example and the people's disillusionment with the related government policy brought Erdogan himself to power.
One cannot say with certainty that this calamity will deprive him of the election but it is reasonable for the people to lay the blame for their misery on whoever holds the power, especially when their relief is difficult and takes a lot of time, but the election is approaching .
It is a fact that most of the earthquake affected provinces in the south of Turkey are conservative and are strongholds of Erdogan's party. But this stronghold has now collapsed. Notably, the ten provinces most affected by the earthquake represent about 15% of Turkey's population and a corresponding percentage of all parliamentary seats, which in itself shows the potential "imprint" of the earthquake on the election result.
It is very difficult for the Turkish President to be able to effectively solve the problem in the next period of time, especially until May. On the other hand, it is also, in fact, complicated to impossible to organize elections in these earthquake-ravaged provinces until May.
Erdogan, on the other hand, does not seem ready to withdraw voluntarily or involuntarily from Turkey's political life. It is therefore a given that he will not make his decisions in the heat of the moment, but in the context of a broader strategy that may also hold surprises.
- What is the next day for Turkey from an economic point of view and what scenario is predicted for the summer? How are US-NATO-EU relations shaping up in the wake of the earthquakes?
This year will be a critical turning point for Turkey as the earthquake will leave an indelible mark on Turkey's economy. An economy in hibernation for a long time.Turkey's economic decline has already been fueled by a combination of high global energy prices, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine and, above all, by Erdogan's economic policies that have suppressed interest rates despite soaring inflation, driving the Turkish lira to a record low against the dollar. Turkey's foreign exchange reserves have declined sharply in recent years, and Ankara's current account deficit has widened.
Erdogan called for the election in early May amid a national economic recession by adopting controversial currency stabilization policies until the election, believing that campaign promises might secure another term in power before the Turkish economy shows its true strength.
However, Erdogan's fiscal campaign promises, such as raising wages and lowering the retirement age, are unlikely to be implemented any longer, as more public funds will have to be directed to rebuilding entire cities and towns.
Internationally, Turkey's future will undoubtedly affect the war in Ukraine, given Erdogan's role as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia. Turkey, moreover, although a member of NATO until now, has shown a willingness to act from a position of strength, adopting an aggressive and reactionary style to the inclusion of Sweden and Finland in the powerful defense alliance. But it is now doubtful whether after the earthquake it will have the same effect (at least in the immediate future).
However, the earthquake may offer Erdogan an opportunity to rethink Turkey's relations with the Kurds in Turkey and Syria. A new peace initiative would also help him change his international image, which has recently been "crumpled" at the NATO and EU level, due to his revisionism and controversial handling of issues of democracy and rights.
On the other hand, being in a pre-election "fever", which until yesterday he was trying to counter with nationalist fireworks, it does not seem very likely that he will change his attitude and foreign policy profile. How could he convince his Turkish audience after such a conversion? Unless the Biden administration decisively brokered an end to Turkey's war against the Kurds.
Overall, the United States can use its diplomatic and economic power to help build peace in the region in the wake of this natural disaster. And this would be a favorable moment for NATO as well, which could, now, "embrace" its previously mischievous member, as it does not wish, in any way, to see it, at this stage when the Ukraine war is raging- of Russia, in the arms of the latter. First of all, however, the neighbor must show a real willingness to compromise and reach out.
- Do you see an end to the war in Ukraine in 2023 and if so with which winner? What will be the future of the country, especially regarding the scenario of joining NATO and the European Union?
As aptly pointed out by Thucydides in the Peloponnesian War, the longer the war becomes, the more its outcome depends on chance events. Most likely, Russia's war in Ukraine will continue. It could possibly be ended soon by unexpected events, such as a regime change in the Kremlin or the sudden collapse of the Russian military.
It must be pointed out that from the beginning of the war until today many international changes have taken place and mainly the attitude of the West has changed. The West has crossed many red lines, mainly in terms of overt and behind-the-scenes aid to Ukraine. It appears, however, that the West will continue to ensure that Ukrainian forces retain access to weapons and information from Western intelligence services. On the other hand, Russian rhetoric as well as the way it reinforces its positions in the occupied territories show that it has not deviated from its stated goal of subjugating Ukraine in one way or another.
The scene may be set for a protracted, corrosive war. But policymakers should not overlook contingencies that may seem improbable but could end the war sooner.
However, in a war so brutal and so prolonged there are no winners. The cost is unbearably high for both sides, and the wounds, though hardly comparable, will have a lasting impact.
Even if Russia wins, in reality the cost to it will be great and the damage to it long-term. Mainly because by putting the knife in Europe's throat with energy blackmail, it hastened all the latter's efforts to become independent of Russian energy. And this will have an impact even after the end of the war on its already strained economy from the sanctions, as its dominant position in the European energy market until now ensured it both economic and geopolitical power.
On the other hand, the US seems to be gaining from this war. And they gain not only from the gradual reduction of Europe's energy dependence (which they always ardently desired, as the Kremlin used the energy "monopoly" in Europe as a geopolitical weapon) but also from the long-term attrition of a powerful adversary. The future attitude of the US and, more specifically, the degree of its involvement in the war, is undoubtedly the component that will determine its outcome.
And the outcome of the war is also closely intertwined with the future position of Ukraine in NATO and the EU. More specifically, in any outcome - with the exception of the less likely total defeat and retreat of Russia - the contract that will seal the war will include, most likely, a clause of Ukraine's non-accession to NATO and, secondly, to the EU (mainly because Russian energy supply pipelines to Europe pass through Ukraine, which Russia wants to control completely). After all, Ukraine's eventual accession to these two international organizations was also a generative cause of the Russian-Ukrainian rift.
- With the rhetoric escalating, but also in action, such as the Isfahan drone raid credited to the Mossad, do you consider an Israeli strike on Iran likely?
Israel may be refusing to send arms to Ukraine – citing its own defense needs in the wider Middle East – but it appears to be helping Kiev behind the scenes. In trying to keep an even distance between Ukraine and Russia and not anger the Kremlin, Israel is, after all, more active than it appears. The bombing of a drone manufacturing factory in Iran is part of this context.
And of course, Iran is constantly in Israel's sights, a fact that is undoubtedly related to the US's desire to limit Tehran's military ambitions and the latter's cooperation with Moscow, however, the strike which, as everything shows, was orchestrated by the Israeli forces are helping Ukraine by depriving Russian forces of one of its key weapons, the Shahed-136. And it is not the first time that Israel has repeatedly hit Tehran's military facilities, which mainly manufacture missiles and drones.
The Trump administration's Middle East policy has been dominated by support for Israel and Saudi Arabia and efforts to undermine Iran, not that the US really wants a flare-up in the region. But most important to them was Israel's creation of a strategic partnership with the Arab Gulf states to contain Iran (formalized by the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) and the possibility of pursuing more liquidity normalization agreements in the area.The Biden administration promises to be softer in its approach to the issue, but whether a change in US policy will have a meaningful impact remains to be seen.
Any possible future strikes by Israel on Iran, if they happen, will be part of curbing Iran's geopolitical empowerment and weakening Russia, not provoking a new regional conflict.
Changes in the distribution of power in a region are what cause dangerous tremors and military ruptures. The US, therefore, in order to ensure its hegemony - at least while the Russia-Ukraine conflict rages in Europe - will attempt to prevent any change in the balance of power in other areas critical to its security, such as this region.
- The case of the Chinese spy balloon that led to the cancellation of the visit of the American Foreign Minister to Beijing has raised many questions about the course of relations with China. In light of the statements of an American wing general about a US-China war in the next two years, do you consider such a possibility likely to happen?
This specific case proves, without a doubt, that a US-China cold war is already raging. In the past, China, although a "giant", adopted a "dwarf" profile in the international, geopolitical scene, apparently in order not to cause geopolitical concern to the superpower that could cost it on many levels.
Now, of course, for several years, its economic and geopolitical displacement cannot go unnoticed, but even after the Russia-Ukraine war, the international scene has changed. There are the reasons that could cause a US-CHINA war break and the most basic one I described in your previous question: War always happens when the distribution of power in a region changes and especially when a state becomes so powerful that it causes insecurity in it or in those states that were previously powerful or equally powerful. This was first described by Thucydides with the Peloponnesian War, thus leaving a global legacy to humanity: The strengthening of Athens caused insecurity in Sparta, which eventually moved against it. In the same context, the strengthening of China creates insecurity in the hegemonic USA.
Nevertheless, history has shown that the cold war - although characterized by a constant "threat" of war - can also mark a period of long stability, in the context of which a hot war will be continuously avoided through diplomatic understanding as well as constant mutual deterrence. I think at this stage we will be heading into such a period, a prolonged new US-CHINA cold war.
- What are the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine at the diplomatic-military level, both for Greece and at the international level? How likely is a generalized escalation using Weapons of Mass Destruction?
It is a fact that this war also taught us what all the previous ones did. First, it once again proves that interstate relations are regulated mainly by the law of power and less by international law. Law and morality regulate relations between equal states, but between a powerful and a less powerful state, international law is subordinated to the law of power.
In this context, the attack by powerful Russia on Ukraine and the imposition of international sanctions on the Kremlin, which - despite the dictates of international law - were not adopted by all states, are included and must be analyzed.
So we must keep in mind - and we Greeks who have a permanent potential opponent ante portas, that we must strengthen our deterrent power in every way, with the continuous increase of our military power on the one hand and our alliances on the other. Anyone who depends their national security and the service of their national interest exclusively on international law is not serving it properly. And above all, it does not deter the opponent decisively.
A form of deterrence is also deterrence through the use of weapons of mass destruction and in particular nuclear weapons. That is why the mere threat of acquiring them creates fear in other states that often ally to prevent it. However, the knowledge of the total destruction they bring weakens, in the end, the very argument of deterrence, as everyone understands that it would be very difficult for a leadership to make the decision to use them. Besides, because the use of nuclear weapons, in this case, by Russia at the expense of Ukraine due to the immediate proximity of the two countries, would have a devastating impact, without a doubt, and to the Russian people the deliberate use of nuclear weapons (and not the accident) seems rather unlikely .
*Aspasia (Sissy) Aligizaki is a graduate of Philology and Law in Athens, holder of two master's degrees, a doctorate in International and European Studies and a post-doctoral researcher in international relations and energy networks. She is a Piraeus lawyer and an academic. She teaches at the University of Piraeus and is an approved professor of the Law Department of the French Sorbonne University, Sorbonne Paris Nord. She has educational experience as well as rich research and writing work in European Law and International Relations. She is Deputy Mayor of Piraeus in the fields of Education and Lifelong Learning.