The number of Gulf Arab tourists who visit Turkey does not exceed more than 200,000 a year, while the number of Russian and Iranian tourists is 4 million and 1.5 million respectively per year. These figures can help us understand relations between the states and what really influences them. The Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan said recently that he intends to reform his government’s relations with neighbouring countries that have been damaged due to differences over Syria, and there is no doubt that the economy is an important reason for this.
Tourism is one of Turkey’s most important sources of income and brings in about $30 billion dollars a year. The first decision that President Vladimir Putin took after the Russian warplane that invaded Turkish airspace was shot down was to stop Russian citizens from travelling to Turkey, and this immediately caused a major crisis for Turkey’s tourism sector.
Without a thriving economy, Erdogan cannot strengthen his rule, nor can his party continue to achieve a majority in parliament and municipal elections. This means that he also has to take into account his country’s relations with Europe which is his country’s main economic partner. The trade agreement that was signed in the mid 1990s with the European Union changed the face of Turkey and quadrupled the strength of the economy. Today Turkey is ranked 17th in the list of G-20 economies, and Saudi Arabia is ranked 14th.
After the coup failed, President Erdogan can do whatever he wants in his country, but he does not have much influence abroad. His success and that of his party depends on economic prosperity. If this prosperity does not continue, problems and threats that are more dangerous than the coup attempt will appear. This explains many of the contradictions in Turkish government policy concerning various activities. Turkey supported Iran during the economic sanctions imposed by the West, and it was Iran’s foremost trading partner. It also has a good relationship with the Russians who consider Turkey an important partner for them in central Asia and a vital passage way for their exports to Europe.
If Erdogan chooses to eliminate his opponents within the country as a result of the attempted coup, it is likely that no one will be able to stop him. Western governments will not do anything no matter how harsh the language that they use to warn him is. However, it is incredibly unlikely that he will resort to holding major countries accountable or boycott them, like he threatened to do with the United States if it did not hand over his opponent Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania, and who Erdogan accuses of involvement in the coup.
Turkey is a member of NATO, and NATO has military bases and a huge military presence as part of the west’s strategy to confront Russia. Erdogan can cancel his country’s agreements with NATO, and the termination of major agreements is not a strange thing nowadays. This can be seen from Britain’s surprising decision to exit the European Union. However, Turkey’s military and economic interests will suffer significantly, and this is the price of economic success and international alliances.
The attempted coup may change President Erdogan’s vision regarding foreign relations, but he remains an intelligent politician. He does not pursue risky policies as we can see from his policy towards Syria over the duration of five difficult years. In spite of all his threats, Erdogan did not enter the war and chose to manage his participation remotely. He supported the Syrian opposition and did not get directly involved, even when Iranian and Russian forces entered the war. Now he is ready to reconsider his differences with these two countries regarding Syria but we do not know how this will pan out.