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The Dangerous Lesson Turkey’s Erdogan Learned from Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY.

Throughout the Ukraine war, U.S. policymakers have sought to walk a tightrope: On one hand, at least after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s initial counsel to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to flee, the Biden administration has supported Ukraine with weaponry to enable its fight. On the other hand, the White House fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin might lash out has led the United States to limit the range and precision of weapons provided to Kyiv.

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Every so often Putin or his proxies raises the prospect of nuclear war just to ensure that Ukraine’s supporters do not provide Kyiv with any platform that could allow Ukraine to take the fight to Russia or territory that Russia illicitly claims, such as Crimea.

For Putin, isolated in Moscow, his Black Sea palace, or his bunker in the Urals, it is a good strategy: He can continue with violence against Ukraine and see what works, without worry that he will pay a cost even those trapped in a Russian propaganda bubble cannot ignore.

Russia is Setting an Example with its “Strategic Military Operation”

American diplomats are often reactive and approach crises with myopia. What happens in Ukraine doesn’t stay in Ukraine, however. The State Department or National Security Council seldom consider how the precedents they set can diminish the cost of aggression elsewhere.

Consider Turkey: In recent days, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to fire ballistic missiles at Athens unless Greece compromises on its sovereignty in the Aegean Sea. Erdogan’s threats were both predictable, given State Department’s “bothsiderism,” and given how he has seen Putin’s bombast work.

Erdogan’s threats against Greece predate the Biden administration. Both Presidents Obama and Trump were uneven at best when it came to Turkey, and conciliatory at worst. As President Joe Biden has sought to appease Turkey, however, threats have grown worse. Erdogan’s demands upon Greece are as unreasonable and predatory, as were Putin’s threats upon Ukraine. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez is correct to state that the United States needs to hold Erdogan accountable for his actions. Erdogan operates under the illusion that there will be no cost to his bluster, because he has seen the White House and State Department effectively immunize his peers who, like Erdogan, want to overturn the post-World War II liberal order.

Rather than equivocate, the best way forward is to show Turkey that aggression is not risk-free. The threats Erdogan now makes should suffice for an end to all military sales and cooperation with Turkey. Just as President Ronald Reagan once put an embargo on Cyprus, today it is time for Biden—or Congress if Biden will not step up—to put an embargo on Turkey. Nor should there be any more port calls or joint exercises. The U.S. Air Force should relocate from Incirlik. Picture the military equivalent of the Baltimore Colts departing for Indianapolis in the middle of the night.

The United States should guarantee both Greece and Cyprus a qualitative military edge. The best offense is a strong defense: The United States should deploy anti-missile and anti-drone systems to Greece and Cyprus today, rather than after any accident or strike. Likewise, the best way to deter an unstable dictator in Turkey from attacking Greece’s largest city and capital is to ensure that Greece has the ability to retaliate in kind. Finally, it is important to clarify that Erdogan may want to distract the Turks from his economic mismanagement by talking about a revision of the Lausanne Treaty and Montreux Convention, but any change will not be in Turkey’s favor.

The best way to ensure peace is to raise the cost of war. The problem the White House must address is that it has convinced dictators they can act without cost. So long as Putin, Xi, or Erdogan believe themselves immune from the consequence of aggression, then an attack becomes more likely.

The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is growing more dangerous daily. The White House and Pentagon can no longer simply wish Erdogan’s arrogance and aggression away. It is time to swat the fly.

Author Expertise and Experience: Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).



  1. Злой русский пьяный медведь с балалайкой

    December 21, 2022 at 9:07 am

    Probably, the mentoring tone of the United States towards the whole world is transmitted to the people of the United States. At least for the authors of the articles. No country is obligated to think the way the USA thinks and act the way the USA wants!

  2. Zuhtu ali

    December 21, 2022 at 9:24 am

    One sided nonsense again from Rubin !

  3. Anti Apartheid

    December 21, 2022 at 11:22 am

    Wow Mr. Rubin, here you go again. You do not even know what truth and honest reporting is. Typical one sided reporting again. You may have a problem with Erdogan but the Muslim world loves him and adores him. Any strong Muslim leader is automatically labelled as being a bad person by the Americans, Israelis and anyone with a particular religious beliefs Mr RUBIN. Why do you not be fair and ever criticize Apartheid Israel for their war crimes again the Palestinians? Weird how it is only a good Muslim leader you criticize. Why do you not say negative things about Sisi in Egypt. Talk about a dictator, a murderer he is the worst. But it is the agenda of some groups to only criticize certain leaders who do not toe the line of the Israelis and Americans. Shame on you.

  4. Ευτυχία

    December 22, 2022 at 3:11 am

    It is to Mr. Rubin’s credit that the three previous commentators chose to mount personal attacks on him or on unrelated subjects, rather than attempt to counter the arguments of the article.
    The truth is that Mr. Rubin is actually very careful, very mild and keeps a low profile against Turkey, compared to what this country deserves.
    Is Erdogan a dictator? Hell yes!
    Is he a loose canon? You bet.
    Is he aggressive? There are currently Turkish troops in at least 4 countries -Cyprus, Syria, Iraq and Libya- that there shouldn’t be any, so you answer that yourself. And he promises to invade Greece by ‘coming suddenly one night’ almost on a daily basis.
    Let’s not even start on the number of journalists, political activists, political opponents and minority members already in prison.
    It seems unreal that the West is still trying to deal with this country.

  5. EMIP

    December 22, 2022 at 4:14 am

    Is it too much to ask that Greece adhere to the international agreements it has signed? For example the Treaty of Peace with Italy that Greece signed on 10 February 1947, under Section V, Article 14 of which it specifically states:
    “1. Italy hereby cedes to Greece in full sovereignty the Dodecanese Islands indicated hereafter, namely Stampalia (Astropalia), Rhodes (Rhodos), Calki (Kharki), Scarpanto, Casos (Casso), Piscopis (Tilos),
    Misiros (Nisyros), Calimnos (Kalymnos), Leros, Patmos, Lipsos (Lipso), Simi (Symi), Cos (Kos), and Castellorizo, as well as the adjacent islands.

    Yet Greece continues to openly arm these islands, some of which are only a mile off the Turkish coast, despite its legal commitments. So the Turks have understandably said if Greece does not honor its word, why should Turkiye continue to recognize Greece’s sovereignty over those islands named in the same treaty? Moreover, Greece refuses to refer the matter to an impartial international court to decide, claiming it is a matter of national security.

    Michael Rubin, by labelling all such legitimate concerns of Turkiye as “unreasonable and predatory” only evidences his own bias and Turcophobia.

  6. Claudius Pulcher

    December 23, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    To EMIP: Yes the islands are militarized with the incredible offensive weapons of BMPs and old men with G3s while on the other side Turkey keeps the incredibly defensive marine corps with the biggest landing fleet in the mediterranean. What do you think we are, stupid? Turkey will never take our islands and if it wants the Aegean will have to split blood. End of story. Molon Lave. But of course they always go where there is not real opposition. Here in Greece we thank God, Erdogan is Turkey’s leader. With his policies he will lead Turkey to dismemberment.

  7. Marksman

    December 23, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    The Turks and the Greeks do well with each other.
    Greece has never threatened Anatolia, even though Greek populations have been present over thousands of years, before the Ottomans.
    Turks have the best artisans in the world.
    Why militarise everything?
    EMIP is wrong: the islands (where Greek has been spoken in the depth of centuries) have been militarised after Turkiye launched an operation in Cyprus.
    If the Turkish State signs on to Unclos (which they were part of negotiating in 1982), these issues would have been solved in Hamburg long ago.
    There is much Greeks and Turks can do together, as long as malevolent talk by the Turkish government ceases and Turks are free.
    This is not a cause for enmity but cooperation.
    Turkish and Greek people have nothing against each other, quite the opposite. So it should be made clear to Turkish elites that militarisation of differences serves absolutely no purpose, quite the opposite in fact!

  8. Seneca

    December 23, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    Turkey threatens to invade the islands and attack Athens on a daily basis, at the highest level (Erdogan). At the same time, it accuses Greece for preparing to defend its soil and its people.
    Sad reminder of Hitler-like tactics; moronic logic as well.

  9. Akis

    December 24, 2022 at 3:38 am

    Mr Rubin is correct . The US gave a great example of power and morality being on the side of the attacked in WW2 and now in helping Ukraine.
    As regards Mr Emir’s poem of propaganda that the Dodecanese are being armed , the evidence that all neighbours of Turkey must
    arm and protect themselves against Turkeys expansionist megalomania ( like Putin’s) is seen all over the East Med and beyond. From Cyprus ( where Turkey stations 40,000 soldiers and military equipment) to Syria, to Libya , to Greece , to Armenia and Azerbaitzan plus a military contingent in the Red Sea , Erdogan is unstoppable in his Ottoman Empire ambitions. The US must act before the war begins in order to reign Erdogan in . When the war begins it will consume thousands of lives of young men and it will light a huge fire where Russia will also find a door open to join in. Israel will not just be watching if it also feels the breath of Erdogan on its neck, despite Erdogan”s political theatrics.

  10. Toltec

    December 24, 2022 at 4:32 am

    To EMIP: Well done mate! Now please present the actual text of the treaty (which Turkey has not signed). The part which says that Greeks are not allowed to build naval stations on the island (it does not talk about full demilitarization) and the one that refers to the exception of defense on real threat. Now share with people the fact that Turkey has an invasive force just opposite. But if you have such problems you can go to the international court. You don’t because you know you are wrong. Instead you threaten with missiles. I suppose Turks would like an easy grab of an island (as you only go for the easy ones). But you will not have it.

  11. Henry Ksngr

    December 25, 2022 at 8:16 am

    Regep Tayip in the footsteps of Adolf, cries threat and Lebensraum, aiming to dethrone Kemal Ataturk in Turkey’s history books. He sees the inadequacy of EU and the indecisiveness of the White House as opportunities to restore the Ottoman Empire. If Greece cripples, a big IF there, Egypt and Israel will follow. Only China Russia and Iran benefits and the western security architecture goes down the drain. Well done America allowing one more despot to play his game.

  12. Marksman

    February 1, 2023 at 6:54 am

    Why do you constantly refer to the Treaty of Paris (1947)? Turkey was not a signatory to this Treaty!
    Additionally, if you knew any International Law you would know that the UN Charter holds precedence over Treaties.
    And the UN Charter explicitly allows countries to defend themselves.
    Greece will defend itself against the Turkish regime, come what may, particularly after Ecevit’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

    Besides, you love to ignore one plain fact: that the Aegean has always, and will always, be Greek (ΑΙΓΑΙΟ). It’s history that you are unfortunately not taught in Turkish schools (like: hey, there were actually PEOPLE living in Anatolia ΑΝΑΤΟΛΗ [East, Greek word yes…] well *before* the Turks showed up!!!).

    Stop living in cuckoo-land and wake up!
    (that’s also a message to the Turkey desk at State btw…)

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