The expansionism of the Eurasian nation is palpable in a continent as important as Africa

Turkey, expansion and leadership in Africa 

photo_camera PHOTO/REUTERS  -   - Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey.

Turkey is concentrating its efforts on expansion in Africa, after the Balkans and the Middle East.  

The third of the scenarios, and not the least, after the Balkans and the Middle East where Turkey is positioned, is Africa, with two main axes, the Red Sea and Libya.  

As we have seen in other theatres of operations, African expansion responds to interests of both economic and resource control, political positioning and strategic influence. Military presence, control of strategic regions, political, military and cultural intervention, as happened in the Western Balkans, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has postulated himself in Africa as a leader of Muslims, exploiting this factor in a continent where Islam is in the majority.  

Throughout the year, Libya has been the preferred objective of Turkey's external action, given its strategic location in the Mediterranean, ideal for controlling migratory flows from North Africa, a resource that has proved to be very useful in conditioning relations between Turkey and the EU, as well as in controlling and exploiting the hydrocarbon reserves of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is Turkey's battlefield in the second half of 2020.   

Turkey began its positioning in Africa in 2007, when the government decided to get involved in the region, offering its advice to the Somali authorities gathered in Djibouti for talks to promote a peace process for Somalia.  

PHOTO/AP El buque de investigación de Turquía, Oruc Reis 

Two years later, in 2009, Turkey decided to give a strong impetus to its external relations by establishing three main lines on which to focus its foreign policy.  Europe and the Balkans, Asia, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia and the Middle East, and Africa, North and Horn of Africa.  

The cooperation operation in Somalia, from the outset, was not without strategic interest, and with the limited presence in Yemen, through TIKA with the support of the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islah party has allowed Turkey to maintain some surveillance of the Gulf of Aden and the Baab el Mandeb Strait until this year, and the integration of the Turkish navy into Task Force 151 of the Combined Maritime Forces, the multinational counter-piracy mission in Somali waters, has enabled Ankara to deploy ships in the waters of the Gulf of Aden.   

After visiting Libya and Somalia in 2011, the first non-African political leader to visit Somalia in 20 years, President Erdogan launched a cooperation programme with Somalia, aimed mainly at alleviating the famine in the country. Thanks to investment programmes managed by TIKA, Turkey and Qatar have grown from anecdotal players in the region to become the strongest allies, politically and economically, of the government of Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Pharmajo. By the end of 2019, the total amount of Turkish aid to Somalia is estimated at around US$1 billion. About $200 million in trade and just over $100 million in investment. Somalia is the fifth largest recipient of aid managed directly by the Turkish government and the second largest recipient of aid from Turkish NGOs after Syria. 

PHOTO/AP El buque de investigación de Turquía, Oruc Reis 

According to ICEX data, Turkey has free trade agreements with ten countries, which allow the elimination of customs duties and taxes on trade in goods and services between Turkey and its partners. In Africa, the countries that have signed FTAs with Ankara are Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique and Mauritius. Sudan is in the process of ratification, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Seychelles, Cameroon, Chad, Libya and Djibouti are in negotiations. With Algeria and South Africa, Turkey is exploring the possibility of a free trade agreement, but has not initiated official contacts.    

As we saw in a previous article on Turkish foreign action in the Balkans, investments in Somalia, as in Europe, have focused on essential infrastructures, such as the port of Mogadishu, managed by a Turkish company, and the airport, where the only two non-African companies operating there are Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways.   

This cooperation process culminates in the opening of the Turkish Embassy in 2016 and the establishment of the TURKSOM military base on Somali soil at the end of 2017, in support of operations against Al-Shabab and the training of Somali security forces, both military and police, in counter-insurgency activities. In practice, the Turkish military presence has replaced the forces of AMISON (African Union Mission in Somalia), which has reduced the number of troops in Somalia over the last two years.   

REUTERS/FEISAL OMARAR  -   Ceremonia de apertura de la base militar turca en Mogadiscio, Somalia, el 30 de septiembre de 2017 

The base, TURKSOM, the largest outside Turkish territory, has also been used to deliver regular shipments of humanitarian aid from Turkey during the early months of the pandemic.   

Al-Shabab's shadow, as well as the possibility that the opposition might not respect the election results, planned the elections in Somalia, which were finally postponed in June in order to provide the country with a reliable vote collection system and avoid the much-feared electoral fraud.   

International media such as the International Crisis Group warned that opposition groups in Mogadishu were arming themselves to intervene if they did not accept the election results, providing the perfect scenario for a repeat of the conflict that devastated the country in the last decade of the 20th century.   

Similarly, the Al-Shabab issue directly affects Turkey's relations with the United Arab Emirates, whose government has been accused by Mevlüt Cavusoglu of supporting the terrorist organisation. Turkey's military presence in Somalia is a plausible threat to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which in January launched the African Red Sea Coastal States, an alliance of countries on both coasts of the Red Sea sponsored by Saudi Arabia.

PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN  -   El presidente de Somalia Abdullahi Mohamed, ‘Farmajo’, (izq.) es recibido por su homólogo turco Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) en el Complejo Presidencial de Ankara el 26 de abril de 2017

To further tighten the situation, the two countries sent a joint delegation to Mogadishu to offer Farmajo Egyptian military power and Saudi funding to stabilize and rebuild Somalia, in a move similar to that in Sudan. Ankara's response to this offensive was to repay nearly $3 million of Somali debt in the form of IMF credits.   

The last factor that conditions relations between Ankara and Mogadishu is once again the fight against the Fethulah Gülen brotherhood. Fethulah Gülen has been present in Somalia through Hizmet, the guild's educational institution, and through the management of the Gulema organisation of two hospitals in Mogadishu. In return for this collaboration, Ankara has also encouraged discussions between the governments of Puntland and Somaliland with the Farmajo government.  

The presence of Hizmet-owned schools in Africa is one of the secondary factors that prompted Turkey to intervene in Africa. Hizmet has schools in 35 African countries, including Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Libya, where the first school opened in 2012. In addition to its existing schools in Somalia. Interestingly, Hizmet's schools are not very well established in North Africa, where Algeria and Tunisia have remained impervious to the establishment of the religious organisation.   

The Turkish government has a strong presence in Somalia and has set itself the short-term goal of establishing another advanced base further north from 2018, which would enable it to extend its influence and control over the Red Sea.  

REUTERS/FEISAL OMAR - Terminal del puerto marítimo de Mogadiscio (Somalia) 

Beyond the mission led by TIKA in Djibouti, where the presence of other powers such as France, the United States and China severely limits Turkish capabilities, the Sudanese coast offers an irrefutable opportunity. In addition to its geostrategic situation, in the middle of the Red Sea, a region which concentrates about 15% of the total volume of goods traffic in the world, Port Sudan or Suakin was located opposite Mecca, which made it possible to partially control the flow of pilgrims who were travelling from Africa to the holy city of Islam by sea. The political opportunity was presented by the fact that the Al-Bashir government was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. Surfing among enemy governments, they succeeded, with the collaboration of the isolated government of Omar al-Bashir, in establishing a base on the island of Suakin, located between the Egyptian border and Port Sudan with Mecca a stone's throw away on the opposite shore. In exchange for investments in infrastructure and heritage reconstruction through TIKA amounting to 4 million dollars, the Turkish government obtained a 99-year lease on the old Ottoman port of Suakin.   

This agreement was the trigger for the Egyptian-Saudi intervention in Sudan. Both governments accused Turkey of wanting to establish a military base in Suakin, hidden in what was supposed to be a trade mission to facilitate the transit of Turkish pilgrims to Mecca. In addition, Suakin was seen as a direct threat to the Egyptian base in the Hala'ib Triangle, a region in conflict with Sudan.  

The Turkish military presence in Sudan in mid-2018 consisted of a police training mission and a mission to maintain and improve the port facilities in Port Sudan for the maintenance of civilian and military vessels.  

REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN - El expresidente de Sudán Omar al-Bashir recibe a Erdogan en el aeropuerto de Jartum, Sudán, el 24 de diciembre de 2017 

Once again, the Cairo-Riad clamp moved to take advantage of the opportunity cost in Sudan to withdraw support from Ankara. For Egypt, moreover, the opportunity presented itself to deal another political blow to the Muslim Brotherhood by expelling them and their Turkish sponsors from Sudan. The return of the blow which, in the eyes of the current government, meant the victory of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2011-2012 elections, with Turkey as the main supporter. Conversely, it should be noted that it was the assistance of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that was decisive in dislodging the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt.  

The fall of Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019 led to the realignment of Sudan, the modification of the agreement with Turkey, the maintenance of the civilian mission in Suakin and the cancellation of any military or police mission in the country. 

Momentarily combined with the Turkish threat to Sudan, the past year has seen an increasing number of meetings between the governments of Egypt and Sudan with a double objective: to strengthen bilateral relations, channel Egyptian economic aid and attract Khartoum to the alliance of the Gulf and Egyptian monarchies with Israel. The first contacts between the two neighbours on security issues took place in August and culminated in November with the first Egyptian-Sudanese military manoeuvres in the history of the two countries, and the first round of trilateral contacts between Egyptian, Israeli and Sudanese military commanders.

PHOTO/TIKA - Un voluntario de la Agencia de Cooperación y Coordinación de Turquía (TIKA) 

Once again, the Cairo-Riad clamp moved to take advantage of the opportunity cost in Sudan to withdraw support from Ankara. For Egypt, moreover, the opportunity presented itself to deal another political blow to the Muslim Brotherhood by expelling them and their Turkish sponsors from Sudan. The return of the blow which, in the eyes of the current government, meant the victory of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2011-2012 elections, with Turkey as the main supporter. Conversely, it should be noted that it was the assistance of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that was decisive in dislodging the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt.  

The fall of Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019 led to the realignment of Sudan, the modification of the agreement with Turkey, the maintenance of the civilian mission in Suakin and the cancellation of any military or police mission in the country. 

Momentarily combined with the Turkish threat to Sudan, the past year has seen an increasing number of meetings between the governments of Egypt and Sudan with a double objective: to strengthen bilateral relations, channel Egyptian economic aid and attract Khartoum to the alliance of the Gulf and Egyptian monarchies with Israel. The first contacts between the two neighbours on security issues took place in August and culminated in November with the first Egyptian-Sudanese military manoeuvres in the history of the two countries, and the first round of trilateral contacts between Egyptian, Israeli and Sudanese military commanders.   

In return, the United States softened the international situation in Sudan by removing the African country from the list of sponsors of terrorism and injecting into its crumbling coffers $2 billion and the promise of funding from Saudi Arabia and the United States. At the end of October, Sudan recognised the state of Israel, along with the United States and Bahrain, and established diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.  

In January, Egypt announced the creation of a new naval base in Berenice, the largest in the region, close to Suakin and Port Sudan, a clear warning to Ankara. Egypt accepted Suakin's order and made clear that it was ready to protect its interests in the Red Sea, while urging Khartoum to take the diplomatic initiative in Sudan.   

As we have seen, Turkish support for the brotherhood founded by Hassan al-Bana was fundamental to Mohamed Morsi's coming to power. The proximity of Erdogan's AKP party to the Muslim Brotherhood was another factor of disagreement between Cairo and Ankara. Until 2015, relations were complex, deteriorating by leaps and bounds, but fluid; as an example, Egypt was the second largest recipient of Turkey's development aid, with a total of 559 million dollars.   

Today, bilateral relations are extremely complex and show signs of improvement, but as a well-known analyst described in mid-year, the relationship between Ankara and Cairo is dead. These two countries, apart from the Red Sea, have two even more relevant fronts open within the complex regional geopolitical network: Libya, where the Al-Sisi government is one of the strongest supporters of the Haftar, and the Eastern Mediterranean, where the hydrocarbon crisis has splashed Egypt, aligned with Greece, Cyprus, Israel and France, as it could not be otherwise.  

And it is in Libya that Turkey plays the game of relevance or irrelevance as an actor to be taken into account, at the Mediterranean level and in the rest of the continent. Ankara's attempt to support the Tripoli government, presented by the Turkish government practically as an interposition mission, since, according to official Turkish sources, the presence of Turkish military units and Syrian mercenaries was only intended to ensure a permanent ceasefire between the two parties, leading to a political process aimed at establishing peace. The government led by Fayez Sarraj, with its capital in Tripoli, was set up in 2011, supported by Western powers and the United Nations, to appoint a single leader for the country and to end the fighting between Tripoli, Tobruk and Benghazi. The Muslim Brotherhood had also chosen Sarraj as their candidate in Libya. In the 2012 elections, the Justice and Construction Party, the political expression of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the second largest force in the National General Congress elections with 10% of the vote. 

In the other half of the country, two allied governments, the one represented by Parliament in Tobruk and its counterpart in Benghazi, the LNA (Libyan National Army) of General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar, a former colonel in the Libyan army during the Toyota war in Chad, took command of the LNA in 2014. Since then, his military and political figure, confronted with Tripoli, has continued to grow. With Russia and the UAE as its main allies, it has added to its cause the rest of the Gulf monarchies, with the exception of Qatar, as well as Egypt and France.   

The war in Libya entered a new phase in 2019, with the start of the LNA offensive on Tripoli. The military and economic support of Russia and the coalition led by the Gulf monarchies, Jordan and Egypt prompted Haftar to decide to end the war decisively by taking Tripoli. The decision was challenged by the United Nations and underhandedly supported by the United States through John Bolton, who reportedly warned the general to attack as soon as possible.  

Bridges between the two governments have been boosted, such as the UN-approved discussions on the so-called 5+5 initiative between the leaders of Haftar's LNA and Sarraj's GNA (government of national accord), in order to bring positions closer together on military issues, political agreements and the economy. This initiative, after three unsuccessful attempts, is now recognised as the basis of the recent peace agreement.   

After a year of siege and despite the irruption of new actors in Libya, and the SARS VOC 2 pandemic, Halifa Haftar returned to the offensive in Tripoli in April 2020. This time President Sarraj, politically supported by Italy, the EU, the US and the UN, received military support from Turkey and Qatar. The objective of the offensive was once again to take Tripoli, overthrow the Sarraj government and impose a government led by General Haftar. 

REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA - El presidente de Senegal, Macky Sall, recibe a su homólogo turco Erdogan en Dakar, Senegal, el 28 de enero de 2020  

After bursting into the outskirts of Tripoli on 27 April, and although he failed to enter the city, on 28, Khalifa Haftar declared himself the sole leader of Libya, denouncing the 2015 agreement, supported by the EU and the United States, by which the UN sanctioned the creation of a government in Tripoli. Sarraj had destroyed the country, so with his victory, this agreement was a thing of the past. He announced that his short-term plans included the formation of a new government and the reconstruction of the two institutions that would provide the country with a new governmental structure and infrastructure that would make the reconstruction of Libya possible.   

At the same time, the government of Sarraj continued to resist, denouncing at the same time that the Haftar was indiscriminately bombing the city in a vain attempt to intervene by Western powers, which intensified with the 2011 intervention that ended the government of Colonel Gaddafi, and repeatedly acknowledging their mistake of not siding with the Haftar from the outset. Some countries like France have never made a secret of their dissatisfaction with the Tripoli government, which theoretically held power, but in practice it was Haftar that had the support and economic power to impose itself as the leader of the country.  

In June, the GNA and the Turkish military mission stopped the offensive and launched a counteroffensive on the territory under Haftar's control, which succeeded, after a 14-month siege, in pushing the LNA back beyond its starting positions, regaining key strategic points and threatening the controlled oil resources of Benghazi. The offensive was only stopped by the intervention, camouflaged as a peace proposal, of both Russia, which increased the deployment of military means in favour of the Haftar, and Egypt, which threatened to intervene militarily. On 21 August 2020, both sides announced a ceasefire. 

The military support provided by the Erdogan government has followed the guidelines we have already seen in Syria and recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, employing mercenaries and fighters transferred from other theatres of operations and eventually introducing regular Turkish troops. The Turkish government passed an urgent parliamentary proposal, approved on 2 January 2020, to send a one-year military mission to Libya, consisting of instructors, advisers, Turkish regular forces and abundant military equipment. Less than a week after the mission was approved, Turkey deployed military personnel to the North African country. The troop dispatch would be in line with the two cooperation agreements signed in November 2019, one on military cooperation, which in principle did not involve the deployment of Turkish troops until now. The question of Turkish mercenaries in Libya has raised the eyebrows of the Western allies because the origin of these soldiers is doubtful, with speculation, with little margin for error, that they belong to units of organisations belonging to Daech. At the beginning of May, the differences between several units of Syrian fighters in the pay of Ankara, on the orders of the GNA, caused the unilateral abandonment of the mercenary units of the front, managing to confront the regular units of the GNA. Until May 2020, it is estimated that Turkey had sent between 7,000 and 9,000 combatants from Syria to Libya to support the Tripoli government, keeping an undetermined number of 3,000 to 4,000 combatants in training camps, waiting to be deployed in Libya. In addition, although to a lesser extent, Ankara was supported by Sudanese armed groups, Chad and, although Ankara was responsible for denying this hypothesis, by Somali units, trained by Turkey, which would receive the final phase of their training in Libya.  

This transfer of troops was at the origin, in the middle of the year, of a diplomatic offensive at the United Nations, led by Egypt, which denounced Turkey's successive violations of Security Council resolutions on foreign fighters.  

Although on the opposite side, they were not left behind, employing, like the GNA, mercenaries from Sudan and Chad, in addition to nearly 3,000 mercenaries from the Russian company Wagner and an undetermined number of Syrian fighters from the ranks of Al-Asad.   

The differences of opinion between Ankara and Moscow in Libya are joined by the United States, which has insisted that Erdogan be alone in his African adventure and asked him to maintain the ceasefire. And so, once again on the Libyan battlefield, we witness the representation of the paradox of Russian-Turkish relations, since the confrontation between the forces of the two countries in Libya is a fact that does not seem to influence the collaboration between the two countries in other scenarios such as the Balkans or Syria. Nor does it seem that this direct confrontation in North Africa will have any effect on bilateral relations between Presidents Putin and Erdogan.  

The relationship between Turkey and Russia is, as Churchill said in 1939 about the Russian position on the emerging European conflict, an enigma, shrouded in mystery. The relationship, on paper, is not bad, Russia maintains an official position of strict neutrality in Libya, but the truth is that they are increasingly coming face to face in more and more theatres of operation, the latest being the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan and Russia, and even their Armenian allies, are both members of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation), in order to put an end to Turkish-Azeri ambitions.   

Amidst the largest popular demonstrations since 2011 and a political crisis within the government itself due to the violence with which the demonstrations were suppressed, on 16 September Fayez Sarraj announced that he would be stepping down in October.  The announcement came at a time when both sides were preparing to establish contacts with a view to concluding a ceasefire agreement. Although Sarraj's resignation was initially motivated by the confrontation and dismissal of his Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, the man from Ankara in Libya. Sarraj's resignation, despite demonstrations of discontent by the Turkish government, was, according to the French media, motivated by Turkish pressure, which forced Sarraj to reinstate Bashagha in his post. However, Sarraj, faced with the sensitivity of the situation, retreated, maintaining his position as Prime Minister, while announcing that the elections scheduled for March 2021 would be postponed to December of the same year, given the need to have reliable electoral systems that guarantee the transparency and security of all the forces involved in the electoral process. Beyond this decision, there is the ceasefire with Haftar and the need to create a favourable climate for this process to lead to a lasting peace agreement, ratified in a year's time by elections throughout the country.  

At the same time, the government in Tobruk, led by Abdullah al-Thani, the political arm of the LNA in Haftar, has also faced popular protests in the streets, even more virulent than in Tripoli, with repression proportionate to the seriousness of the protests, during which at least three people were killed in Benghazi. The living conditions, the war, the uncertainty in a country torn apart after 11 years of fighting with the infinite hope of a ceasefire for which no one, not even its sponsors, gives a penny because it materialises. And, following in the footsteps of his GNA colleague, Al-Thani announced his resignation as president of the Tobruk parliament, in a move that, on paper, paved the way for the future peace agreement. 

On 23 October in Switzerland, under the auspices of the United Nations, a ceasefire was signed by the GNA in Sarraj and the LNA in Haftar. The agreement, which began to take shape in August, was preceded by two bilateral meetings in Morocco at the end of September between members of the Moroccan National Assembly and members of the House of Representatives, before finally meeting in Switzerland. During these negotiations, the composition of some of the highest positions in the country's administration was agreed upon, such as the governor of the Central Bank, the director of the anti-corruption agency, as well as the composition of the judiciary and the body to monitor and verify the electoral processes in the North African country. Parallel to the political agreement, two military delegations from both sides met in Egypt to establish a provisional ceasefire and the conditions for its implementation.    

The final ceasefire agreement that emerged from the Montreux meeting is an ambiguous document, subject to change and interpretation. The ambiguity of the text leaves the four most influential actors in Libya, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in practice faced with the following dilemma: either to collaborate with the United Nations, as guarantor of the agreement and promoter of the formation of a new single government, or to break the agreement and continue the war, bearing in mind that the agreement was finally reached after the failure of the Haftar in Tripoli and the balance of power made possible by Turkey's intervention in favour of Sarraj and the threat of resignation of the Tripolitan leader in September. The first controversy over the undefined text took place on 25 October when the GNA Defence Minister stated that, since the GNA was the legitimate government of Libya, the military agreement with Turkey was perfectly valid and was not affected by any of the clauses referring to the presence of foreign fighters in Libya. Three days later, the Sarraj government signed an anti-terrorist cooperation agreement with Qatar. 

The first is that all foreign armies must cease their activities and suspend their missions and leave Libyan soil immediately. With regard to mercenaries, it provides for the departure from Libya of all combatants before 23 January.   

The icing on the cake was put on the cake by President Erdogan, a few weeks before his visit to Turkish troops in Libya, declaring that this agreement was far from being a ceasefire, in a position diametrically opposed to that expressed by the rest of the international actors present in Libya who welcomed the agreement with optimism.   

The prospect of a ceasefire, whatever doubts it may raise within the Turkish government, led to the announcement in September of a first aid package to Tripoli worth $500 million, intended for energy infrastructure and defence training and advice. Coinciding with the start of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia between GNA and LNA, Ankara announced at the beginning of November an agreement for the extension of Misrata airport, the management of which will be entrusted to Turkish companies.   

For Ankara, Libya not only has sufficient oil and gas reserves to make up for Turkey's huge hydrocarbon deficit, it is also the key to Turkey's complex plan to exploit the oil and gas reserves of the Mediterranean. This plan extends the Libyan EEZ from Libya to Turkey, allowing Turkish exploration vessels to operate. Had Haftar entered Tripoli, Turkey's Mediterranean policy would have collapsed, as Turkey's allies would continue to exploit the very juicy hydrocarbon reserves, losing out to Greece and Cyprus in the currently contested eastern Mediterranean areas. At the beginning of 2019, the EMF (EastMed Gas Forum) was set up, an energy cooperation forum bringing together Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, which France has asked to join. These countries sounded the alarm in November 2019, when the Turkish government and the government of Sarraj signed two cooperation agreements, one military, which we have already seen, and the other, which established the limits of the territorial waters of the two countries, aimed at underpinning Turkey's position with regard to rights over hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. The implications that these treaties have had go beyond purely territorial interests limited to the eastern zone of the Mare Nostrum, and have been declared null and void by the GEF, which does not recognise the unilateral declaration of the Libyan EEZ. 

At the beginning of August 2020, Greece and Egypt signed an agreement defining their EEZs in the Eastern Mediterranean, which overlap with the economic zone claimed by Turkey. On the other hand, France, whose companies are the concessionaires of the exploitation rights by the Cypriot government, whose EEZ is in conflict with that claimed by Ankara for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity recognised only by Turkey.  All this is waiting for what is happening with the Lebanese EEZ, the negotiations between Tel Aviv and Beirut, which are for the moment on "stand-by"; thus, it has positioned itself against Turkey, a NATO partner, including in terms of military deterrence, by sending a courtesy visit to Charles De Gaulle in the port of Limassol and Raffale planes in Crete. Brussels was faced with a dilemma, given that the oil field to which Libya had committed itself to pay for Turkish military support involved Cyprus, Greece and France on the one hand, and Italy and the Union itself on the other.   

And it is France, which has interests in both the Sahel and the Eastern Mediterranean, which has been the biggest climber with Turkey in recent months.  Defending French interests in the Mediterranean and Africa has been the banner of Macron's non-European foreign policy in recent years. Three scenarios have been the main ones the French government has been working on, and in all three it has been, more or less veiled, Ankara versus Paris. In the eastern Mediterranean, the tense situation between the two allies almost came to a head in June when Turkish ships switched on the radar of a French frigate with their weapons systems during a routine inspection as part of NATO's Sea Guardian operation in Libyan waters.  

Until then, clashes between the two countries over the issue of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean, whose exploitation rights were sold to French companies, had not gone beyond diplomatic warnings and pressure measures aimed more at showing muscle to their rival than threatening military intervention. 

Diplomatic attacks between the two chancelleries have not ceased since then, nor has Macron stopped pressuring the EU over relations between Brussels and Ankara. On the occasion of the MED7 meeting, France, aligned with Greece, once again denounced Turkish manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean, accusing the Erdogan government of acting unilaterally on the issue of hydrocarbons and irresponsibly in the refugee crises, and urging the group of seven Mediterranean countries of the EU, in solidarity with Greece, to break off relations with Turkey in the Mediterranean area, which would lead to its exclusion as a preferential partner in regional economic agreements. French pressure led to a one-year extension of EU sanctions against Turkey at the end of October, with further sanctions set aside for the European summit in December.  

PHOTO/REUTERS - Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey 

Bilateral relations between the two countries over the past two months have been a concatenation of grievances between insults and threats. Issues such as the cartoons of Mohammed, laws to combat Islamic fundamentalism and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been a source of friction. According to World Bank data, in 2018, the volume of trade between the two countries was similar, about $14 billion a year divided 50/50 between the two countries.   

The sidelight was the withdrawal of the French ambassador to Turkey after President Erdogan called for a boycott of French products and suggested to President Macron the need for mental therapy. 

The turning point was Turkey's underground expansion into the Sahel, Paris's backyard in Africa.  

In this strategic region, Niger, on Libya's south-western flank, has complemented by an agreement with Turkey the cooperation agreement initiated in January for the development of Nigerian geomagnetic infrastructure, managed by the MTA, the Turkish government agency for the development and exploitation of mining resources, during Foreign Minister Çavusoglu's visit to Niamey in July for the development of energy, communication and agricultural development infrastructure managed by TIKA, as well as a military cooperation agreement focusing on the training of anti-terrorist units to deal with Boko Haram.  

But it is in Mali, where France has been conducting military operations against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb since 2013 and the nationalist organisations operating between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, that another Franco-Turkish confrontation has indirectly occurred. France accused Turkey of being behind the August coup that deposed Franco-Turkish President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. These accusations were confirmed by Mevlut Çavusoglu's visit to Mali in mid-September to show his support for the new government junta that emerged from the coup. The army justified the intervention in view of the growth of jihadist organisations and the demands of Malian society for political solutions, since the current situation is confirmation of the failure of the French-led military solution. For the citizens of Mali, the country was a de facto French protectorate where terrorism threatens the interests of Paris. Colonialism is disguised as humanitarian intervention. And it is in this type of scenario that Turkey performs best. 

Turkey's clearest objective is, apparently, the control of energy resources, particularly in Libya. Apparently, because, as we have seen, at the moment the decisive game for Turkey is the one playing for control of the Eastern Mediterranean and by extension its resources. Not only on the basis of the control of the different Mediterranean EEZs or the coercive use of force, but also with an indirect approach to the Mediterranean theatre of operations via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal route which, as we have seen, concentrates 15% of the world's trade volume. The 2019 strategy, Mavi Vatan, a little like Blue Nation, culminates the Turkish idea of control of the sea and replaces Stratejik Derinlik, Strategic Depth, by Ahmed Davutoglu.  

Within the framework of this idea of "soft power", Turkey tries to exploit the religious factor and cooperation in favour of its geostrategic objectives, in this case the role of TIKA in the region is very relevant. Because of the scale of the missions it leads, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, as well as its ability to act without ignoring the military factor, maximising results and taking little risk. TIKA is nothing other than the practice of the Turkish strategy conceived by Davutoglu, zero problems with neighbours, disguised as international cooperation and charity, one of the five pillars of Islam. Similarly, support for the various local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood has enabled Turkey to penetrate the social level and weave networks of clientelism and dependence even in eminently secular countries such as Libya, where brotherhood never saw the light of day, but which currently represents political power in at least half of the country. Basically, this explanation serves to illustrate in a very general way the mistrust and animosity that the missions carried out by TIKA generate among Turkey's competitors, as opposed to the vision of Islam of the Gulf monarchies or in theoretically secular countries such as Egypt.   

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