Is Donald Trump an Obstacle in Stopping Turkish Aggression?

U.S. President Donald Trump meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2020.

Tuesday’s official State Department announcement calling Turkey’s illegal activity inside Cyprus’ EEZ a “provocative” act which creates tension in the region is yet another sign that the United States supports Cyprus and Greece against Ankara’s escalating expansionist aims.

The statement came as a very pleasant surprise for the two countries.

US concerns over Turkish activity in the Eastern Mediterranean were clearly expressed last August as well, when the State Department criticized the activity of drill ship Yavuz inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. The statement then, as now, stipulated that only the Republic of Cyprus can consent to drilling activities inside its territorial waters.

However, the State Department announcements were ignored by Ankara, as they always are. In fact, Turkey took it a (giant) step further in December by signing an illegal Memorandum of Understanding with the disputed government of Libya delineating maritime borders between the two countries.

The United States and the European Union both condemned the deal. They also condemned the decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send military forces to Libya to fight on the side of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Turkey has violated international law several times in the past several months, with Erdogan feeling free to play the Eastern Mediterranean bully, going completely unpunished. However, the US State Department is definitely on the side of Greece and Cyprus, viewing Turkey as a destabilizing force in a volatile region.

The question for Greece and Cyprus is when the verbal US support will turn into action. Is President Donald Trump the only obstacle prohibiting real, meaningful action to stop Erdogan from continuously causing trouble in an already-troubled region?

In October of 2019, after Turkish forces in essence invaded Syria, the US Congress asked for strict sanctions against Turkey. The sanctions Trump announced were like a light slap to the wrist, leaving a wide swath of Congress frustrated.

The Greek-American community has a strong presence in Congress, and it is pushing for more pressure on Erdogan to cease and desist in the bullying of Greece and Cyprus. The international community also has long expected Trump to come forward and decide on measures to chastise Erdogan.

Yet the US President is turning a deaf ear to these voices of reason. Analysts say that he is occupied with his efforts to fight his impeachment, and Greece and Cyprus seem to be low on his agenda. A former White House aide has also alleged that Trump has business interests in Turkey, thus the seemingly favorable, or at least hands-off, treatment of Ankara.

Germany, the nation which routinely sets the European agenda, has significant economic interests in Turkey — and three million Turkish immigrants living on its soil. So it seems Greece and Cyprus clearly cannot count on the European Union for help on the Turkish aggression issue.

Greece must be able to count on the United States as an ally — maybe its only true ally having great strength. The European Union, for its part, seems to be standing aloof and whistling indifferently; only the nation of France has shown its support on this issue thus far.