With Arms Deals and Donations, Turkey Steps up Balkan Influence

Turkey has long pursued a policy of soft-power diplomacy in the Balkans. More recently, the defence sector has come to the fore.

When, in the midst of a reignited war over the Caucasus mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh, President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia was considering buying Turkish armed drones, it was the latest indicator of Turkey’s growing defence sector might in the Balkans.

The Bayraktar drones, produced by a defence firm owned by Selcuk Bayraktar, son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are the product of a decade of Turkish state investment in its domestic defence industry, showcased in Ankara’s military involvement in Libya and Syria and its backing of Azerbaijan in its fight with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In early October, with Azerbaijani and Armenian forces trading blows in the worst violence over Nagorno-Karabakh since it broke away from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, Vucic told reporters: “We are considering buying the Turkish Bayraktar and we will see if we can reach an agreement with the Turkish manufacturer.”

It would far from the first defence sector deal between Turkey and the countries of the Balkans, as Ankara builds on years of growing political, financial and cultural influence in the region.

“Turkey entered the region with a soft power approach,” said Sencer Gozubenli, a Turkey expert at the Abo Akademi University in Finland, citing the restoration of Ottoman-era mosques and other historical monuments as well as cultural and educational donations.

“However, Turkish decision-makers understood that building a mosque does not represent real political leverage when necessary. Defence cooperation and a country’s dependence on Turkey would create a real leverage.”

Adnan Huskic, a political and security analyst at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, said Turkey wants to be a “regional authority”.

Check Also

Iran signals readiness for direct talks with US

Amid reported piecemeal progress toward a potential deal, the Iranian government says it has been …