The FINANCIAL -- The deadly terrorist attack in Istanbul this week -- which officials are blaming on the Islamic State -- highlights Turkey's vulnerability because of its policy in Syria and its relations with the European Union, Russia and the U.S.
The attacks could further chill Turks' already cool reception toward the leadership of the three. Before the airport attack, at most three in 10 Turks approved of the leadership of the EU, Russia or the U.S., according to Gallup.
Despite years of commercial and political ties and Turkey's bid to join the EU, the war in Syria has seriously tested relations on both sides. On the European continent, the stream of migrants from Syria and other war-torn countries through Turkey to EU countries triggered intense rifts within the EU. Although Turks' approval of the EU's leadership has been declining gradually over the past few years, it slipped to 25% in 2016, shortly after the EU reached a deal with Turkey to send migrants back to its shores.
Before Turkey and Russia's recent overtures to mend relations -- which some observers suspect could be one motivation for the airport attack -- just 18% of Turks approved of the leadership of Russia and the majority (51%) disapproved. Although Turks' approval ratings of Russia's leadership have never been high, the recent decline in ratings likely reflects strained relations after Turkey shot down a Russian bomber that reportedly entered Turkish airspace from Syria last November. Russian economic sanctions against Turkey in the aftermath potentially jeopardized the highly strategic Turkish Stream gas pipeline project the country has been planning with Gazprom, the large Russian supplier of natural gas.
As NATO's second-largest army, Turkey's relationship with the U.S. is important to the strategic interests of both nations. Turkey is helping the U.S.-led coalition attack Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria and allows coalition forces to use its airspace. Turks' approval of U.S. leadership in recent years has remained relatively stable. However, more Turks continue to disapprove (39%) than approve (29%). About one in three do not have an opinion.
Turkey's strategic location at the center of both the Middle East and Eurasia straddles it between Western and Russian spheres of influence. Before the deadly terrorist attacks, relations with Israel, the EU and Russia were undergoing some seismic shifts. How this ally of the West and important business partner of Russia manages its delicate balance of relations with global powers will be key in how the current turmoil in Europe and the Middle East plays out in coming years.