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Russia-US reconciliation challenges Turkey’s ambitions in the Arab world

Turkey, putatively part of the US led anti-ISIS coalition whilst simultaneously reaching a rapprochement with Russia, has in reality gone rogue in both Syria and Iraq. Trump and Putin ought to speak with one voice against Turkish ambitions in the Arab world.

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Of the many nations whose relationship with the United States will be altered due to Donald Trump’s foreign policy shift, the most unpredictable is that of Turkey.

Turkey occupies a peculiar position in NATO and the wider pro-American alliance. Whilst Ottoman Turkey and Imperial Russia were perpetual enemies, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Tsarist Russian Empire temporarily brought about good relations between Republican Turkey and the Soviet Union.

Republican Turkey was one of the first three states which Lenin engaged in formal relationships with, the others being Iran and Afghanistan.

Ataturk and Lenin enjoyed a good relationship, but by the end of the 2nd World War, relations between Turkey and the USSR deteriorated. When Turkey joined NATO in 1952, the deal was sealed. Yet even so, Turkey – a vast country with own very unique ideas about her place in the world, remained less concerned with the US-Soviet chess game in Europe than its more localised and regional affairs.

Today, with President Erdogan undermining many of Turkey’s Republican values, Ankara’s foreign policy has experienced fits of manic-depression, getting on and falling out with all major regional players as well as geopolitical players.

Putin and Erdogan’s recent agreement to re-open trade channels, share scientific and technological expertise and a vague promise to cooperate on Islamic terrorism has had mixed results, particularly in Syria but also in the related conflict in Iraq.

On the one hand, Russia and Turkey appear to have agreed to not tread on each other’s territory in Syria, both literally and politically. This is based on the pragmatic understanding that both countries have different goals.

Russia wants to eliminate all terrorist groups in Syria and help to stabilise and strengthen the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Turkey’s initial goal was to weaken Assad’s government if not overthrow it entirely. This goal was in line with Obama’s policy, though mercifully, apparently not in line with that of President-elect Trump.

As the idea of overthrowing the Syrian government becomes increasingly unlikely if not impossible, Turkey has partly shifted its goals in Syria. Whilst still occasionally aiding its terrorist group de jure, the so-called Free Syrian Army, the end game for Erdogan is to create a successful buffer zone between would be autonomous Kurdish fighters in Syria and the Turkish border.

Should the Kurds establish a self-governing enclave in Syria, this could be used to aid the PKK inside Turkey which for Erdogan, like almost any Turkish leader, would be thoroughly unacceptable.

But when one looks to Iraq, Turkey’s pragmatism, albeit militant pragmatism, goes out the window. Erdogan recently gave a speech implying  that Turkey’s destiny is to restore certain former Ottoman ruled Arab  Vilayets (provinces), back to Turkey. This included the Vilayet of Mosul in what is now northern Iraq.

This threat did not go unnoticed in Baghdad. The Turkish forces illegally fighting in northern Iraq as part of Obama’s duplicitous anti-ISIS coalition have been threatened by Iraq. War between Turkey and Iraq – two US allies – was not part of the Pentagon’s plan, but America has never been as good at controlling Turkey as it likes to believe. This is especially true under the erratic Erdogan who blames the US for this summer’s unsuccessful coup attempt.

War between two US allies could happen if Turkey refuses to back down in Northern Iraq and the battle for Mosul continues to become more of an entrenched stalemate, rather than the easy victory Washington predicted and Baghdad prayed for.

Whilst Erdogan’s accusations of a US inspired coup seem to be a bit fanciful (it was most likely a poorly organised attempt by low to mid-level groups of Turkish Army officers), he is correct in accusing the US of sheltering Fethullah  Gülen, a leader of a heterodox Islamist movement in Turkey which seeks to complete with Erdogan’s own version of anti-Republican political Islam.

In the scheme of things, in Syria, Turkey is now fighting against Kurdish solidarity. While in Iraq, Turkey is fighting to establish influence in the north of the country, much as Iran has established firm support in the Shi’a south, namely in Basra. Iran, however, has not needed military engagement in order to establishment political influence. Anti-Saddam Shi’a rebels in the south had long ties to Iran, and they only strengthened after US and Britain’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Whilst Iranian influence is broadly accepted if not welcomed in the south, Turkish influence will not be welcome in the north, not by Sunni Arabs and certainly not by Kurds. Turkey is fighting in the US coalition in terms of its technical position, but in reality, Turkey has an agenda that is ultimately its own. Ankara has gone rogue in Iraq and to a large degree in Syria too.

What is clear is that based on international law and the principles of Arab dignity, let alone Arab nationalism, Turkey has no business in the Arab world. This pipe-dream of Erdogan’s ought to have been put to rest many years ago.

If Putin and Trump can actually coordinate policy and plans of action in Syria and possibly by extrapolation, agree on Iraq, this leaves Turkey’s ambitions fully exposed. In an ideal world, it isn’t up to America or Russia to tell Turkey how to conduct its own affairs, but it is perfectly reasonable for a joint US-Russia effort to put an end to Turkey’s naked ambitions in the Arab world.

By speaking with one voice, Putin and Trump could put an end to this. The power of US and Russia means that they can, and the lack of stability in the region means that they must.

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”

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Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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