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Turkey and Russia after the coup attempt: friends, not allies

Turkey’s ongoing rapprochement with Russia will intensify following the failed coup attempt. However it is very unlikely to lead to Turkey formally quitting NATO.

Alexander Mercouris

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The pending summit between President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia is increasing speculation of an eastward pivot by Turkey away from its traditional alliance with the US towards Russia and the Eurasian powers.

This speculation is undoubtedly correct for the short term.  However it remains far from clear how far that pivot will go and how successful it will be.

Turkey and Russia have had a complex relationship.  Before the First World War tsarist Russia and Ottoman Turkey were traditional enemies fighting a long succession of wars against each other.  However since the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1922 relations have alternated between short periods of friendship and longer periods of hostility.

Kemal himself for most of the period of his rule maintained very close and friendly relations with Russia.  Indeed in the 1920s and early 1930s the USSR and Turkey were often thought of as allies.  Relations however began to deteriorate towards the end of Kemal’s life and following the end of the Second World War Turkey aligned itself decisively with the West and against the USSR by joining NATO. 

In the late 1970s Bulent Ecevit, during one of his brief periods in office as Prime Minister of Turkey, visited Moscow in a way that appeared to signal an attempt to achieve a sustained improvement in relations.  The attempt – if such it was – was short-lived, and the two countries shortly after once again began to distance themselves from each other.

Relations however improved again following the coming to power in 2002 of Erdogan’s AKP party and for a time appeared to become very close.  However there was a sharp deterioration in relations at the end of last year, when the two countries fell out because of their conflicting positions in the Syrian war and following Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian SU24 aircraft near the Turkish – Syrian border.  Relations remained extremely tense until just a few weeks ago when Erdogan (to most people’s surprise) suddenly apologised for the SU24 shoot-down.  Relations have since improved, and following the recent coup attempt there has been a dramatic improvement.

This history should however serve as a warning against any idea that the two countries are natural allies or friends.  On the contrary the fact that for most of their history – including their recent history – they have been enemies, all but confirms the opposite.  It is significant that the only two periods when relations between Turkey and Russia have been close have both been periods when Turkey has had unusually strong leaders: Kemal and Erdogan.  At all other times, when the political situation in Turkey has been more normal, relations have gone back to being bad. 

That suggests that a state of conflict with Russia, rather than friendship with Russia, is Turkey’s natural or default position.  That in itself must call into doubt the prospects of a sustained friendship between the two states.

What chance however is there for a decisive pro-Russian pivot by Turkey whilst Erdogan remains in power?

The first point to say is that such a pivot would for the first time in the history of Russian – Turkish relations make economic sense.  Trade links between the two countries have burgeoned in recent years with Russia becoming a major investor in the Turkish economy and a key exporter to Turkey of energy and manufactured goods.  Turkey for its part until the recent short period of bad relations had become a major destination of Russian tourists and was becoming an important exporter of agricultural and other goods to Russia.  Russia was also becoming an important market for Turkish businesses.  To those who believe that good political relations follow trade (actually a highly debatable proposition that finds little support in historical experience) conditions for sustainably good relations between Turkey and Russia have never been better.

It is also true that Turkey has become increasingly disillusioned with the West. 

Turkey has had an association agreement with the EU since 1963.  It formally applied to join the EU in 1987.  It has however since then and to its growing frustration been obliged to witness a string of former Communist East European states, all of whom applied to join the EU after Turkey, being admitted to the EU ahead of Turkey, with Turkey constantly being put back to the end of the queue.  Turkey has so far not even managed to gain for its citizens visa free access to the EU. Some EU politicians have even recently taken to saying that they will never agree to Turkey joining the EU. 

In the meantime, as part of this seemingly endless accession process, the Turks have had to endure the usual lectures and demands for “reform” from the EU.  Not all of these reforms are popular or make much sense in Turkey.  Erdogan himself has also had to endure the indignity of being constantly mocked and ridiculed in Europe and of being patronised by EU politicians in ways he must find infuriating.  By contrast the Russians – even when they have been angry with him – have always treated Erdogan with respect as the leader of a great nation and state.

Unsurprisingly some sections of Turkish society have become increasingly disenchanted with this never-ending quest for EU membership and in recent years doubts have increasingly been voiced about whether it is even worth pursuing.  Turkey’s recent economic boom – which has shown that Turkey is perfectly able to prosper outside the EU – and the crisis in the Eurozone have meant that for the first time in decades there is a nationalist case for not joining the EU which in Turkey is gaining an increasing hearing.

Beyond Turkey’s disappointment with the EU there is also deepening frustration and anger with the way Turkey feels it has been treated by the US.  This centres on US treatment of Turkey during the Syrian conflict. 

Prior to the start of the conflict Turkey had built up close and very friendly relations with Syria, with Erdogan forging a strong personal bond with Syria’s President Assad.  Though it is not well remembered today, when the protests against Assad’s government in Syria began in 2011 the Turks were initially very reluctant to become involved.  Turkey was however strongly pressed to do so by the US and its other Western allies, with the result that Turkey rapidly became the chief base and staging post for Syrian rebels entering Syria to take part in the war there.

Turkey made this commitment under the impression – and assurance from its allies – that Assad’s government in Syria would quickly fall.  To Turkey’s dismay that has not only failed to happen but as the conflict in Syria has dragged on it has spread to Turkey itself.  Turkey is now the target of numerous jihadi terrorist attacks on its own soil, its large Alevi minority, which sympathises with President Assad, is deeply unhappy about the war, and a painfully negotiated settlement of the Kurdish issue with the Kurds has unravelled as Turkey has become increasingly concerned at the emergence of autonomous Kurdish controlled territories within Syria along the Turkish border.  To add insult to injury the US – Turkey’s NATO ally – has allied itself with some of these Kurdish forces in Syria despite warnings from the Turkish authorities that they are closely linked the Kurdish groups fighting the Turkish army in Turkey. 

Last but not least the conflict in Syria led to a major falling out last year between Turkey and Russia.  Not only did Turkey and Russia apparently come close this winter to an armed clash – with credible rumours the Russians threatened the Turks with nuclear weapons – but over the course of the crisis Turkey’s economic links to Russia came close to falling apart and Erdogan had to endure the personal humiliation of having the Russians publicly accuse members of his own family of illegal links to Daesh.

Not only has the Syrian conflict been a disaster for Turkey.  It has also brought home to the Turks how little the US ultimately cares about them.  It is known that Erdogan was bitterly angry, and felt personally betrayed, when US President Obama at the last moment called off the bombing strikes on Syria he had announced following the Ghouta chemical attack in August 2013.  Even more serious and unnerving for the Turks was the very tepid support Turkey got from the US and its NATO allies during the crisis in relations with Russia this winter following the shooting down of the SU24, with some German officials actually publicly blaming Turkey for the incident.

The Turks therefore already had good reasons to be angry with the US and the West before the recent coup attempt.  However that coup attempt has now made the Turks angrier still.

As I have recently written, it is unlikely the US was involved in the recent coup attempt.  The claim that it must have been involved because some of the F16 fighters involved in the coup took off from the giant air base at Incirlik is by the way wrong.  Whilst Incirlik is a US base, it is also a Turkish air force base.  The US does not control what the Turkish air force does there and is not in a position to prevent Turkish air force fighters taking off from a Turkish air force base in Turkey.

The important thing however – as I have also pointed out – is not whether the US was actually involved in the coup or not.  It is that Erdogan and public opinion in Turkey believe it was.  It is that belief which is now governing their actions and which is leading to a further sharp deterioration in relations between Turkey and the US.

The suspicions of US involvement in the coup meanwhile contrasts with clearcut Russian and Iranian opposition to it.  As I have said previously, the rumours the coup failed because of a Russian tip-off are almost certainly true.  Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek is incidentally just the latest in a long line of Russian and Turkish officials who have been given an opportunity to deny that there was a tip-off but have failed to do so.  When asked to comment about the tip-off a few days ago he stuck to what is clearly now the agreed line, which is that he didn’t know anything about it, but then went on to talk immediately of Russia’s clearcut support for Turkey.  His exact words – as reported by TASS – were as follows:

I have no information on this matter, but I’d like to note that the next day after the coup attempt the most serious backing was provided by Russia that emphasised its support to the legitimate government of Turkey. We highly value the phone call of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This support was very strong.”

(bold italics added)

It can therefore be taken as read that over the course of the next few weeks the Russians and the Turks will move much closer to each other.  Turkish anger with the US over the coup and gratitude to Russia will accelerate and intensify a process of Turkish – Russian rapprochement which was already underway before the coup.

How far however, will it go?

I would warn against over-high expectations.  Economic links will surely strengthen.  There is talk of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, and that must now be a real possibility.  The Turk Stream gas pipeline project will surely be revived.  The Turks will lessen their support for the rebels in Syria (the state of the Turkish army following the coup anyway allows for nothing else).  There is even talk that they might join with the Russian military in joint operations against Daesh. It is by no means impossible that we could see a joint Russian-Turkish position for a Syrian settlement starting to form, with Turkey to some degree replacing the US as Russia’s main interlocutor in the negotiations to end the Syrian conflict.  Lastly Turkey could move closer towards some of the Eurasian institutions that are being created such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (in which it already has observer status) and the Eurasian Economic Union, and it might even take some initial steps towards joining them.  However actual membership of these organisations would be seen as incompatible with Turkey’s NATO’s membership, and I therefore doubt things will go that far (see below).

Simultaneously the Turks are likely to take more steps to distance themselves from the US.  They may continue for example their ongoing harassment of US personnel at the base in Incirlik.  It is not inconceivable that they might even start to float demands for the base to be closed, or for US nuclear weapons to be removed from there.  They might even revive an incendiary proposal that was briefly floated for a few days shortly before the coup of the Russians using the base to conduct operations in Syria.  The US was understandably enough horrified by this proposal, and succeeded in blocking it.  If it is now revived it will trigger serious alarm and anger in Washington.

However I doubt that Turkey will take any immediate steps to expel the US from Incirlik or to withdraw from NATO or to abandon its links to the EU.  Quite apart from the fact that taking such steps would reverse an alignment that is now 70 years old and which still has considerable support within Turkey itself, it would also antagonise the US, which would certainly at that point come to see Erdogan and his government as enemies.  I doubt that Erdogan will want that, regardless of how angry with the US he currently is.

The ongoing Russian – Turkish rapprochement will continue and will intensify.  I doubt however that there will be any formal reversal of alliances and I am sure the Russians don’t expect it.  Since their priority now must be to keep Erdogan in power as a potential partner, they might even advise against it if they feel that doing it might threaten Erdogan’s position by calling down on him the wrath of the US.

However the fact of that rapprochement will certainly have an immediate impact on the international situation, especially in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.  It might even complicate NATO operations in the Black Sea, and lead to resistance from Turkey to any more anti-Russian posturing by NATO such as we saw recently at the NATO summit in Warsaw, something that might become increasingly important if (as seems likely) Hillary Clinton is the next US President.  The Russians will surely feel that that is quite enough for the time being.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.

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Via Zerohedge


An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”

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Via Zerohedge


A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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