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Here’s why Russia’s backing Turkey’s resurgence as a Mideast power

Moscow sees Ankara’s rise as beneficial to its long-term interests

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(New Eastern Outlook) – When Ataturk founded modern Turkey he took advantage of the one moment in history when Turkish nationalism had an exclusive character. Turkish political leaders have always had a deep-seated need to project themselves everywhere, and not only within their former empire. You can’t run Turkey and allow it to be on the fringes of Europe and Asia: it must be a leading player in both, or the locals won’t stand for it.

It takes little imagination to see that Turkey has a Grand Plan in its old stomping ground of the Middle East. It has shown that it is willing to break ranks with other NATO members and put its own needs first, even when ostensibly part of the same operation. It is not happy with anyone else shaping the region to suit themselves, but this is not because they are rivals of Turkey but because they are not Turkey itself.

Most recently Turkey has been with working with the Free Syrian Army, but fighting other less embedded terrorists rather than Assad. This is not because it is threatened by those terrorists, but because it is seeking to balance what the US in doing in its so-called war on terrorism – working hand-in-hand with the PKK and Kurdish fighters in Syria and the region, who are currently bigger threats to Turkey than Syria.

Turkey’s interests in Syria, and Mosul, centre on oil. As long as oil flows, illegally, from these places to Turkish industry and the country’s overseas clients Turkey doesn’t mind Syria being carved up in the process. However US actions put the PKK, and Kurds in general, closer to that oil. Ankara won’t have the resources to resist its domestic Kurds, or threaten anyone else, if the PKK gets its hands on the oil.

But for domestic consumption all this is being framed as a national crusade. Turkey feels it is entitled to all the resources of its former empire. Even if these countries are independent, they are still expected to pay due deference to Turkey as their former master, in the same way members of the Commonwealth are expected to follow the UK’s lead in international affairs and resource exploitation. If they don’t, Turkey is prepared to fight to regain what was once its own, because it wouldn’t be Turkey if it didn’t take charge.

All this is laid out in Turkey’s National Pact, a document Erdogan suggested the Prime Minister of Iraq should read to understand Turkey’s interest in Mosul. The pro-government Turkish media are also redrawing Turkey’s borders in a series of maps, including a number of areas Turkey still has a historical claim to.

But why is Turkey being allowed to get away with this, when this independent action would see it branded as an aggressor under other circumstances? 

Accidental equivalence

Turkey is being allowed to think it can reclaim its old glory because Russia sees Turkish dominance of the Middle East as beneficial to itself in the long-term. It would balance the US presence there, and provide the threat that if Russia is branded as the enemy for ever more the West might lose Turkey too.

Despite all its efforts to demonise Turkey and Muslims, the West doesn’t really want Turkey on the opposite side, because it also has historical memory. To appease the millions of EU citizens whose homelands were ruled by the Ottomans for 500 years, it would have to deal with Russia as a partner, however much those same people also hate the Russians.

This was confirmed by the recent Turkish military action in Syria, which was undertaken in collaboration with the Russians. It was only a year ago that Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria, an action which had severe diplomatic repercussions. Russia would not be working with Turkey, or vice versa, unless the two countries had identified a mutual interest which overrode any conflict between them.

The basis of this mutual interest is spelled out in the Astana memorandum, signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey. This establishes de-escalation areas in a number of locations in Syria, in which conflict is supposed to end and humanitarian assistance is to be provided, which will be policed by these three countries. It confirms that the three countries will continue to fight ISIS and other groups declared terrorist by the UN, but that everyone else should respect a ceasefire within these zones.

According to global affairs analyst Patrick Henningsen, this memorandum reformulates the language of the Syrian conflict from the fabricated, inverted reality used by NATO and moves its centre of gravity eastwards, by making the regional powers responsible for resolving the conflict. As a Kremlin press release from Sept. 25 says: “The Syrian de-escalation zones give an opening for putting an end to the civil war in the country and for a political settlement of the crisis based on respect for Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

This action is a direct contradiction of the US and NATO policy of removing Assad because he is considered the greater threat. The nature of the de-escalation zones, as spelled out, also makes them starkly different to the demilitarised zones established by NATO during the Balkan Wars, which were never demilitarised from within but became arms dumps from which attacks on Serbs were launched with impunity.

Furthermore, it was the US which instigated the Syrian conflict by selecting “moderate” terrorists it could use to create a Kurdish state in the region. If other powers walk in and sort it out, more attention will be paid to this, and US freedom of action in other countries will be curtailed. We might also note that US-Turkish relations have been on the rocks since Washington refused to extradite the US-based Gulen to Turkey. With Trump under pressure in the US for alleged illegal links with the Russians, it will soon be asked why this action was taken, when it produced the diplomatic outcome Russia wanted but the West didn’t.

For all these reasons, these zones present a challenge to the West. But if this challenge is met head on this will drive Turkey into Russia’s orbit, not Europe’s, and all parties concerned know Europe hasn’t got the nerve to do that.

Strategic Depth is deeper than we thought

To gain greater insight into what is becoming a consistent Turkish policy, the place to start is the 2001 book by Ahmet Davutoğlu called Strategic Depth. In this the former Prime Minister talks about creating Lebensraum for the Turkish people. He also promotes his version of pan-Islamism, which unlike some other versions makes the term synonymous with neo-Ottomanism.

As a piece of political theory, this book presented a point of view. But Davutoglu was not only Turkey’s Prime Minister but Minister of Foreign Affairs. Until his resignation on 5 May 2016 he was considered the architect of a new Turkish foreign policy, which is exactly what he said it should be in his book.

This is why some question Davutoglu’s actual importance in foreign policy. It is very convenient to say that others wrote the policy, or that things just happened that way, when people know how much of Mein Kampf  became a reality a few years after that book had been openly published, and been made required reading, when those who had actually read it had a responsibility to prevent such things occurring.

Drawing new maps on TV is not a harmless pastime. It is often forgotten that Indira Gandhi’s famous attack on the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holy shrine of the Sikh community , was largely driven by separatist Sikhs publishing a map of their separate “Khalistan” homeland which included New Delhi. On Argentinian maps the Falkland Islands are described as belonging to Argentina, the British ownership of them being deemed illegal. As in Gandhi’s reverse case, it was inevitable that when the Buenos Aires government had other problems it would show how big it was by enforcing this historic claim, even if that brought that government down.

Maybe Europe, despite being full of old empires, thought the Turks weren’t serious, or wouldn’t dare because they wanted Europe too much. But it is that desire for Europe, and Europe’s encouragement of it for its own ends, which have helped create the present situation, which Erdogan has once twisted into one in which he can’t lose.

Erdogan has complained publicly about the Treaty of Lausanne, which drew modern Turkey’s borders after the Ottoman Empire was dismembered after World War I https://www.voanews.com/a/turkey-erdogan-treaty-of-lausanne-borders/3547651.html. He says it made the country too small, and put many ethnic Turks outside its boundaries. The corollary of this is that those of other nationalities, such as Kurds and Armenians, who were included in the new Turkey should be able to separate from it. But Erdogan would not accept that, because ethnic homogeneity was not the point he was making.

Erdogan reckons that the Treaty of Lausanne should be set aside because Turkey is on the right side of global politics, not a vanquished enemy as it was then. After all, the West keeps telling it how important a strategic ally it is, and Turkey has housed US and NATO bases for a very long time, even when it was a military dictatorship seemingly at odds with Western rhetoric about what countries should be.

Turkey should be rewarded for good behaviour, says Erdogan. If not, it will have no obligation to play others, game anymore, and will do what it wants to redress the Western insult.  It has all the tools it needs to settle accounts, lots of unpaid proxy fighters and refugees, official and unofficial to toss across the border to flow to Old Europe, especially Germany, as the preferred venue.

Russia does not want Turkey calling the shots alone, and neither does Turkey want its old empire dominated by the Russians who liberated large chunks of it. But they both know the West doesn’t want either of them to expand their influence either.

The two countries can best achieve that by working together. The Western need for Turkey provides both countries with a protective shield, and when Russia has played its usual game of demonstrating how the West has compromised itself it is more likely to put Turkey in direct control of the new reality rather than stay itself, as Turkey would be happy to do Russia’s bidding to remain in that position provided it could pretend to its own public that it was really in charge again.

The Middle Eastern peoples also have historical memories of the Turks. They have no more wish to see them in charge again than East Europeans do. But those very historical memories encourage them to play a long game. If Turkey can help them remove the US, a disease of the skin, the Middle Eastern countries can preserve their souls, and they can deal with the Turks at a later date.

US plans for a Kurdish State are being undone, to the delight of Turkey, and with efforts to eliminate Assad faltering it is likely to be totally expelled from Syria. The Middle East has too much oil to be allowed to run its own affairs. So someone will have to fill the void, and from a US point of view too that may as well be Turkey, if it has to be. At least it is still technically a Western ally, and if the West helps it run the Middle East this might turn it away from Russia, which current US policy has failed to accomplish.

At least for now it would also be in the Western interest to allow Turkey a freer hand in the Middle East, so it gains no benefit from allying with Russia. Such an arrangement would ignore the local population, but that is what the US does all the time. It would help the US even more if it turned Turkey’s increased influence in the Middle East into an extension of present US policy, beating the Russians again whilst behaving just as badly as ever.

Credit: Henry Kamens

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US confirms pullout from INF treaty, Moscow will respond if missiles placed in Europe – deputy FM

Moscow will respond to possible attempts to place short and intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles in Europe if the US decides to go on with this plan.

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Washington has confirmed its decision to withdraw from the INF treaty is final, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said, adding that Moscow will ‘take measures’ if American missiles that threaten its security are placed in Europe.

“Washington publicly announced its plans to withdraw from the treaty (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) already in October. Through the high-level bilateral channels it was confirmed to us that this decision was final and wasn’t an attempt to initiate dialogue,” Sergey Ryabkov told the Kommersant newspaper.

The Deputy FM said that Moscow will respond to possible attempts to place short and intermediate range nuclear-capable missiles in Europe if the US decides to go on with this plan.

“We’ll be forced to come up with effective compensating measures. I’d like to warn against pushing the situation towards the eruption of new ‘missile crises.’ I am convinced that no sane country could be interested in something like this,” he said.

Russia isn’t threatening anybody, but have the necessary strength and means to counter any aggressor.
Back in October, President Donald Trump warned that Washington was planning unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty because “Russia has not adhered to the agreement.” The US leader also promised that the country would keep boosting its nuclear arsenal until Russia and China “come to their senses.”

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington will suspend its obligations under the treaty within 60 days if Russia does not “return to compliance.”

Signed in late 1988, the INF agreement was considered a milestone in ending the arms race between the US and the USSR.

In recent years, Moscow and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of violating the INF deal. While the US has alleged that Russia has developed missiles prohibited by the treaty, Russia insists that the American anti-missile systems deployed in Eastern Europe can actually be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.

The deputy FM said that Washington “never made a secret” of the fact that its INF treaty pullout “wasn’t so much about problems between the US and Russia, but about the desire of the Americans to get rid of all restrictions that were inconvenient for them.”

The US side expressed belief that the INF deal “significantly limits the US military’s capabilities to counter states with arsenals of medium-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles,” which threaten American interests, he said. “China, Iran and North Korea” were specifically mentioned by Washington, Ryabkov added.

“I don’t think that we’re talking about a new missile crisis, but the US plans are so far absolutely unclear,” Mikhail Khodarenok, retired colonel and military expert, told RT, reminding that the Americans have avoided any type of “meaningful discussion” with Moscow in regards to its INF deal pullout.

While “there’ll be no deployment of [US missiles] in Europe any time soon,” Moscow should expect that Washington would try to void other agreements with Russia as well, Khodarenok warned.

The INF deal “just stopped being beneficial for the US. Next up are all the other arms control treaties. There’ll be no resistance from the NATO allies [to US actions],” he said.

“The neocons who run Trump’s foreign policy never have liked arms reduction treaties,” former Pentagon official Michael Maloof told RT. “The new START treaty which comes up for renewal also could be in jeopardy.”

“The risk of a new nuclear buildup is really quite obvious” if the US withdrawals from the INF treaty, Dan Smith, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told RT.

“I think the relations between the great powers – the US and Russia as well as the US and China – are more difficult than they’ve been for a long time,” he added.

However, with Washington having indicated that it wants China to be part of the new deal, “there are still possibilities for negotiations and agreement,” according to Smith. Nonetheless, he warned that following this path will demand strong political will and tactical thinking from the leadership of all three countries.

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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EU’s ‘toothless’ response to creation of Kosovo army risks worsening the crisis – Moscow

Russia’s ambassador to the UN said that the EU could have and should have done more to stop the breakaway region from creating its own army.

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The creation of Kosovo’s own 5,000-strong army is a threat to peace and security in a turbulent region and may lead to a new escalation, Russia’s UN envoy has warned, calling the EU’s lackluster response irresponsible.

Speaking at the UN Security Council emergency meeting on Kosovo, Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzya said that the EU could have and should have done more to stop the breakaway region from creating its own army to replace its lightly armed emergency response force.

“The EU reaction to the decision by Pristina cannot be described as other than toothless. This irresponsible policy has crossed the line,” Nebenzya said, after the UNSC meeting on Monday.

The diplomat said the lack of decisive action on the part of the 28-member bloc was a “great disappointment,” adding that the EU seems to “have turned a blind eye on the illegal creation of Kosovo’s ‘army.’”

The law, approved by Kosovo lawmakers on Friday, paves the way for doubling the size of the current Kosovo Security Force and for turning it into a de facto army, with 5,000 soldiers and 3,000 reservists.

The move did not go down well even with Kosovo’s usual backers, with both NATO and the EU voicing their indignation. NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg called the decision “ill-timed” and lamented that Kosovo’s authorities had ignored “the concerns expressed by NATO.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, has echoed those concerns, saying in a statement that the mandate of Kosovo’s forces “should only be changed through an inclusive and gradual process” in accordance with the state’s constitution.

The only nation to openly applaud the controversial move was the US, with its ambassador to Kosovo, Phillip Kosnett, saying that Washington “reaffirms its support” for the upgrade as it is “only natural for Kosovo as a sovereign, independent country” to have a full-fledged army.

The Kosovo MPs’ decision has drawn anger in the Serbian capital Belgrade and provoked a strong response from Moscow, which calledon the UN mission in Kosovo to demilitarize the area in accordance with UNSC resolution 1244, and to disband any armed units.

Nebenzya pointed out that the UN resolution does not allow any Kosovo Albanian military units to be present in the region’s territory. He accused Western countries, including members of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force (KFOR), of “condoning and supporting” the violation by Pristina of the resolution.

It is feared that the army, though a relatively small force, might inflame tensions in the region and impede attempts at reconciliation between Pristina and Belgrade. Serbia has warned that it might consider an armed intervention if the army becomes a threat to the 120,000-strong Serb minority in Kosovo.

“The advance of Kosovo’s army presents a threat to the peace and security in the region, which may lead to the recurrence of the armed conflict,” Nebenzya stated.

In addition to creating its own army, Kosovo in November hit Serbia with a 100 percent import tariff on goods, defying calls by the US and the EU to roll the measure back.

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