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Turkey on the brink as Erdoğan struggles to win re-election in Sunday’s polls

Erdoğan’s re-election and grip on power undermined by growing economic crisis

Alexander Mercouris

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Sunday’s elections in Turkey are being widely seen around the world as an important test for Turkey’s longterm leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Unusually Presidential and parliamentary elections are happening in Turkey at the same time, with Erdoğan – currently Turkey’s President – looking to consolidate his position in the new office of executive President he has created for himself.

Erdoğan however also needs his AKP grouping to win a clear majority in the Turkish parliament if he is to continue to govern Turkey in the unchallengeable way to which he has become accustomed.

Turkey’s elections were in fact due to be held in November 2019.  However in April Erdoğan brought them forward because he sensed that Turkey’s economic position – upon which his popularity depends – was becoming weaker.

Crash of the lira

In the event the Turkish currency the lira has crashed since the elections were called, losing 20% of its value this year and some 40% of its value since the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

The crash of the lira has in turn resulted in a sharp rise in Turkey’s inflation rate, which now stands at 12%, whilst Turkey’s Central Bank has been forced – against Erdoğan’s wishes – to raise its key rate to 18%.

Not surprisingly, as Turkey’s people reel from the bad economic news support for Erdoğan and his AKP group has tumbled, putting their prospects of success in the elections in jeopardy.

Erdoğan’s electoral prospects – still commands much support in Turkey

Most observers of the Turkish political scene still expect Erdoğan to be re-elected President.  There are suggestions that he might be forced into a second round run-off by his main rival Muharrem Ince, who is reported – at least in the Western media – to have run a successful campaign.

However predictions in the West that Erdoğan may be heading for defeat need to be treated with care.

As becomes immediately obvious from even a brief perusal, articles in the Western media which either call for or appear to expect Erdoğan’s electoral humiliation or even outright defeat are very much the product of the Western political establishment’s intense dislike for him (see for example this article by Simon Tisdall in The Guardian and this article by Alanna Petroff for CNN).  As such they are not reliable guides as to Erdoğan’s standing in Turkey.

Though Erdoğan is a deeply polarising figure in Turkey – as shown by the bare majority of 51.4% his proposal to convert Turkey’s Presidency into an executive Presidency won in the constitutional referendum last year – he retains strong support in Turkey’s conservative and deeply religious interior, where he retains a devoted following amongst Turkey’s conservative and religious rural voters.

In addition Erdoğan’s forceful and aggressive personality enables him to dominate his opponents, strengthening support for him, and making his opponents look weak and unconvincing by comparison.

Needless to say recent moves in the US to block the transfer of F-35 fighters to Turkey will do Erdoğan’s reputation in Turkey no harm at all.

AKP prospects hinge on success or failure of Kurdish HDP

As for the possibility that Erdoğan’s AKP group might lose its absolute majority in parliament, to an extent that is perhaps not fully recognised in the West that depends on whether the predominantly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – which strongly opposes Erdoğan – wins 10% or more of the vote.

If the HDP wins less than 10% of the vote it will not get seats in parliament under Turkey’s list-based allocation system.

If it does get 10% or more of the vote, then it will do so, in which case the AKP may struggle to win a majority.

Whilst the HDP does have a strong base of support in Turkey, the deterioration of the security situation in Turkey’s Kurdish areas may affect its ability to bring out its voters, whilst the HDP is also hampered by the fact that its leader Selahattin Demirtaş is actually in prison in far away Edirne in Turkish Thrace, forcing him to direct the HDP’s election campaign from there.

Mismanaging the economy to achieve electoral victory

Moreover the deterioration in the economy has manifested itself only relatively recently.  In the first quarter Turkey’s economy actually grew 7.6% year on year.

Though that was a direct product of prime pumping as Erdoğan artificially boosted the economy in the run up to the elections, the subsequent weakening of the economy caused by the crash in the lira may have come too late to dissipate fully the political effect of the previous period of rapid growth.

Erdoğan’s prime pumping of the economy in the run up to the elections does however illustrate an important fact about him and about the way he runs Turkey.

Grandiosity at home and abroad

This is that Erdoğan’s exercise of power is whimsical, with little regard for expert opinion, and is excessively focused on himself and on his own needs, with justification being provided by objectives which he sets which are often impossibly grandiose, and which are therefore neither achievable nor in Turkey’s long term interest.

Consider for example the bizarre speech Erdoğan delivered in October 2016, in which he appeared to claim for Turkey some sort of paramount position across the whole of the Middle East, the eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia.

The result is that apart from Russia and to a certain extent Iran, Turkey under Erdoğan now finds itself in conflict with virtually all its neighbours.  Though Simon Tisdall in the Guardian writes about this from a rigidly pro-NATO and Atlanticist perspective, his description of the state of Turkey’s relations with its neighbours is by no means wholly wrong

The rift with Cairo endures. And Erdoğan has also fallen out with the Gulf monarchies over continuing links to the Muslim Brotherhood, Ankara’s perceived military ambitions, and its de facto alliances with Iran and Qatar. Prince Salman, the Saudi crown prince, says Turkey is part of a “triangle of evil” that includes Iran and Islamic extremists…..

…..the current election campaign has seen escalating Turkish military operations inside northern Iraq, on the Kandil mountains border with Iran, where the outlawed Kurdish group the PKK is based. Neither Tehran nor Baghdad has given permission for these dangerous armed encroachments – but, in his hubris and arrogance, Erdoğan does not care…..

The pattern repeats around the region. Erdoğan has picked a fight with an old enemy, Greece, in recent weeks, sending aircraft to buzz Greek islands after Athens refused to hand over suspects in the 2016 coup. This confrontational behaviour has brought talk of war – a not wholly improbable outcome, given the escalating dispute over energy exploration rights off still-divided Cyprus.

Similarly, past attempts to improve relations with Israel have been abandoned in favour of resumed, politically expedient enmity, justified most recently by Erdoğan’s claim to care about dead Palestinians in Gaza.

Tisdall’s account is in fact both distorted and selective.  Erdoğan’s most egregious and extensive intervention – ignored by Tisdall because of Tisdall’s intense dislike of Syria’s President Assad – is in northern Syria, where Erdoğan has carved out by force a large Turkish controlled Jihadi protectorate in north west Syria.

As for what Tisdall calls Erdoğan’s “obsession” with the Kurds, no Turkish government would look on with equanimity at the US’s formation of a semi-autonomous Kurdish statelet in northern Syria led by the YPG, a Kurdish militia aligned with the PKK, a Kurdish militia engaging in an insurgency against the Turkish authorities in Turkey, which the Turkish authorities and their NATO allies consider a terrorist group.

Nonetheless the overall image conjured by Tisdall of a Turkey which under Erdoğan’s leadership has been throwing its weight around in pursuit of objectives which are both grandiose and nebulous – and which are therefore deeply alarming to Turkey’s neighbours – is not a wholly wrong one.

The most dangerous flashpoint currently is the eastern Mediterranean, an area where Erdoğan in his October 2016 speech laid claim to various Greek islands, and where his military has recently been involved in a succession of dangerous confrontations between the Greek military, with none of the big external powers (eg. the US, Russia and the EU) so far acting to restrain him.

Putin and Erdoğan: not fellow dictators but political opposites

Whenever the Western media brings up the subject of Erdoğan a comparison with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin is always made.

In reality, though the two men nowadays work closely together, the differences between them are far greater than the similarities, with Erdoğan approximating far more closely to the Western cartoon image of “Putin” than the real Vladimir Putin does.

I have described some of these differences in the past, but I will do so again because doing so is actually a good way of understanding the difficulties Erdoğan to those who must deal with him

Erdogan is someone who far more closely resembles the Western image of Putin than Putin himself does.

Where claims that Putin is corrupt and a billionaire are wholly unsubstantiated and almost certainly untrue, that Erdogan is a billionaire is an acknowledged fact, as is the involvement of some members of his family in shady business dealings.

Contrary to his Western image Putin’s manner and language is polite and restrained. Erdogan by contrast is often aggressive and confrontational.

Putin is highly calculating and always consults his chief advisers before making a decision.

Erdogan is impulsive and arbitrary, and is far more likely than Putin to make decisions on the hoof.

Unlike Putin, who puts up with everything, Erdogan is a notoriously prickly character who reacts badly to criticism.

He has jailed opposition activists and journalists and cracked down on the media in ways that Putin never has.

Not surprisingly, the result of this sharp difference in style is that the two men conduct political, economic and foreign policy completely differently.

In Russia Putin has been the great institution builder, carefully observing the constitution, strengthening the country’s legal system, and exercising power through greatly expanded and strengthened institutions such as the Security Council and the State Council.

In Turkey Erdoğan not only largely runs things all by himself, but he has changed the constitution to suit his own needs, treats the law as an instrument to enforce what he decides, and even meddles in the interest rate setting decisions of the Central Bank.

Where Putin’s runs a tight ship economically, keeping the budget in balance, building up reserves and savings, making sure Russia runs a trade surplus with the rest of the world, and leaving operational decisions to the experts in the Central Bank and the ministries, Erdoğan regularly goes for broke, running the Turkish economy with large deficits – both in the budget and in the country’s external trade – whilst making all the important decisions himself.

Unsurprisingly, where Putin seeks macroeconomic stability Erdoğan prioritises growth at all costs.

As I said in a recent article for RussiaFeed, in Putin’s case

……the result is a roughly balanced budget, which is now in surplus, large reserves, growing savings, a trade surplus, a balance of payments surplus, falling inflation, and increasing resiliency in the face of external shocks.

Whereas in Erdoğan’s case the result is a seriously unbalanced economy constantly susceptible to overheating and very vulnerable to external shocks, with very high and before long probably unsustainable debt levels, and with rising inflation and interest rates.

The contrast in foreign policy is even starker, with Putin now all but universally recognised as the supreme diplomat of the age, whereas Erdoğan as Tisdall says is at odds with almost everyone he regularly interacts with with the notable exception of Putin himself.

Prospects if Erdoğan wins

If, as is still overwhelmingly likely, Erdoğan is re-elected President on Sunday and manages to consolidate his position as Turkey’s leader, these disturbing trends will likely continue and will get worse.

The imbalances in Turkey’s economy will become more acute – with the threat of an actual crisis becoming ever more real – whilst political polarisation within Turkey will intensify, and political conflicts will grow, with Erdoğan’s personality becoming the issue around which those conflicts will increasingly crystallise.  Erdoğan himself meanwhile, from of a mix of both political and psychological reasons, will continue to pursue destabilising policies, both externally and internally, with the growing risk externally that they may end in a disastrous clash.

Relations with the West meanwhile will continue to deteriorate, with Turkey’s withdrawal from NATO – until recently hardly a realistic possibility – gradually becoming a real possibility, with Erdoğan, less out of genuine conviction and more because he will have left himself no choice, drifting increasingly closer to Russia and China.

All of this however will always be vulnerable to the sort of sudden dizzying reversals and “diplomatic revolutions” of which Erdoğan has shown himself repeatedly capable, and which makes him – for the Russians and for everyone else – such an unstable and unreliable partner.

Prospects if Erdoğan loses

In the event of the less likely alternative of Erdoğan either failing to win the Presidency or becoming so politically weakened because of a run-off or a defeat in the parliamentary elections that his political grip on Turkey is weakened, the prospect may even be worse.

Erdoğan’s political base would continue to be mobilised and angry, and would certainly resist any attempts by Turkey’s old secular establishment to reverse the changes he has made in his long years of power

The fall in 1960 of Adnan Menderes – Turkey’s right wing Islamist leader of the 1950s of whom Erdoğan is the political heir – provides a warning of what might happen.  It set in train a long period in Turkey of instability, economic crisis, political violence and coups, as Turkey’s secular establishment struggled to contain the anger of Menderes’s large popular base, which remained unreconciled to his fall.  By the late 1970s Turkey appeared to be on the brink of civil war, which only an exceptionally brutal military crackdown in 1980 after a military coup managed at the last moment to prevent.

Illustrating how tense conditions were in Turkey during this period – even during times of seeming calm – are the apparently well founded suspicions that Turgut Özal – a former supporter of Menderes who became successively Turkey’s Prime Minister and President in the 1980s and 1990s – was murdered whilst in office by poison administered to him by members of Turkey’s Deep State as part of what is sometimes referred to as Turkey’s covert coup of 1993 (a subsequent autopsy did indeed find exceptionally high levels of DDT in Özal’s body, suggesting that the rumours of his murder may be true).

It took the victory of Erdoğan’s AKP in Turkey’s 2002 parliamentary elections to bring this unhappy period in Turkey’s history to an end.

Uncertain times both for Turkey and its neighbours

Difficult and unstable a personality though Erdoğan undoubtedly is, his critics both inside and outside Turkey need to face up to the fact that given existing conditions in Turkey he may be the only person with the charisma and authority to hold Turkey politically together.  If so then his fall may be more dangerous to the future of democracy and stability in Turkey than his survival.

One way or the other, whether Erdoğan on Sunday wins or loses, the situation in Turkey is uncertain and the future unclear.

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lordbaldrickemerdHamletquest Recent comment authors
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lordbaldric
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lordbaldric

Is Turkey leaves or is kicked out of NATO, look for the US to fund and arm the Kurd militias to the max, while also cutting off support and spare parts for any western bought weapons systems.

Would be a nice FU for all the trouble Turkey has caused in Syria.

kemerd
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kemerd

Erdogan’s demise is real. He also appears to have started losing his mental faculties: his latest speeches contain absurd accusations and egregious lies that are so easy to verify. His rallies are much smaller than Ince’s despite all the local governors and majors bring hundreds of buses full of his supporters from the surrounding towns. Besides, the last year’s referendum results are a result of outright election fraud committed by election committee itself. So, the real result was most probably about 47 for erdogan vs 53 against. Unlike the last time the current two leaders of opposition Ince and Aksener… Read more »

kemerd
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kemerd

And, Menderes was not an Islamist at all: he was an opportunist right-wing millionaire. And, after his removal from power, the country had its most vibrant 15 years until mid-70s. From where do you get your info in Turkey? It is true that both of the opposition parties that are likely to succeed erdogan are pro-west. But, unlike Erdogan they have no illusions about Turkey’s actual power, or that they have any lust for spilling Turkish blood for the foreigners and would never allow themselves to become cannon fodders for the west. In fact, all opposition leaders declared that they… Read more »

Hamletquest
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Hamletquest

Erdogan has few friends if any at all. His rapprochement with Russia was purely born out of self preservation during the attempted coup which was most likely backed by the US through its NATO surrogates in Turkey. The Sultan of Swing is too unpredictable for Russia to consider him a true ally and certainly is a problem for NATO which is the only reason I imagine Putin entertains him. After the shoot down of the Russian aircraft on the Turkish Syrian boarder it was not an easy thing for Putin to drop the sanctions on Turkish products. But the aftermath… Read more »

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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