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Ed Webb

The ISIS Ambassador to Turkey - Homeland Security Today - 1 views

  • the ISIS military and weapons training and the ISIS “obligatory shariah training” in which new male recruits are taught the ISIS takfir ideology, an ideology that justifies use of violence against those considered heretics or unbelievers, including against fellow Muslims.
  • Abu Mansour explains the format and nature of intake forms that were filled out at the ISIS reception area. “It was a form about experience, countries you visited, etc. I don’t remember it very well, but it was very detailed,” he explains. He further continues, “There were several people who came with higher education. We wrote his discipline, his studies, his languages. These things were recorded on my forms.” According to Abu Mansour, job placements occurred after another intake took place inside the training camps. “At those places, there were very trusted people running the ISIS offices of recruiting, so if you say you’re an engineer, they put you to that kind of job. It was an office of human resources management,” he states, adding, “but of course different, because in ours we also had, ‘I want to be a martyr.’
  • According to Abu Mansour, the numbers of would-be “martyrs” went down as the Caliphate was in fact established. “It started to go down as Raqqa stabilized. [Then,] most came simply to live. It was a small ratio of those who came to martyr themselves.” Adhering to his uncanny ability to remember exact recruiting figures, he explains, “Before 2014, 50 percent came to martyr themselves. Then it went under 20 percent.”
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  • “There were some agreements and understandings between the Turkish intelligence and ISIS emni about the border gates, for the people who got injured,” Abu Mansour continues. “I had direct meeting with the MIT [the Turkish National Intelligence Organization], many meetings with them.”
  • The benefit to Turkey, according to Abu Mansour, was that “we are in the border area and Turkey wants to control its borders – to control Northern Syria. Actually they had ambitions not only for controlling the Kurds. They wanted all the north, from Kessab (the most northern point of Syria) to Mosul.”
  • When he mentions meeting Turkish government officials in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, we suddenly upgrade him in our minds to an ISIS ambassador, which is indeed how he was functioning. “I passed the borders and they let me pass. [At the border,] the Turks always sent me a car and I’m protected. A team of two to three people from our side were with me. I was in charge of our team most of the time.”
  • we learn that his “diplomatic” reach on behalf of ISIS extended even to the president of Turkey himself. “I was about to meet him but I did not. One of his intelligence officers said Erdogan wants to see you privately but it didn’t happen.”
  • “There were teams. Some represent the Turkish intel, some represent the Turkish Army. There were teams from 3-5 different groups. Most meetings were in Turkey in military posts or their offices. It depended on the issue. Sometimes we meet each week. It depends on what was going on. Most of the meetings were close to the borders, some in Ankara, some in Gaziantep.”
  • “No one can accuse the Turkish government that they gave us weapons, because we got weapons from different sources. Actually, we didn’t need to get weapons from Turkey,” he explains, noting that the Free Syrian Army soldiers would trade their weapons for a pack of cigarettes. “Anti-government Syrian people provided us with weapons; many mafias and groups traded weapons to us.”
  • “I cannot say that this is the vision of the whole Turkish government. Many are against interfering to bring this project to reality. They say we will try to defeat the PKK and Kurds. We are afraid of the union between Kurds and that they may make a Kurdish state, but they also expanded to Aleppo,” he adds regarding Turkish aspirations inside Syria.
  • “It’s a big benefit to Dawlah, as they could protect our back. Approximately 300 km of our border is with them. Turkey is considered a road for us for medications, food – so many things enter in the name of aid. The gates were open.”
  • In our meetings, we talked about re-establishing the Ottoman Empire. This was the vision of Turkey.
  • “We negotiated to send our fighters to the hospitals [in Turkey]. There was facilitation – they didn’t look at the passports of those coming for treatment. It was always an open gate. If we had an ambulance we could cross without question. We could cross [into Turkey] at many places. They don’t ask about official identities. We just have to let them know.”
  • “Dawlah [ISIS] paid for the treatments, but some Turkish public hospitals took these fighters for free. It was not only for our fighters but also for the victims of bombings. I don’t know how many were treated in Turkey, but it was routine,” Abu Mansour explains, adding that it was not his area, so he doesn’t have the figures on that. “I just know this agreement to open the gates for our wounded and that there were ambulances sent for them. It was a ‘state-to-state’ agreement regarding our wounded. I negotiated these agreements. For the wounded, medical and other supplies to pass, and I negotiated about water also, the Euphrates.”
  • “Actually, we [Syria] had an agreement with Turkey for 400 cubic meters per second [of water] into Syria. After the revolution, they started to decrease the quantity of water to 150 cubic meters per second. After our negotiations [in 2014] it returned to 400. We needed it for electrical power and as a vital source of living. Even water we cannot keep it, it passes to Iraq also,” he explains. “But the importance of water [cannot be understated]. We don’t need to generate electricity through the dams. We could have another source [i.e. petrol], but we need water for farming. There are three dams. The biggest is Tabqa dam. Actually, at 150 cubic meters, we could generate some electricity, but if the level of the lake reached 5 meters it would not work.”
  • When asked what ISIS gave in return for water, he answers, “There is the most important benefit – their country will be safe and stable.” We ask if he means that ISIS agreed not to attack inside Turkey.“In negotiations I could not say I would attack Turkey. This is the language of gangs, but I would say we will try to keep Turkey from the field battle, we will not see Turkey as an enemy. They understood what we are talking about. We said many times, ‘You are not our enemy and not our friend.’”
  • “Most of the Syrian oil was going to Turkey, and just small amounts went to the Bashar regime.”
  • “We didn’t ask ransom for the consul employees, we asked for our prisoners. MIT knows their names.” For the consul employees, “approximately 500 prisoners were released from Turkey, and they came back to Dawlah,”
  • “[In 2014,] they opened some legal gates under the eye of Turkish intel that our people went in and out through,” Abu Mansour explains. “But, entry into Syria was easier than return to Turkey. Turkey controlled the movements.”
  • “Turkey wanted us to move 10 km back from the borders so the danger from Turkey is removed. They wanted it to be under control of Turkey and no aviation above it. This was for an area 60 km long and 10 km wide.”
  • Abu Mansour’s journey started in Morocco when he was a young man and where he first watched the 9/11 events from afar and suddenly began to feel that if he wasn’t with them, as U.S. President Bush stated, he was against them – that Muslims in the world needed to unite and resist dictators and world powers, like the U.S.-led coalition that invaded foreign countries. “After I heard George Bush say it’s you are with us or against us – when I heard that [and saw his invasion of Iraq] I searched for who stands up for the Muslims.”
  • We were searching for the identity of Muslims, to protect Muslims and to be freed to do our Islamic duties. There was no desire to fight, no tendency to kill or revenge, just to free ourselves from dictators. I use the weapon to prevent harm by others and all that is taken by force should be regained by force,” he explains. “All these government regimes, we were forced to follow, we didn’t chose them.”
Ed Webb

The Libyan Civil War Is About to Get Worse - 0 views

  • Yet another clash between the two main Libya camps is now brewing, and events in recent weeks suggest that the fighting will be more devastating than at any time before—and still may not produce a definitive victory for either side.
  • Facing stiff resistance from disparate militias nominally aligned with the government, the LNA has failed to breach downtown Tripoli. On top of this, the marshal’s campaign, while destructive, has been hampered by gross strategic and tactical inefficiency. The resulting war of attrition and slower pace of combat revealed yet another flaw in his coalition: Few eastern Libyan fighters wish to risk their lives for Haftar 600 miles away from home.
  • the UAE carried out more than 900 air strikes in the greater Tripoli area last year using Chinese combat drones and, occasionally, French-made fighter jets. The Emirati military intervention helped contain the GNA’s forces but did not push Haftar’s objectives forward. Instead, it had an adverse effect by provoking other regional powers. Turkey responded to the UAE by deploying Bayraktar TB2 drones and several dozen Turkish officers to carry out roughly 250 strikes in an effort to help the GNA resist Haftar’s onslaught. The stalemate also inspired Russia to increase its own involvement in Libya.
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  • In September 2019, a few hundred Russian mercenaries joined the front-line effort near Tripoli in support of Haftar’s forces
  • forced a desperate GNA to sign a controversial maritime accord that granted Ankara notional gas-drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean in return for Turkey launching a full-blown military intervention in support of the anti-Haftar camp
  • According to open-source data analyzed by aircraft-tracking specialist Gerjon, the Emiratis, since mid-January, have flown more than 100 cargo planes to Libya (or western Egypt, near the Libyan border). These planes likely carried with them thousands of tons of military hardware. Other clues suggest that the number of Emirati personnel on Libyan soil has also increased. All of this indicates that Haftar’s coalition and its allies are going to try, once again, to achieve total victory by force.
  • Few international actors are willing to contradict the UAE, and while the GNA’s isolation grows, no Western government wants to exert any meaningful pressure on Haftar
  • During January and February, at least three cargo ships from Turkey delivered about 3,500 tons’ worth of equipment and ammunition each. The Turkish presence on Libyan soil currently comprises several hundred men. They train Libyan fighters on urban warfare with an emphasis on tactics to fend off armored vehicles. Against attacks from the sky, Ankara relies on electronic-warfare technology and a combination of U.S.– and indigenously developed air defense systems. Similar protection has been set up at the air base of Misrata, a powerful anti-Haftar city to the west of Sirte, which the LNA took on Jan. 6.
  • since late December, more than 4,000 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have arrived in Tripoli and its surrounding area. Most of them are battle-hardened Islamist fighters who belong to three large anti-government militias. Turkey is also busy upgrading its fleet of combat drones scattered across northwest Libya
  • To counter Turkey’s new intervention, the pro-Haftar government in eastern Libya formalized its alignment with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, allowing the LNA to purchase technical advice from Damascus using material and diplomatic rewards. A few hundred Syrian contractors hired from pro-Assad militias are now reportedly in Libya, on Haftar’s side
  • Because Turkey’s presence and its arsenal have made it difficult for the UAE to fly its combat drones anymore, the LNA and its allies have begun a relentless shelling campaign using Grad rockets and other projectiles. Such salvos on Tripoli don’t just hit legitimate military targets—they also hit civilians. Unguided rockets are inherently indiscriminate, and the pro-GNA camp can do almost nothing to prevent this kind of attack
  • a philosophy of collective punishment
  • the pro-Haftar camp has been imposing a $1.5 billion-a-month oil blockade on Libya since mid-January. Fuel shortages may soon become more widespread as a result. Suppression of the nation’s only dollar-generating activity is also a means of cutting off the internationally recognized Central Bank in Tripoli and potentially supplanting it with an LNA-friendly alternative where all oil-export proceeds would be captured going forward
  • Moscow’s intervention in Libya is far more mercurial. In the last three months of 2019, Kremlin-linked paramilitary company Wagner shifted the balance of the conflict by joining the fight alongside Haftar. Then, in early January, several days before President Vladimir Putin took part in a request for a Libyan ceasefire, the Russian contingent on the Tripoli front line suddenly became less active.
  • The dynamic between Ankara and Moscow is as much rooted in their common disdain for Europe as it is in mutual animosity. That means Russia could tolerate Turkey a while longer if it feels its interests would be better served by doing so. Such an ebb-and-flow approach amplifies Moscow’s influence and could eventually push the Europeans out of the Libyan theater altogether. Russia may just as easily change its mind and invest into helping the LNA deliver a resounding defeat to Erdogan
  • Notwithstanding its attempt to tap underwater hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean, Ankara has no intention of renouncing its commercial interests in Libya or its wider geopolitical aspirations in the rest of Africa.
  • the UAE has sought to bring about the emergence in Tripoli of a government that is void of any influence from political Islam writ large. Because of this, Abu Dhabi will not accept a negotiated settlement with Erdogan’s Islamist government. Making matters worse, neither the United States nor any EU country is willing to use its own regional clout to stand in the Emiratis’ way. Therefore, regardless of whether that endangers a great number of civilian lives, the Libyan war is likely to continue escalating before any political resolution is seriously explored.
Ed Webb

The Cypriotization of Northern Syria - JISS - 0 views

  • Turkey is turning northern Syria – Jarabulus and Afrin – into the “Turkish Republic of Northern Syria,” just as it has turned northern Cyprus into a Turkish protectorate through military and economic domination.
  • Turkey’s military interventions in northern Syria’s Jarabulus and Afrin have turned these two enclaves into Turkish military and economic protectorates. Turkish involvement in these cantons has increased the regions’ economic and political dependency on Ankara which has nearly reached the level of Turkey’s position in Northern Cyprus.
  • Turkish anxiety grew when the Pan-Kurdish maps reaching the Mediterranean Sea began to float on the social media and internet. Kurdish access to the sea would constitute a game changer as it would end the landlocked status of the Kurdish entity and will limit Kurdish dependency on Turkey and other surrounding neighboring states. Moreover, a self-sufficient independent Kurdistan could trigger spillover effects in Turkey that would shake the country’s territorial integrity.
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  • Operation Euphrates Shield. Despite that IS was declared as the operation’s main objective, the main aim was to prevent the Kurdish geographical contiguity between the Kobani and Afrin cantons that could later expand to the west and reach the Mediterranean. Indeed, Euphrates Shield’s hidden agenda surfaced when Turkey launched the “Operation Olive Branch” against the PYD-controlled Afrin region.
  • Turkey began to re-settle some of its Syrian Arab refugees (their official number reached to 3.5 million in July 2018) in the occupied zone of Northern Syria. While Turkey seeks to solve its refugee problem, it also aspires to Arabize the region by settling Syrian Arab refugees to the Kurdish canton of Afrin diluting its Kurdish character.
  • in order to boost Turkmens’ influence in the region who constitute only 8% of the whole Afrin province population, Turkey facilitated the formation and deployment of the Turkmen Muntasır Billah brigades to Afrin under the umbrella of Free Syrian Army.
  • Turkey began to re-build the infrastructure in order to encourage its Syrians refugees to re-settle. Turkey has opened the Zeytin Dalı (Afrin), Çobanbey (Al-Rai), and Karkamış (Jarabulus) crossings to connect the region to Turkey like a swing door
  • Turkey is paving wide highways to these crossings inside Syria to facilitate transport from Al-Bab and Jarabulus to Turkey. It also plans to link Manbij (currently under PYD control) to this network in the future. This will accelerate the Arabization of the region and encourage Turkish and Syrian businessmen living in Turkey to invest in the region – most likely in textile and olive sector.
  • Turkish influence in the economy of the cantons is reflected also in the use of its currency. Given the fact that most of the goods are sent into the region by Turkey, the civilian population who has little access to the Syrian Lira, began using the Turkish Lira to provide themselves their daily needs such as food and oil.
  • The situation in northern Syria clearly reflects the traditional Ottoman colonizing model that can also be seen in Cyprus. While settling loyal population to the region the Ottomans also provided welfare and other socio-economic infrastructures to the regions that they conquered.
  • Signs in Turkish can be seen on hospitals, schools, fire and police stations. Turkey is paying the salaries of the doctors, teachers, fire fighters and the policemen as well as providing electricity to the region by laying a 3 km. long power cables. Ambulances, fire brigade trucks and police vehicles are all brought from Turkey.
  • Turkey also repaired and provided equipment to Afrin schools. While putting Arabic back into the curriculum at the expense of Kurdish language, Turkish flags, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s posters alongside with July 15, 2016 military coup attempt martyr Ömer Halisdemir’s portraits can be seen in Afrin’s schools.
  • Despite Turkey’s official statements favoring a united Cyprus in 2004 (in the framework of the Annan Plan), and its 2018 statement supporting the territorial integrity of Syria, its actions are not reflecting the rhetoric
Ed Webb

Middle East Report Online: Turkey's Search for Regional Power by Yüksel Taşkın - 0 views

  • the AKP government’s objective, which is not to break with Turkey’s traditional cooperation with the US and EU but to increase Turkey’s relative autonomy vis-à-vis those powers. Rather than a rupture with the past, Turkey’s new approach marks a change in tactics in pursuit of the same goal.
  • Turkey’s new policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors -- a policy that envisions Turkey as an initiator and mediator of a policy of active neutrality
  • In seeking to be admitted as part of “the West,” the Kemalist elite tended to overlook and even “Orientalize” the East. The “other” of this Westernized elite was no longer the Greeks, with whom Turkey signed a treaty in 1930, but the Arabs and Kurds. In the realm of foreign policy, this Western-centric outlook involved Turkey aligning itself with Western powers and shunning involvement in the Middle East.
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  • The left Kemalists shared the civilizational preferences of their Kemalist fathers, but employed such terms as “development and modernization” rather than Westernization. Due to the legacy of Kemalist nationalism and Westernization, however, they never imagined themselves as members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • The AKP deliberately distanced itself from the Milli Görüş and defined its ideology as “conservative democracy” in order to situate itself within the long-established center-right tradition, but it distinguished itself from other parties of the center right by its strong opposition to Turkey’s policies on Iraq and Israel in particular. Nonetheless, the AKP elite strove to prove its loyalty to the traditional partnership with the US and issued successive reform packages to accelerate Turkey’s accession to the EU. During its first term (2002-2007), the AKP sought to establish credibility among Turkey’s powerful allies, whose support it needed to carve out a hegemonic position for itself in Turkey against the self-appointed civilian and military guardians of the republic.
  • Turkey’s repositioning of itself as an independent regional power has shifted its stance vis-à-vis the EU. Erdoğan presents an image of complementarity for the EU and Turkey: “Turkey is coming to share the burden of the EU rather than being a burden for it. In order to be a global power, there must be a global vision and relations with different regions…. Turkey will be the gate of the EU opening to Asia, the Middle East and the Islamic world…. The full security of the EU passes through the full membership of Turkey.”[6] Due to its perception of enhanced strength vis-à-vis the EU, the AKP has lost its willingness to push new reforms to speed up the EU membership process, especially since 2005 when new governments in Germany and France became outspoken against Turkey’s prospective membership.
  • under the AKP Turkey is taking a less nationalistic position toward the Turkic and Muslim peoples of Central Asia and Russia. While Russia supplies Turkey with natural gas, Turkey has been key in securing the construction of transnational pipelines to transport Russian oil and gas to the outside world.
  • ogress toward normalizing relations with Armenia
  • The fallout of the aborted “Kurdish opening” does not augur well for the AKP’s “soft” approach to foreign policy. If Turkey is unable to resolve its Kurdish problem through peaceful means, its new outlook will lose cogency in the eyes of Western allies. For instance, critics of Turkey’s increasingly vociferous objections to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians will question Turkey’s credibility by citing Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority.
  • Even today, there is little serious sympathy for Iran among ordinary Turks, particularly not as compared to that shown for the Palestinians, for example. A BBC poll found that the percentage of Turks who have warm feelings for Iran is only 13 percent while sympathy for Israel is at 6 percent and that for the US under the Obama administration is at 13 percent. The clear majority of Turks, however, would be opposed to stiffer sanctions against Iran or a military strike since the US and Israel are believed to be acting in concert to achieve these ends.
  • Erdoğan’s motives are quite rational and material despite claims that he is ready to abandon Turkey’s traditional foreign policy for the sake of Islamic brotherhood
  • The AKP is also wary of siding with Iran for fear of losing the good will of Gulf Arab states and access to the mountains of petrodollars at their disposal. In fact, one of the driving motives of the AKP government is to attract these petrodollars in the form of investments in Turkey. Since the AKP’s coming to power in 2002, Gulf investment in Turkey has skyrocketed, reaching $30 billion dollars in 2008.
  • Erdoğan’s frequent references to the Palestinian cause are motivated by a combination of ideology and deliberate political tactics. A paternalistic inclination to protect the Palestinians is also linked to the Islamists-turned-conservative democrats’ psychological need to prove that they are still committed to their moral obligations to the umma. The political Islamists in Turkey have undergone a serious process of ideological moderation. Except for the Palestinian issue and the right of women to wear headscarves in public places, AKP cadres and other groups that adhere to Islamism are suffering from an absence of common ideological grievances. Increasing economic, cultural and political power have moved the AKP toward the center of the political spectrum as the party moves to reclaim the center-right tradition started by the Democrat Party in the 1950s. As in the Arab world, Turkish Islamists have also drifted away from the strategy of capturing central state power as a way to Islamize the country. Rather, they are increasingly positioning themselves to capture society, particularly by means of charitable and human rights associations.
  • Turkish TV series have found a considerable audience in the region and angered conservatives who see them as deliberate efforts to induce moral laxity among Muslims. Some scholars at the al-Azhar mosque-university, for instance, blamed the melodrama Gümüş for increasing the divorce rate in Egypt by raising the “romantic expectations of women.”
  • enhance Turkey’s status as a vital and autonomous player in the region
  • Increasing signs of multi-polarity also provide ample opportunities for the Turkish government to enhance its regional influence, which can be converted into bargaining power in its dealings with the US and the EU. As Ahmet Davutoğlu lucidly described his vision: “The new global order must be more inclusive and participatory…. Turkey will be among those active and influential actors who sit around the table to solve problems rather than watching them.”[7]
Ed Webb

Turkey launches Operation Spring Shield against Syrian forces - 0 views

  • Ankara said today that it had launched Operation Spring Shield against the Syrian Arab Army on a day that saw Turkey down two Russian-made Syrian air force jets, and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 5 over the unfolding Idlib crisis.
  • Turkey said it had destroyed several air defense systems, more than 100 tanks and killed 2,212 members of the Syrian forces, including three top generals in drone strikes since Feb 27
  • The dramatic escalation pitting NATO member Turkey against the far weaker Syrian Arab army followed Feb. 27 airstrikes that killed at least 36 Turkish soldiers in Idlib, sending shock waves throughout Turkey.
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  • Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said at least 21 “Iranian-backed terrorists” were also “neutralized” in Idlib, in a reference to Afghan, Pakistani and other Iranian-backed Shiite militias that have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Idlib
  • As war raged on in Idlib, a humanitarian drama was unfolding at Turkey’s border with Greece. On Thursday, Turkey announced that its borders were open for millions of Syrian and other refugees in Turkey to leave. It justified the move on the grounds that it could no longer cope with the burden, with up to a million civilians fleeing regime violence in Idlib remaining massed along Syria's border with Turkey. Thousands of migrants have gathered near Greece's Kastanies border crossing, some getting there by taking free rides on buses organized by the Turkish government. Turkey’s state-owned Arabic-language broadcasting channel, TRT Arabi, provided maps for migrants showing various routes to reach the border.
  • Erdogan lashed out at the EU for failing to fulfill a 2016 deal under which Turkey undertook to care for nearly 4 million mostly Syrian refugees in exchange for 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in financial support
  • the effect of this new blackmail is a complete disaster. One because the Turkish leadership is officially misleading migrants, telling them that ‘borders are open.’ Two because this is now an additional state-organized humanitarian disaster. There is total bewilderment in Europe at what the Turkish leadership can do when finding itself in a total, self-inflicted dead end
  • “The term that best characterizes Turkey’s current foreign and security policy is kakistrocracy, that is, government by the least qualified,” he told Al-Monitor. “The only silver lining in the Idlib crisis is that now [the Turkish government] can blame Turkey’s looming economic crisis on exogenous factors, allowing Erdogan to deny that his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is in charge of the economy, is to blame for his incompetence and mismanagement.”
  • “Aleppo is ours and so is Hatay,” declared Ibrahim Karagul, a fellow Erdoganist scribe on his Twitter feed. He was responding to an article by Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency, which opened to debate Turkey’s 1939 acquisition of Hatay — also known as Alexandretta — in a disputed referendum following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire by the allied powers. The article is believed to have spurred today’s detention of the editor-in-chief of the Turkish version of Sputnik. Mahir Boztepe was released following a phone call between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
  • the consensus among military experts is that Feb. 27 airstrikes were likely carried out by Russian jets. “Russia flies at night, the regime can’t. The Turks were bombed at night,” said Aaron Stein, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program. Both sides have chosen to blame the regime for the attack, presumably to avert a direct confrontation that neither side wants.
  • Did Putin underestimate Erdogan when the pugnacious Turkish leader set a Feb. 29 deadline for Syrian forces to move out of Idlib? Is he merely letting Erdogan save face? Or does Ankara have more agency in its relations with Moscow than it is credited for? It’s probably a bit of everything, said Kevork Oskanian, an honorary research fellow at Birmingham University who is writing a book titled “Russian Empire.” He told Al-Monitor, "Russia’s reluctance to intervene in the regime’s favor does appear to be designed to allow Erdogan to save face while also softening Assad up for compromise.”
Ed Webb

IS designates Turkey as its next base - 0 views

  • There are credible indications that the Islamic State (IS), after losing its territorial dominance in Iraq and Syria, has designated Turkey as its next reorganization base.
  • The arrests of so many IS members by Turkish security forces are another sign of IS' intention to create cells in the country.
  • Iraqi intelligence sources have provided solid information that the brains of IS have moved to Turkey. The United States has tracked the jewelry shops and foreign currency exchanges used by IS in money transfers. The US Treasury Department on Sept. 10 placed al-Haram, al-Hebo, al-Khalidi and Saksouk foreign exchange bureaus and jewelry outlets on its sanctions list for transferring money for IS. 
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  • Turkey usually keeps a close watch over foreign exchange bureaus, so it was hard to believe that it missed such a developed network. The US Treasury’s update of its sanctions list with new companies and people meant Turkey once again lagged behind the United States. In addition to the Turkey-based Sahloul and al-Sultan foreign exchange companies, the United States put ACL and Ithalat-Ihracat on its blacklist Nov. 18 for providing IS financial and technological support.
  • Allaq, who works closely with the CIA, said IS senior personnel and bomb makers Khair-Allah Abdullah Fathi and Hussein al-Jumaili bribed smugglers in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces to secretly enter Gaziantep in Turkey.
  • The ongoing cooperation between Iraqi and Turkish intelligence services was seen in February 2018, when Turkey apprehended Ismail al-Ethawi, the man behind IS money operations, and sent him to Baghdad.
  • It's open to debate how much capacity Turkey has to mobilize against IS, and whether this is sufficient to cope with the threat. Turkey’s security and intelligence services have been dedicating the bulk of their capabilities to eradicating the Gulen movement and to suppressing domestic opposition, as led by the Kurds
  • haphazard policies and flawed legal processes enable IS members to escape, hide and move as they want in Turkey. IS has further obtained more room to maneuver due to Operation Peace Spring and the subsequent deterioration of stability east of the Euphrates
Ed Webb

The Halkbank Case Should Be a Very Big Deal - Lawfare - 0 views

  • If the New York Times’s story about the Justice Department’s handling of the case of  Turkish bank—and President Trump’s interference in that case—had broken any other week, it would be a very big deal. A week before the election, the country inured to the president’s propensity to abuse law enforcement power, it has barely merited a yawn.  The case is worth your time.
  • Berman’s bizarre firing may have been related to a pressure campaign by Barr and the White House to frustrate a high-profile investigation by Berman’s office. The story of Trump and Barr’s efforts to hamstring the investigation into the Turkish bank, Halkbank, says a great deal about Trump’s abuses of law enforcement, his financial entanglements abroad and his susceptibility to foreign influence.
  • an alleged scheme on the part of the state-owned Turkish bank to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran
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  • The investigation was of great interest to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought since 2016 to quash the probe. According to the Times, Erdogan may have come close to succeeding.
  • a meeting between Trump and Erdogan in 2018, during which Trump declared Halkbank to be innocent and told Erdogan he would, in Bolton’s words, “take care of things.” He then asked Bolton to reach out to then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker on the matter. Later in 2018, after Trump and Erdogan spoke again, the Times reports that the White House told the southern district that the attorney general, the treasury security and the secretary of state would all become more involved in the case. 
  • Mnuchin had already reached out to the Justice Department seeking to scale down the potential fine paid by Halkbank in any settlement, following direct outreach by Erdogan’s son-in-law
  • Whitaker ordered Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shut down the Halkbank case—stating, confusingly, that an indictment of the bank could pose risks to U.S. forces in Syria. Department officials opted to simply ignore Whitaker’s request. But after Barr was confirmed as attorney general, he too put pressure on the southern district, pushing prosecutors to allow Halkbank to walk away with only a fine and a limited acknowledgment of wrongdoing—a proposal that Berman reportedly described as “completely wrong.”
  • The first and more nefarious possibility is that the president pressured the Department of Justice to go easy on Halkbank and Erdogan’s cronies in order to protect his own sizable financial interests in Turkey. The second possibility is less horrible, but it’s not exactly reassuring. Perhaps Trump was swayed by Erdogan’s influence to make policy decisions that cut against the prosecutorial interests of his own government
  • no plausible benign explanations for Trump’s conduct here
  • it was just before Trump’s December 2018 Syria withdrawal order that Whitaker suggested that failing to drop the investigation against Halkbank might result to threats to U.S. forces in Syria—an argument that might have channeled threats that Erdogan’s regime was publicly making at the time.
  • efforts have continued both through direct engagement between Turkish and American officials and through the hiring of individuals close to the president himself—including, inevitably, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani
  • Trump certainly appears to have come to value what he sees as a personal relationship with Erdogan, lauding Erdogan as “a hell of a leader” and bragging that he is “the only one [Erdogan] will listen to” among NATO allies
  • Trump even invited Erdogan to a meeting at the White House in November 2019, just weeks after slapping (and then removing) sanctions on Turkey for its offensive into northern Syria
  • Trump has a long record of puzzling policy interventions when it comes to Turkey
  • in December 2018, following a call with Erdogan, Trump suddenly reversed course and ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops—a move so unexpected that it ultimately led Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior officials to resign in protest. After another intervention by Trump in October 2019, following another call with Erdogan, Turkey was left in control of a broad swathe of Syria’s northern border, including Kurdish areas important to SDF allies of the United States.
  • he made a cursory review of Erdogan’s memo offering a thin legal theory about US sanctions and impulsively sided with the authoritarian leader over the prosecutors of the southern district
  • Turkish officials hired soon-to-be National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to lobby the incoming administration for the extradition of dissident Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Erdogan blames for the 2016 coup attempt against his regime
  • The Trump administration has also refused to impose statutorily-required sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of a prohibited Russian missile system, without explanation and despite congressional pressure to do so. 
  • What exactly Trump has gotten in exchange for these positions is far from clear
  • Erdogan’s consistent ability to come out on top in Trump’s policy deliberations is, to say the least, impressive. And here it’s impossible to ignore Trump’s financial interests in the country: according to the Times’s review of Trump’s tax documents, he received profits of at least $2.6 million from business operations in Turkey between 2015 and 2018. And earlier reporting by the Times on Trump’s taxes describes how the Turkish government and business community “have not hesitated to leverage various Trump enterprises to their advantage,” strategically booking Trump properties to host events in efforts to curry favor with the president. 
  • If the president was motivated, in whole or in part, by a desire to curry favor with Erdogan in order to benefit his personal finances, that would be a grave abuse of office and plainly impeachable conduct
  • Trump has already been impeached for abusing his office for private campaign benefit; abuse of office for personal financial enrichment would be even worse.
  • this is the type of complex policy decision where it is nearly impossible to establish conclusively improper motives
  • The Halkbank situation is exactly why presidents are expected to abide by ethics rules—including divesting from business interests—and why Trump’s refusal to adhere to the norms of good governance presented serious national security implications from the outset
  • Having taken no effort to avoid the conflict, Trump isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt. And notably, those privy to Trump’s actual decisionmaking with respect to Turkey aren’t extending that benefit.
  • brazen financial corruption
  • If he wasn’t seeking financial benefit, then Trump has somehow been persuaded by Erdogan to take actions that contravene his own stated policy goals. A president who is so easily outwitted and susceptible to improper influence is a frightening thing
  • Saudi Arabia and its allies have conducted their own charm offensive, engaging lobbyists and cultivating a notoriously close relationship between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
  • it is concerning for a president to be so willing to dictate major aspects of U.S. foreign policy on the basis of his personal preferences, often without even checking them against the views of his advisors or coordinating them through the broader government bureaucracy
  • The Trump administration has almost entirely declined to criticize Erdogan’s bad-and-worsening record on human rights, as he and his regime have engaged in politically motivated investigations and prosecutions at home and turned a blind eye to atrocities in those parts of Syria under its control
  • Berman refused to go along with Barr’s proposed settlement, which he considered to be unethical. Months later, Barr fired Berman—and then lied about the circumstances and reasons why
  • Once again, the president is intervening in an investigation and a prosecutorial decision in a fashion that appears self-interested, appears to cut against stated U.S. policy to the benefit of an authoritarian leader and his interests, and appears influenced by the president’s own business concerns.
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

The Eastern Mediterranean in 2023: Escalation or Resolution? | Majalla - 0 views

  • The Eastern Mediterranean has been stuck in an infinite loop of unilateral sovereign decisions on maritime demarcations by the countries on three of its coastlines since the early discoveries of the massive hydrocarbon wealth in the seabed about two decades ago. The domestic political troubles in most Eastern Mediterranean countries, the uneven geo-political intricacies of the region, and the long-term conflicts between the neighboring countries have added extra layers of complications to the growing tensions over maritime rights.
  • geo-economic threats posed by these conflicts have generated unexpected collaborations between the southern countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. Prominent examples include the recent Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal and the five years of cooperation between Egypt and Israel on extracting, liquifying, and exporting natural gas to Europe
  • unresolved long-term conflicts between Turkey and Greece are still setting the region on fire
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  • The Greek Island Kastellorizo, where most of the Greek military buildup has been happening since early 2022, is 600 kilometers away from Greece’s mainland, while it is only 1950 meters away from Turkey.
  • two new bilateral agreements. One agreement allows Libya’s interim Government of National Unity (GNU) to receive advanced weapons, including drones, from Turkey. The other memorandum admits Turkey to the Libyan waters in the Mediterranean for hydrocarbon exploration purposes. In a provocative response to Greece’s and Egypt’s objection to these memoranda, the Libyan and the Turkish officials plainly said they “do not care for what third parties think about our bilateral agreements.”
  • Greece’s decision has obviously angered Turkey and Libya, which will be directly affected. Yet, Greece’s unilateral move has also been frowned upon by Egypt, which has been a strong ally to Greece against Turkey
  • repeated threats by Turkish officials have not prevented Greece from announcing in late December its intention to unilaterally extend its maritime zone to a point twelve nautical miles southwest of Crete
  • it is not expected that Egypt and Greece would clash over these uncoordinated demarcations. However, such moves may overturn or completely invalidate their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreement, which they signed in August 2020 to rescind the maritime agreement signed between Turkey and the former Libyan interim Government of National Accord (GNA) in December 2019. In other words, this is not serving Greece’s goal to curb Turkey’s advances to use the Libyan maritime zone to conduct seismic research for hydrocarbon resources. That is particularly true in light of the improvement of Turkey-Egypt relations following a historic handshake between the Egyptian and Turkish presidents in Doha in early December. It does not seem that Egypt is planning to end its EEZ agreement with Greece, but it reserves the right to sign similar agreements with Turkey in the future.
  • Turkey called for open negotiations with all involved parties in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the past year, Ankara led a successful campaign to mend broken ties with all its neighbors in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt, Israel, and Syria. Turkey’s renewed relations with neighboring countries, in addition to Turkey’s mediator role in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, have dramatically improved Turkey’s situation in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Libya is just another victim of an unfair agreement signed over a century ago in the fog of world wars. Rather than bringing peace, the Lausanne Agreement (1922) has left the Eastern Mediterranean with a chronic conflict over a messy geographic ordeal that the successive regional leaders have failed to resolve. The agreement preserved Turkish sovereignty over Turkey’s mainland but inelegantly stripped Turkey of its rights in the seabed resources of the Mediterranean, despite being the country with the longest border (1870 km) in the hydrocarbon-rich sea.
  • According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles (370 km) may be claimed by coastal countries. If the distance between the shores of two neighboring countries is less than this space, the maritime demarcation between them should be drawn exactly at the half-line distance. However, this is not the case for Turkey, which is literally cuffed to its own shores, either in the southern area towards Cyprus or the southwest zone towards Greece, because Lausanne Agreement gave all the small islands in the Aegean and Mediterranean to Greece.
  • In the summer of 2020, the quiet basin of the Eastern Mediterranean witnessed an unprecedented number of military encounters disguised as joint aero-naval military exercises, wherein advanced fighter jets and navy arsenals from outside the region intervened. In 2023, these conflicts have a high potential to be re-ignited if they are not preceded by pragmatic negotiations wherein all the concerned parties on the three shores of the Eastern Mediterranean are involved.
Ed Webb

Turkey's "anti-colonial" pivot to Mali: French-Turkish competition and the ro... - 0 views

  • Turkey uses anti-colonial discourse to exploit postcolonial sentiments with a view to challenging the political and economic power of Western actors, to portraying Turkey as a legitimate and “anti-colonial” ally and partner and, in the long run, to establishing a robust Turkish presence in Mali, the Sahel and beyond
  • Despite initially employing anti-colonial and anti-imperialist arguments to fan winds of solidarity (Zarakol, 2011, 125–135, 148), Mustafa Kemal subsequently championed the Westernization of Turkey with a view to transforming it into a modern, European, Western -rather than a “postcolonial”- country, a policy in which he diverged from other regional actors
  • The focus on postcolonial discourse intensified following the 2016 coup attempt, which was presented as an attempt by “Western colonialist forces” to topple Turkey’s legitimate government
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  • the AKP’s postcolonial discourse has served domestic revisionist policies. As Capan and Zarakol (2017) show, President Erdoğan has employed it both to justify Turkey’s democratic backsliding and to deflect Western criticism of Turkish foreign policies
  • In August 2020, Erdoğan portrayed the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Lebanon in the wake of the August 2020 Beirut explosion as an attempt to “restore colonial order” and as “chasing after photos or doing spectacles in front of cameras” (The Brussels Times, 2020). A similar discourse has been employed to criticize French-led security operations in the Sahel region. In this context, Mali has emerged as a focal point of French-Turkish rivalry
  • Its growing interest in Mali has brought Turkey into loggerheads with France, the leading European actor in the region. The two states have conflicting interests in regions extending from Transcaucasia, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean to Western Africa. However, the growing French-Turkish competition in the Sahel has recently acquired increased resonance as the latter has sought to play a more significant role in a region traditionally within the French sphere of influence
  • The coup and anti-French protests presented an opportunity for Turkey to extend its influence in Mali, promote its ambitious African policy, and make use of anti-colonial discourse.
  • Ankara had given five million USD in 2018 to the G5 Sahel force, a regional coalition that had begun in that year to deploy troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to fight Islamist militants in the tri-border area conjoining Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It had also been hosting Malian officers for training in Turkey and supplying Mali’s army with light weapons and ammunition
  • Ankara has sought to make use of the growing polarisation within the international system, African fears of dependency on China and Russia, and the troubled essence of relations between the West and Africa
  • Turkey has emphasized its shared historical, cultural and economic ties with African states. Already, in a speech delivered in 2015, Erdoğan placed the origins of the economic ties back in the sixteenth century, while also stating that “The goal of Turkey, which does not have the stain of colonialism in its history, is to improve its relations with Mali and all other African countries based on equal partnership”
  • that Mali has shared religious ties with Turkey, but not with France and other Western powers, is another key aspect of Turkey’s approach. The AKP administration has sought to employ religion as a diplomatic tool to sway the Malian government towards Turkey. The Turkish government had a mosque erected in an upscale neighbourhood of the capital for the High Islamic Council of Mali, the country’s most powerful religious association, and another restored in former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s hometown (Hernández, 2020). Turkey has capitalized on its increasing popularity with Africa’s Muslim populations, particularly in the Horn of Africa, where communities have been more sympathetic to Erdoğan’s overtures. Indeed, Erdoğan has long been trying to position Turkey as a protecting power for Muslims across the entire world
  • While the EU’s interventions in Mali reinforce the idea of the European Union as a security actor, the limited character of these activities on the ground also strengthens the idea of it as both an interventionist and an ineffective actor
  • While the European Union remains Africa’s primary trading partner and source of foreign investment and development aid, it should take notice of the shifting geostrategic landscape and its declining credibility and influence in Western Africa
  • The European Union needs to promote and emphasize the positive aspects of EU-Africa cooperation. After all, it is the leading aid, trade and investment actor across the continent as well as the main importer of a wide range of African goods, from chemicals, petroleum products, minerals and metals to fishery and agricultural goods
  • needs to avoid attitudes that could be framed as “paternalistic.”
Ed Webb

What Does Morsi's Ouster Mean for Turkey? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Why is the Turkish government on such high alert? How can the coup in Cairo affect Turkey? Is Turkey fearing the collapse of the “model” that was once seen as a source of inspiration for the region?
  • “The impression I get from the second Tahrir uprising by Arab nationalists and liberals — which toppled the Brotherhood — and the West’s non-committal attitude, is that the global establishment has given up on the moderate Islam project. This will certainly reflect on Turkey. Turkey may easily experience a gradual decrease in the easy credits it was acquiring by saying, ‘I represent moderate Islam. I will rehabilitate the region.’ This loss of stature will not only be seen in economic but also in political, diplomatic and military arenas.
  • “Egypt can’t affect Turkey directly in the short run. But should the AKP exhibit displeasure and fully identify with the Brotherhood, we will be affected. I am afraid such a perception already exists. The AKP has ideological affinity and institutional links with the Brotherhood. But Turkey is not Egypt. They have diverse political processes. If the AKP exaggerates its reactions, all the forces that intend to mobilize against the AKP might take action. “Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had an ambition to shape an Egypt-Turkey axis. This is now totally off the agenda. This is a serious weakness for Turkey and its political vision for the region. Egypt was the center of gravity for a Sunni bloc based on the Brotherhood. There is now a serious gap.
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  • “Obviously the moderate Islam project has been badly bruised. That is the prevailing perception. The moderate Islam project was an outcome of the Arab Spring. It was a general picture nourished by Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. Now the pixels of that photo are blurred. It is sad, but it is the reality.
  • You are a political party. You are governing a country. You are not a civil society outfit. If you are going to deal with everything from a morality angle, then go and set up an NGO. Those ruling countries have heavy responsibilities. They have to think of the interests of millions of people. They have to be cool-headed and build their policies on realism and balances of power.
Ed Webb

Is US redesigning southern flank? - 0 views

  • In parallel with Turkey’s growing defense and security rapprochement with Russia, the United States is forging closer military bonds with Greece, heralding shifts in geostrategic balances in the Balkans, the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean
  • Pompeo and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias inked a protocol expanding the scope of the US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, which relates to the use of Greek military facilities by US forces
  • The transfer of US military technologies to Greece in the fields of drones, smart munitions and army aviation; A more active use by the US Navy, including submarines, and the US Air Force of the military port and airbase at Souda Bay on the island of Crete, which is considered a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean;
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  • The establishment of military facilities at the port of Alexandroupolis, which allows control over the northern Aegean, dominates Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula and eastern Thrace region and is very close to the Turkish border, and opening them to the use of the US Navy;
  • Augmenting the fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are already operating out of Larissa, located halfway down Greece’s eastern side near the Aegean coast, and stationing KC-135 tankers there;
  • Enabling the Greek military to access intelligence gathered by the Reapers and through other means and establishing a mechanism for further military intelligence sharing;
  • Pilotage, maintenance and operational training at the Stefanovikeio airbase near the Aegean for the seven MH-60R Seahawk helicopters that the United has recently agreed to supply to Greece. 
  • the United States is seeking to turn up pressure on Russia in the Balkans, the Black and Aegean seas and the eastern Mediterranean and create an anti-access area-denial shield, centered in Greece, to limit Russia’s access to warm waters
  • Pompeo’s visits to North Macedonia and Montenegro, in addition to Greece, were significant in this context. Pompeo’s tour was important also in terms of controlling China’s growing infrastructure and technology investments in the Balkans
  • the United States is seeking to counterbalance the geostrategic superiority that Russia has attained in the eastern Mediterranean in the past four years
  • the strategy of containing Russian access to warm waters through the Turkish Straits and the Black Sea has become meaningless, giving way to a new strategy of containing Russia through an anti-access area-denial shield in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean
  • Tensions in the region have grown over hydrocarbon reserves, with Greece, the Greek Cypriots, Israel and Egypt forming a bloc against Turkey
  • the US Air Force’s increasing presence in Larissa, from where Greece controls all its air operations in the Aegean, appears to reflect an American effort for a closer monitoring of the Aegean, where Turkey and Greece are embroiled in long-standing territorial disputes. 
  • Many in the anti-US camp in Ankara, which now has the upper hand, believe that the US military has been taking gradual yet decisive steps to encircle Turkey in the Aegean by strengthening its presence in the region through the bases provided by Greece
  • What needs to be done to break the siege “is to give the United States a diplomatic note and a short time to leave the eastern bank of the Euphrates [in Syria] and launch an operation afterwards,” Dilek wrote in an Oct. 5 article, days before Turkey did launch a military offensive in the said region.
  • For Atlanticists, a breed near extinction in Ankara, however, the visible increase in US military cooperation with Greece stems from Turkey’s misguided strategic choices in recent years and shows that Washington has given up hope on Ankara, leaving Turkey to Russia and trying to build a new axis with Greece to contain Russia in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean and curb China's trade surge in the region.
  • A retired Turkish ambassador, known as an Atlanticist, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “For two centuries, Russia has been seeking to overcome Turkey and the Straits to reach the warm waters and attain a lasting military presence in the Mediterranean basin. Because of Ankara’s mistaken diplomatic choices and ill-conceived policies in Syria, Russia in the past five years has managed to secure access to the warm waters — something it has been trying to do since Ottoman times — and establish a lasting military presence in Syria. We have to adjust to the grim reality of having Russia as a neighbor in Syria. The United States, too, appears to have found the way to attain a lasting presence by enhancing cooperation with Greece. With the big powers moving their rivalry to our region, the existing problems will become more complicated.”
  • the crisis of confidence between Turkey and the United States is becoming increasingly ossified, shaping the strategic choices and geostrategic orientations of the two sides
Ed Webb

Turkey's defense industry sees rise of 'the president's men' - 0 views

  • The authoritarian normalization that continues to mark relations between Turkey’s political and military echelons since the 2016 failed coup is now affecting the policymaking process in the country's defense industry. The industry is the new favorite of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as the bruising financial crisis heavily hit his former favorite sector, construction.
  • Four major reasons are behind Erdogan's piqued interest in the defense industry: First, Erdogan's popular support drastically increased after Turkey’s Oct. 9 incursion into Syria, known as Operation Peace Spring. Second, the defense industry is a good tool for producing success stories to divert public attention at a time of economic crisis. Third, success in the defense realm offers political gains in foreign policy. And finally, it creates profitable export opportunities to several countries including Qatar, Pakistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and some African nations.
  • In December 2017, Erdogan issued a decree placing TSKGV under his auspices. Since then, however, Erdogan hasn’t quite managed to establish full control over the institution, which mainly remains under the influence of the retired generals.
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  • The third sector — the new rising stars of the defense industry — are led by the president's men. They and their companies are tied to Erdogan: Baykar Makina, owned by the family of Erdogan’s son-in-law, Selcuk Bayraktar; BMC, owned by the Ozturk family and Ethem Sancak, a member of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Executive Council; and the Tumosan unit of Albayrak Group.
  • BMC is the leading producer of buses, trucks, rail systems, Kirpi armored vehicles and Amazon mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. The ambitious joint venture aspires to become Turkey’s monopoly over diesel engine production for land vehicles and jet engines. Sancak holds 25% of the venture's shares, the Ozturks hold 25.1%, and the remaining 49.9% is owned by the Qatar Armed Forces Industry Committee.
  • In 2018, BMC became Turkey's first private defense industry company to reach the Defense News “Top 100 List,” ranking No. 85, with $554.18 million in defense revenues.
  • In early 2019, Erdogan offered generous incentives to BMC, such as the opportunity to lease Turkey’s largest tank maintenance factory to produce the indigenous Altay main battle tank under a 25-year contract for only $50 million. This transfer of a tank factory in Sakarya province to BMC is still highly controversial in Turkey, with the main opposition party criticizing it at nationwide rallies because of transparency and accountability issues. Also, factory workers organized several protests against the decision.
  • a big cooperative deal in the defense industry helps strengthen Qatar’s ties with Turkey, guarantees Turkey's continued military-political shield against the Saudi-led bloc and blockade, and helps Doha diversify its defense sources.
  • BMC wants to penetrate jet engine production as well. After securing Erdogan's political backing, BMC’s TRMotor went to a joint venture with TAI to develop the jet engine for Turkey’s indigenous TFX aircraft project with the help of the UK’s Rolls-Royce. In March, however, Rolls-Royce​ announced it was withdrawing from TRMotor because of an irreconcilable difference over intellectual property caused by Qatar’s involvement with BMC.
  • BMC is trying to establish a monopoly in military diesel and jet engines, and also seeks to monopolize the raw material production field of boron mining it recently entered. 
  • Joint ventures are having a rough time. TSKGV, now under the jurisdiction of the presidential palace, is struggling to evade Erdogan’s attempts to take full charge. Meanwhile, Erdogan's favorites are rising quickly to the top.
Ed Webb

What is at stake in the eastern Mediterranean crisis? | Financial Times - 0 views

  • Competition over gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean has combined with bitter regional rivalries to fuel dangerous tensions between Turkey and its neighbours in recent months. Many fear this could lead to direct military confrontation between Turkey and Greece, as the two Nato members and their allies square up over control of the seas.
  • the Turkish Cypriot self-declared state is not recognised by the international community, which views the government on the Greek Cypriot side as the legitimate authority for the whole island. Cyprus was contentiously admitted to the EU in 2004
  • Turkey believes that the government that sits in southern Cyprus should not have the right to auction blocks of its surrounding seabed to international energy companies until Turkish Cypriots can share the benefits. But peace talks have failed multiple times in the past 45 years
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  • Turkey also believes its own southern coastline gives it economic rights in waters off Cyprus that Nicosia sees as part of its territory.
  • Most of the discoveries so far have been in the south-eastern portion of the region, close to Egypt, Israel and Cyprus’s southern coast. The areas where Turkey is drilling for gas do not yet have proven reserves.But work to assess and develop these prospects has largely been delayed this year because of the slump in energy prices during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The development of gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean has forged some unlikely alliances. The EastMed Gas Forum, nicknamed “the Opec of Mediterranean gas” was formally established in Cairo this year. It brings together Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus and Italy, with the aim of establishing the region as a major energy hub
  • left Turkey isolated because of its tensions with many members, including Greece and Egypt, even as the forum has helped to forge common ground between Israel and a number of its neighbours.
  • Turkey backs the UN-endorsed Libyan government in Tripoli that has been fighting renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who has received support from nations including Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.
  • The second agreement demarcated a new sea boundary between Turkey and Libya, angering Greece and complicating plans for a future pipeline from Cyprus to Greece, via Crete, that could pipe gas to mainland Europe. As Turkey’s influence in Libya increased, countries such as the UAE and France have become increasingly vocal about the dispute in the east Mediterranean. Both nations dispatched forces to join recent military exercises held by Greece and Cyprus in a show of strength against Turkey.
  • Germany launched a mediation attempt between Athens and Ankara that stalled when Greece signed a new maritime deal with Egypt, angering Turkey. 
  • France is increasingly swinging towards the Greece-Cyprus position because of its own disputes with Turkey, particularly over Libya
Ed Webb

Did Erdogan approve Azerbaijan escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh? - 0 views

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan views the world with both grievance and a sense of opportunity. In a major speech Oct. 1, he assailed the failures of the post-World War II international system, declaring, “There is no chance left for this distorted order, in which the entire globe is encumbered by a handful of greedy people, to continue to exist the way it currently does.”
  • He described Turkey as a country that “cannot use the same methods as the states that have no roots no traditions, and no morals, and which derive their power from colonialism and greed."
  • Erdogan’s approach speaks to Turkey’s Islamic and Ottoman past, including in his newly assertive role on the Palestinian issue, as Fehim Tastekin and Adnan Abu Amer report. “We had to leave [Jerusalem] in tears during the First World War,” Erdogan said this week. “It is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us.” 
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  • In Syria, Erdogan faces a quagmire mostly of his own making, and he shows no inclination to pull back. He got Turkey involved early, backing elements committed to deposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during protests nearly a decade ago.
  • Turkey’s troops and proxies still occupy parts of northeastern Syria, near the Turkish border, and will stay there, according to Erdogan, “until the last terrorist is destroyed.” Terrorist, by his lights, means not only the Islamic State, or Daesh, as he refers to it, but Syrian Kurdish forces that have been aligned with the United States, and which Turkey views as linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington.
  • campaign against the PKK includes attacks on the group inside Iraq as well
  • Libya, where Turkey has shifted jihadis it backed during the fight in Syria to Libya to fight on behalf of the Government of National Accord
  • Amberin Zaman writes that Azerbaijan’s military action, which set off the recent escalation, “was not sparked by accident but was preplanned by Azerbaijan and its regional ally Turkey.”
  • Turkey's all-in support for Azerbaijan, including providing arms and training, can allow Erdogan “to claim credit for winning back Azerbaijani territory, however little, [which] would be an enormous boost to his droopy poll numbers in the midst of a looming economic crisis."
  • Despite denials by Ankara and Baku, there are reports of Syrian jihadis joining the fray, sent there by Turkey
  • if Moscow comes to believe that Ankara has ulterior motives such as expanding its Turko-Islamist influence to the south Caucasus as part of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions, it won't stand idle
  • as Turkish-Israeli relations go from bad to worse, both Ankara and Jerusalem are backing Azerbaijan in the conflict. Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel because of Israel’s selling arms to Azerbaijan, as we report here.
Ed Webb

Lawsuit over Washington violence looms over US-Turkey relations - 0 views

  • Yasa found himself semi-conscious in hospital along with nine other protesters after Erdogan’s bodyguards and thugs for hire set upon them. One yelled “Die Kurd” as they kicked and struck the demonstrators with discernible glee. Lucy Usoyan, a young Yazidi woman who was repeatedly hit on the head, fell unconscious, despite Yasa’s best efforts to shield her. The images captured on video and later subjected to forensic scrutiny leave no doubt as to what had transpired. “I didn’t know if I would ever see my children again,” Yasa said. “I thought I was dying.”
  • In May, Yasa and a dozen and a half fellow victims filed a civil action lawsuit in US federal court against Turkey. They are demanding at least $300 million in compensation on multiple counts ranging from bodily harm to psychological trauma — including, in at least one case, damage to conjugal relations.
  • the tort case against the Republic of Turkey rests on the Foreign Sovereignties Immunity Act, which stipulates seven violations for which foreign governments can be sued in US courts. “I’d love to see Turkey argue that under US law, ‘We are entitled to beat up people on the streets of Washington, DC,'” Perles said. “No dictator gets to come to my country and beat up citizens of my country on my watch. I’ll take that argument all the way to the Supreme Court.”
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  • Turkey has breezily denied any wrongdoing, branding the protesters as “terrorists” and the actions of its security forces as “self-defense.” Its reaction to the legal case so far has been to act as if it doesn’t exist. Turkey’s toothless media, which is almost fully controlled by Erdogan’s business cronies, has followed suit.
  • In November 2017, federal prosecutors dismissed charges against seven members of Erdogan’s security detail who had been indicted by a federal grand jury that July on a slew of charges, including aggravated assault, conspiracy and hate crimes. Although the men had already left the country, the warrants seemed to carry a powerful message that foreign agents could not act with impunity on US soil. Then in February 2018, the cases against four others were quietly dropped, leaving only four guards on the hook.
  • a strong whiff of diplomatic appeasement hung in the air. The Trump administration was trying to secure the release of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson and to calm Turkish fury over its continued support for the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG)
  • The first hearing of what will be a bench trial could be held as early as June depending on when the US Embassy in Ankara formally relays the summons. A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity declined to confirm whether that had happened yet, but acknowledged that US law requires it. “The US government makes no judgment on the merits of the litigation in question, or whether Turkey enjoys immunity from suit, which is a question to be decided by the courts,”
  • if the Turkish government does not acknowledge service within 60 days of the delivery of the summons by a US diplomat, “a federal judge will proceed without Turkey at that moment.”
  • Turkey has allegedly resorted to bullying relatives of the plaintiffs who are in Turkey in hopes of getting them to drop the lawsuits. Several have filed as “John Does” precisely to avoid such harassment. One of them told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that police had hauled in family members for interrogation, but declined to provide details for fear their identity may be revealed. Three other victims approached by Al-Monitor declined to speak, even off the record.
  • Clobbering dissidents in foreign countries is not a uniquely Turkish habit. In January 2018, a federal judge ruled that the Democratic Republic of Congo had to fork over more than $500,000 to three protesters who were savagely attacked by the security detail of President Joseph Kabila Kabange outside the luxury Georgetown hotel where he was staying. Much like Erdogan’s security detail, the Congolese security officers flew out of the United States within hours of the incident. One of the protesters, Jacques Miango, who was kicked in the throat, the face and the spine, shared Yasa’s disbelief that such violence could unfold in the heart of Washington. “You imagine that those kinds of things can’t happen in America,” Miango told The Washington Post. “But after it happened to me, I know nothing is impossible.”
  • In the unlikely event that Erdogan were to resume peace talks with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, Yasa said he would withdraw the case “without a second thought.”
  • “Peace is what we were demonstrating for in Sheridan Circle,” Yasa said. “And if peace were the outcome, our suffering will not have been in vain.”
Ed Webb

Russia breathes down Middle Eastern necks over Ukraine - 0 views

  • for NATO-member Turkey, the stakes could not be higher. Its 2,000 kilometre-long Black Sea coastline stretching from the Bulgarian border in the West to Georgia in the East is the longest of any of the Sea's littoral states,  including Russia and Ukraine.
  • Turkey’s stakes are magnified by last year’s discovery of a natural gas field in its Black Sea littoral waters that, according to Energy Minister Fatih Donmez, could by 2027 provide nearly a third of Turkey’s domestic needs.
  • “Syria remains Turkey’s soft spot. For that matter, Russia is likely to put pressure on Turkey through Syria,” said Turkey scholar Galip Dalay. “At a broader level, Russia and Turkey have cooperated and competed with each other through the conflict spots in the Middle East and North Africa. However, Moscow has been less open to repeating this experience with Turkey in the ex-Soviet area."
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  • Turkey accuses Russia of failing to fulfill its pledge to disarm Kurdish fighters in a 30-kilometre area along the Syrian-Turkish border.
  • In contrast to Turkey that may feel it has greater maneuverability in its relations with Russia, China, and the United States, Israel feels that its options, like in the case of China, are more limited when it comes to Russia. It cannot afford to put its relations with Washington at risk.
Ed Webb

Turkey's New Maps Are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • an alarming burst of Turkish irredentism
  • Erdogan criticized the Treaty of Lausanne, which created the borders of modern Turkey, for leaving the country too small. He spoke of the country’s interest in the fate of Turkish minorities living beyond these borders, as well as its historic claims to the Iraqi city of Mosul, near which Turkey has a small military base. And, alongside news of Turkish jets bombing Kurdish forces in Syria and engaging in mock dogfights with Greek planes over the Aegean Sea, Turkey’s pro-government media have shown a newfound interest in a series of imprecise, even crudely drawn, maps of Turkey with new and improved borders
  • this combination of irredentist cartography and rhetoric nonetheless offers some insight into Turkey’s current foreign and domestic policies and Ankara’s self-image. The maps, in particular, reveal the continued relevance of Turkish nationalism, a long-standing element of the country’s statecraft, now reinvigorated with some revised history and an added dose of religion
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  • they aren’t maps of the Ottoman Empire, which was substantially larger, or the entire Muslim world or the Turkic world. They are maps of Turkey, just a little bigger
  • while countries like Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Hungary brought disaster on themselves by trying to forcibly rewrite their postwar borders, Turkey — under Ataturk and his successor — wisely resisted this urge
  • Erdogan, by contrast, has given voice to an alternative narrative in which Ataturk’s willingness in the Treaty of Lausanne to abandon territories such as Mosul and the now-Greek islands in the Aegean was not an act of eminent pragmatism but rather a betrayal. The suggestion, against all evidence, is that better statesmen, or perhaps a more patriotic one, could have gotten more.
  • Erdogan’s new sectarianism is evident in Mosul, where Turkey has warned of the risks to Sunnis should Shiite militias take control of the city. But the policy’s influence is clearest in Syria, where Turkey has been supporting Sunni rebels aiming to topple the Assad regime (including those now struggling to hold the city of Aleppo). In both Iraq and Syria, however, Turkey’s sectarianism has not been allowed to trump pragmatism. Ankara has been keen to maintain a mutually beneficial economic relationship with Iran despite backing opposite sides in Syria and in the past year has also expressed its willingness to make peace with Assad if circumstances require it.
  • Government rhetoric has been quick to invoke the heroism of Turkey’s war of independence in describing the popular resistance to the country’s July 15 coup attempt. And alongside the Ottomans, Erdogan routinely references the Seljuks, a Turkic group that preceded the Ottomans in the Middle East by several centuries, and even found a place for more obscure pre-Islamic Turkic peoples like the Gokturks, Avars, and Karakhanids that first gained fame in Ataturk’s 1930s propaganda
  • The Sultan Murad Brigade, comprising predominantly ethnic Turkmens, has been one of Ankara’s military assets inside Syria against both Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the PKK. Meanwhile, the Turkmen population living around Mosul and its surrounding area has been a concern and an asset for Ankara in Iraq. Turkish special forces have worked with the Iraqi Turkmen Front since at least 2003 in order to expand Turkish influence and counter the PKK in northern Iraq.
  • Turkish minorities in northern Greece and Cyprus have played a similar role. That is, their well-being has been a subject of genuine concern for Turkish nationalists but also a potential point of leverage with Athens to be used as needed
  • Erdogan has also emphasized a new element to Turkey’s communitarian foreign-policy agenda: Sunni sectarianism
  • Criticism of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman foreign policy is now as likely to come from the Arab world as anywhere else
  • the points at which Turkey has proved susceptible to irredentism in the past have all come at moments of change and uncertainty similar to what the Middle East is experiencing today. In 1939, Ankara annexed the province of Hatay, then under French control, by taking advantage of the crisis in Europe on the eve of World War II
  • Ankara is all too aware of the fact that the power to do so remains the only rationale for foreign intervention that matters
Ed Webb

Syrian frontline town divides NATO allies Turkey and U.S. - 0 views

  • A dispute between Turkey and the United States over control of a north Syrian town has put the NATO allies on opposing sides of the conflict’s front line, deepening a diplomatic rift ahead of a visit to Turkey by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
  • Turkish and U.S. troops, deployed alongside local fighters, have carved out rival areas of influence on Syria’s northern border. To Ankara’s fury, Washington allied itself with a force led by the Kurdish YPG, a militia which Turkey says is commanded by the same leaders overseeing an insurgency in its southeast.
  • Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij, and two U.S. commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message
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  • the Syrian town of Manbij
  • also warned that Turkey’s air and ground offensive in Afrin risks exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Syria and disrupting one of the few corners of the country that had remained stable through seven years of civil war
  • As the grievances between Washington and Ankara have escalated, Turkey has built bridges with rival powers Russia and Iran - even though their support has put Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the ascendancy while Turkey still backs the weakened rebels seeking his downfall
  • Relations with the United States were “fragile and frustrating because pledges have been unfulfilled and there is a lack of coherence between the White House and the military”
  • a country where 83 percent of people view the United States unfavorably, according to a poll published on Monday.
  • “The U.S.-Turkey alliance can no longer be taken for granted,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which promotes transatlantic cooperation, wrote in a report published ahead of Tillerson’s trip. “That this relationship has endured several stress tests in the past is no guarantee that it will survive this one”.
Ed Webb

With each Erdogan visit, Ankara grows more indebted to Moscow - 0 views

  • In the bumpy Turkish-Russian relationship in Syria, crisis situations have produced a pattern of face-to-face meetings between the two countries’ presidents, with Ankara typically ending up as a giver and Moscow as a taker.
  • Tensions in the rebel-held province shot up Aug. 19 after a Syrian fighter jet struck a pickup of the Faylaq al-Sham group escorting a Turkish military convoy, which, according to Ankara, was taking reinforcements to the Turkish observation post at Morek in the southernmost corner of Idlib. The situation grew into a crisis between Ankara and Moscow as Syrian forces encircled the Morek base, where about 200 Turkish soldiers are stationed, while marching into the key town of Khan Sheikhoun. 
  • 2½ years since the launch of the Astana track between Russia, Turkey and Iran, Ankara and Moscow remain at odds in their definitions of “terrorist” groups in northwest Syria
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  • Erdogan’s visit was prompted by the situation in Idlib, but the venue Putin chose — an aerospace exhibition — set the stage for Moscow to open its favorite topic, namely opportunities for further defense cooperation and fresh arms sales to Turkey in the wake of the S-400 missile deal. 
  • By getting a NATO-country president on top of a Russian warplane, Putin certainly sought to send a message to the Western security bloc. He said Turkey was interested in purchasing Russian warplanes such as the Su-57, while Erdogan responded he would leave defense procurement officials to brainstorm the matter.
  • Unlike Western leaders, Putin has proved a master in speaking not only to the minds but also the hearts of both Turkish decision-makers and the Turkish people. He grasps the “emotional reality” prevailing in Ankara, where how one feels could be more consequential than what one thinks nowadays. In a move flattering nationalist sentiments, Putin offered Erdogan the opportunity to send a Turkish astronaut to space on the centenary of the Turkish republic in 2023, drawing on the recent creation of a space agency in Turkey, which has been actively advertised for domestic political consumption
  • A Turkish astronaut in space ahead of the 2023 presidential polls would make for a great election gift for Erdogan
  • each Putin-Erdogan summit has seen Ankara give concessions, be they economic, diplomatic or security- and defense-related
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