22 Ιουλίου 2016

I) There’s more to Turkey’s failed coup than meets the eye, II) Turkey’s failed coup throws up surprises, III) People With Big Ambitions: What the Turkish Coup Means for Russia.

I
There’s more to Turkey’s failed coup than meets the eye

M K Bhadrakumar - July 18, 2016

M.K.Bhadrakumar served in the Indian Foreign Service for three decades and served as ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey. Apart from two postings in the former Soviet Union, his assignments abroad included South Korea, Sri Lanka, West Germany, Kuwait, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He served thrice in the Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan Division in the Ministry of External Affairs, including as the Head of the Division in 1992-95. Mr. Bhadrakumar sought voluntary retirement from the IFS in 2002 and has since devoted himself to writing. He contributes to various publications in India and abroad and is a regular columnist for Asia Times and The Hindu. He has written extensively on Russia, China, Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and on the geopolitics of energy security. He normally resides at Delhi.


Russian President Vladimir Putin did on Sunday what no major western leader from the NATO member countries cared to do when he telephoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan to convey his sympathy, goodwill and best wishes for the latter’s success in restoring constitutional order and stability as soon as possible after the attempted coup Friday night. (Kremlin website)

The US Secretary of State John Kerry instead made an overnight air dash to Brussels to have a breakfast meeting on Monday with the EU foreign ministers to discuss a unified stance on the crisis in Turkey. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was in an angry mood ahead of the breakfast, saying “questions” have arisen as to whether Turkey is any longer a “viable” ally. He voiced “suspicions” over Turkey’s intentions and insisted that European backing for Erdogan against the coup was not a “blank cheque” for him to suppress his opponents.

The US has expressed displeasure regarding the Turkish allegations of an American hand in the failed coup. Indeed, Turkish allegation has no precedent in NATO’s 67-year old history – of one member plotting regime change in another member country through violent means. Clearly, US and Turkey are on a collision course over the extradition of the Islamist preacher Fetullah Gulen living in exile in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government has named as the key plotter behind the coup. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has warned that Ankara will regard the US as an “enemy” if it harbored Gulen. The dramatic developments expose the cracks appearing in the western alliance system. (See the commentary in the Russian news agency Sputnik entitled NATO R.I.P (1949-2016): Will Turkey-US Rift Over Gulen Destroy Alliance?)

Interestingly, the senior Turkish army officials detained so far include the following:

  • Commander of the Incirlik air base (and 10 of his subordinates) where NATO forces are located and 90 percent of the US’ tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are stored;

  • Army Commander in charge of the border with Syria and Iraq;

  • Corps Commander who commands the NATO contingency force based in Istanbul; and,

  • Former military attaches in Israel and Kuwait.

Most certainly, the needle of suspicion points toward the Americans having had some knowledge of the coup beforehand. Two F-16 aircraft and two ‘tankers’ to provide mid-air refuelling for them and used in the coup attempt actually took off from Incirlik.

Of course, Ankara has been wary of the US and France establishing military bases in northern Syria with the support of local Kurdish tribes, which it suspected would be a stepping stone leading to the creation of a ‘Kurdistan’. (The advisor on foreign affairs to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, who is an influential figure in Tehran alleged on Sunday that the US is attempting to create a Kurdistan state carved out of neighboring countries with Kurdish population, which will be a “second Israel” in the Middle East to serve Washington’s regional interests.)

Today, the famous Saudi whistleblower known as ‘Mujtahid’ has come out with a sensational disclosure that the UAE played a role in the coup and had kept Saudi Arabia in the loop. Also, the deposed ruler of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (who is a close friend of Erdogan) has alleged that the US, another Western country (presumably France) had staged the coup and that Saudi Arabia was involved in it. (here and here) Meanwhile, word has leaked to the media that in a closed-door briefing to the Iranian parliament on Sunday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif hinted at Saudi and Qatari involvement in the coup.

Putin’s phone call to Erdogan suggests the possibility that Russian and Turkish intelligence are keeping in touch. The two leaders have agreed to meet shortly.

The timing of the coup attempt – following the failure of the US push to establish a NATO presence in the Black Sea and in the wake of the Russian-Turkish rapprochement – becomes significant. Equally, the signs of shift in Turkey’s interventionist policies in Syria would have unnerved the US and its regional allies.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a great deal to lose if Turkey establishes ties with Syria, which is on the cards. Thus, stopping Erdogan on his tracks has become an urgent imperative for these countries. The spectre of the Syrian government regaining control over the country’s territory haunts Israel, which has been hoping that a weakened and fragmented Syria would work to its advantage to permanently annex the occupied territories in the Golan Heights. Again, Turkey’s abandonment of the ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria means a geopolitical victory for Iran. On the contrary, a triumphant and battle-hardened Hezbollah next door means that its vast superiority in conventional military strength will be rendered even more irrelevant in countering the resistance movement. Significantly, Israel is keeping stony silence.

Will the US and its regional allies simply throw in the towel or will bide their time to make a renewed bid to depose Erdogan? That is the big question. Erdogan’s popularity is soaring sky-high today within Turkey. He can be trusted to complete the ‘vetting’ process to purge the Gulenists ensconced in the state apparatus and the armed forces. The meeting of the High Military Council due in August to decide on the retirement, promotions and transfers of the military top brass gives Erdogan the free hand to remove the Gulenists.




II
Turkey’s failed coup throws up surprises

M K Bhadrakumar – July 21, 2016

What emerges on the sixth day of the failed coup attempt in Turkey is that three inflection points could be in play in the Turkish-American relations in the coming days and weeks. They are:

  • The functioning of the Incirlik Air Base on the Syrian border;

  • Extradition of Islamist cleric Fetullah Gulen from the US; and,

  • The massive purge of ‘Gulenists’ that is under way in Turkey.

Each of them is going to be trickier to negotiate than the other two and, yet, all three are also inter-related.

The power supply for Incirlik has been suspended since Friday and a back-up generator is barely enabling the US facilities there to support flight operations and around 2700 stationed in that NATO base. It’s an untenable situation. The US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter telephoned his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik on Tuesday evening to stress the importance of operations at the Incirlik to the counter-ISIS campaign.

But on his part, Isik regretted his inability to attend the counter-ISIS defence ministerial that Carter was hosting in Washington on Wednesday. Turkey was represented only at ambassadorial level at Wednesday’s conference which was attended by the defence ministers of some 30 countries, NATO, and top Pentagon officials to discuss “the next plays in the campaign that will culminate in the collapse of ISIL’s control over Mosul and Raqqa”. (Pentagon)

The detention of the commander at Incirlik Gen. Bekir Ercan Van and his subordinates underscores the sensitivities involved here. Gen. Van resisted arrest and had apparently sought political asylum in the US before being led away by the Turkish security.

Interestingly, in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, President Recep Erdogan  said some of those who have been detained have started confessing and that there might have been foreign involvement. Erdogan warned that it would be a “big mistake” if the US decided not to extradite Gulen.

The official Turkish position will be that there is no linkage between continued access of US forces to Incirlik and Gulen’s extradition, but, clearly, that is not the state of play here. The Turks know that Incirlik provides the most efficient base for conducting the US operations in Syria.

However, Washington is not likely to extradite Gulen to Turkey, while Erdogan has staked his prestige on that issue. It seems as of now no wriggle room really exists here – unless some face-saving formula can be found such as the US revoking Gulen’s ‘green card’ and/or persuading him to leave for a third country.

The point is, Gulen has been a ‘strategic asset’ of the US intelligence for two or three decades and if Turkish security agencies interrogate him, that may cause even more damage to the Turkish-American relationship and even, perhaps, complicate the US’ relations with third countries where Gulen’s extensive network might have functioned or are still functioning as the CIA’s front organizations. (Sputnik)

Meanwhile, what role, if any, that Israel might have played in the coup attempt also remains a mystery. Israel is keeping pin-drop silence, but would certainly know that Gen. Akin Ozturk, former chief of air force, who has confessed his leadership role in the attempted coup, used to be the Turkish military attaché in Tel Aviv at one time. (Algemeiner)

By the way, these are the exact words Erdogan used in the interview on Wednesday with Al Jazeera:

  • Other states could be behind this coup attempt. Gulenists have a ‘supreme intelligence,’ which could have plotted all this. The time will come for all these links to be revealed.

Erdogan explicitly hinted at the involvement of more than one country in the coup attempt.

Israel is mighty upset with Erdogan over his close ties with Hamas. Equally, Israel favors the creation of a Kurdistan state that could provide a base for its intelligence in a highly strategic region neighboring Iran. There is congruence on this issue between Israel and the US. The Turks have long suspected the US intentions in Iraq and Syria. (Read a fascinating interview with a retired Turkish admiral titled Goal Reached? Military Coup Attempt Disempowers Turkish Armed Forces.)

The plot really thickens if the opinion piece in the Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday is read keeping in view the recent establishment of a Saudi consulate in Erbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (The daily, incidentally, is owned by Prince Faisal, son of King Salman.) The article all but warns Erdogan that he may be overthrown if he pushes for Gulen’s extradition from the US, and that he risks the West’s wrath if he proceeds with the crackdown on ‘Gulenists’. (Asharq al-Sharq)

Now, on whose side are the Saudis playing in this great game? For a quick answer, read a stunning statement by a top Israeli national security expert, here, recently.

Make no mistake, the US and its European allies are certain to pile pressure on Erdogan to fall in line. The standoff can become a showdown as time passes — and even take ugly turn. The stakes are very very high for the western alliance system and the US’ regional strategies. This is where Erdogan’s crackdown on ‘Gulenists’ will be grabbed by the West as an alibi to isolate him.

Simply put, the US cannot let go of Turkey. Sans Turkey, NATO gets badly weakened in the entire southern tier – Balkans, Black Sea, Caucasus, Caspian, Southern Russia and Central Asia, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean – and the US’ containment strategy against Russia will be doomed.

Beyond that, from the limited perspective of the Syrian conflict also, whatever chance the US and its allies (Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc) still would have to put in motion a viable ‘Plan B’ to counter the Russian-Iranian axis would critically depend on Turkey remaining a partner and willing to pursue an interventionist role.




III
People With Big Ambitions: What the Turkish Coup Means for Russia

Fyodor Lukyanov - July 19, 2016

From the beginning, Turkey was one of the most active and ambitious players in the so-called Arab Spring that shook the foundations of the Middle East from 2010-2012. It is no surprise that such outward instability has seeped inward.

During the past five years of changes in the region, Turkey has come into conflict with practically all of its key partners, gotten mired in Syria’s internal intrigues, confronted a sharp escalation of Kurdish dissatisfaction, and undermined its own economy that until then had enjoyed impressive growth.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan apparently realized some time ago that the country was heading nowhere, and this is what prompted recent attempts at reconciliation with Russia and Israel. However, he needed a weightier pretext in order to extricate the country from the dead end into which he had driven it, and the attempted coup came as a strange but convenient gift in this regard.

The failed attempt to overthrow the president serves as a “super-vote” of confidence for the leader, blotting out his previous failures. He now has carte blanche to do what he had found so difficult to accomplish since elections in June 2015. This primarily involves changing the constitution to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and entirely cleansing the state apparatus of disloyal or simply undesirable employees.

How will the impending changes affect foreign policy? The Turkish military has traditionally focused on the West, forming the cornerstone of Kemalism, the founding ideology of Turkey. The suppression of the uprising and its aftermath will most likely move the country in the opposite direction.

Ankara practically demanded that Washington extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-exile in the United States, whom Erdogan blamed for organizing the coup. However, the deportation of a person living in political exile violates U.S. principles and the request threatens to worsen the already strained relations between the two countries.

The Turkish authorities are speaking about reinstating the death penalty as if the question were already decided. This would end Turkey’s chances of joining the EU because it would apparently force Ankara to leave the Council of Europe. It would also thwart Turkey’s greatest aspiration of obtaining a visa-free regime with the EU. Brussels had promised to grant that request in return for Turkish cooperation on migration, but it had been frantically looking for a way to back out of the deal. Now Brussels will be only too happy to cancel it.

As for the Middle East, where Erdogan and his colleagues had taken steps toward reviving the Imperial Ottoman tradition, the new situation makes it possible to distance themselves from the disastrous results of that strategy.

Erdogan must have long ago realized that placing bets on the rapid fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and increasing Turkey’s influence there was a losing gamble. Now, against the backdrop of efforts by Moscow and Washington to find a joint solution on Syria — and, symbolically, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held active talks in Russia on the subject even as the coup unfolded — Ankara can withdraw into the shadows and proffer support for the U.S.-Russian initiative process. Of course, that does not mean that Erdogan’s ambitions will not resurface at the first promising shift in the regional situation.

It is possible that in the prevailing circumstances, Turkey will try returning to the path it had been sounding out prior to its Middle East gambit. That is, involvement in the affairs of Eurasia, a general shift toward the East and closer relations with Russia. Back in 2013, when Erdogan was still Turkish prime minister, he suggested during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that his country might join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Russian president reacted with some surprise at the time, and Erdogan has yet to show any serious intentions on that account.

What does all of this mean for Moscow?

If one overlooks Moscow's unflattering rush to return Russian tourists to Turkey after Ankara promised to guarantee their safety, the Kremlin has reason to be satisfied with the current state of affairs. Even if Erdogan mounts a hardline response to the attempted coup, his regime remains weakened. Shoring up his base at home also requires finding reliable partners abroad, and Erdogan’s zigzagging will hardly win him respect in any foreign capitals.

Ankara and Moscow can now resume important joint economic projects that were suspended after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet in November last year. However, tensions surrounding the so-called Turkish Stream project have not diminished, and worsening Turkish-EU relations will not increase Brussels’ desire to work with Ankara in such a sensitive area as the transit of strategic raw materials. At the same time, this might lend new importance to the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and Rosatom, having already invested money in the project, can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Despite their obvious differences and even antagonisms, Russia and Turkey are united by one thing — the fact that they are two great powers connected historically, culturally and geographically to a Europe that never fully accepted them as one of their own.

Following the Cold War, they both fell out of the “Greater Europe” project, based on European integration. Paradoxically, both Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan made great efforts in the early years of their rule to ensure that their countries were included in that project.

Three processes are now occurring simultaneously. Russia and Turkey refuse to orient themselves toward Europe and the integration project has hit a severe structural crisis. The post-Cold War idea of a common European home has lost currency and European policy is backtracking all the way to the multipolar Europe of the 19th century.

Multipolar Europe was a time when competition between countries was the normal state of relations, small countries were a source of discord and a headache for everyone, and the “barbarians at the gate” — Russia and Turkey — were torn by feelings of both love and hate toward Europe proper. That situation generated constant conflicts and wars.

Of course, history never repeats itself exactly, and today’s situation differs in at least one way: Europe is no longer the center of the world. Earlier, if Europe sneezed, the whole world caught cold.

Now, however, three-fourths of humanity is simply uninterested in what ails these strange people with their oversized ambitions and diminishing ability to implement them properly.