NATO members are still trying to understand the logic behind caving to Turkish extortion and allowing Turkey into the EU (European Union). Turkey recently asked European Union countries to let Turkey join the EU, or at least revive Turkey’s EU accession process. President Erdogan strongly suggested Turkey was willing to approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO, in exchange for Turkish EU membership. Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the NATO member countries now belong to the EU. Erdogan put it bluntly; open the way for Turkey’s membership in the EU and Turkey will agree to allow Sweden to join NATO. Turkey already approved Finland but demanded concessions before approving Sweden. At first Turkey demanded that Sweden extradite Kurds who are Swedish citizens but suspected of supporting Kurdish separatism in Turkey. The reason Turkish membership in the EU has been delayed for so long is the persistent corruption and bad economic policies by Turkish governments. The Turkish use of Swedish membership to extort concessions for Turkey is an example of what has kept Turkey out of the EU. NATO rules do not cover expelling a member, which some NATO members wanted to do to Turkey for its behavior towards Sweden. (Austin Bay)
July 13, 2023: Turkey was criticized by NATO allies in 2017, and praised by Russia when the Turks decided to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system rather than once used by its NATO allies. When Turkey ordered $2.5 billion worth of S-400 systems from Russia and this was criticized by NATO allies and the United States canceled the Turkish order for F-35 stealth fighters. By 2020 Russia had delivered four S-400 batteries and was deploying them on its borders. Two years later Russia invaded Ukraine and the Turks began to reconsider their S-400 purchase. Russia had the money and Turkey remembered why it joined NATO in the first place; to discourage Russia from attacking, or threatening to attack Turkey. More recently It was revealed that Turkey had allowed NATO allies to send technical experts to examine S-400 components. This provided information on exactly how S-400 worked and how best to exploit any flaws in the system. The United States was also looking for illegally obtained American components.
July 12, 2023: Despite Erdogan’s diplomatic victories and some additional arms sales, the Turkish economy continues to have serious problems. The Turkish currency, the lira, remains at a record low value versus the dollar. Pumping more foreign aid into the Turkish economy doesn’t seem to help. Turkish interest rates remain at record high levels in a failed effort to reduce inflation.
July 11, 2023: Turkey suddenly agreed to stop opposing Sweden from joining NATO. The change was prompted by NATO members agreeing to consider Turkey’s application to join the EU. Many NATO and EU members criticized this deal because it rewarded Turkish misbehavior and amounted to extortion on the part of Tukey.
July 10, 2023: Turkey continues to host millions of Syrian refugees. During the current Syrian civil war, some 5.5 million Syrians fled to neighboring countries. Turkey received 3.6 million, Lebanon two million and Iraq 250,000. There are also several million Syrians in Saudi Arabia, who are considered part of the large (over six million foreigners) expatriate workforce. About a third of those workers are Syrians. While many fled to Saudi Arabia because of the war in Syria, they were not treated like refugees and have jobs and status in Saudi Arabia. Countries bordering Syria want their refugees to go home. That cannot happen without the cooperation of the Syrian Assad government. Syria needs a lot of those refugees to revive the economy and the Arab League is willing to allow Syria to rejoin if they reduce their cooperation with Iran. That has always been a dangerous option for the Assads because the Iranians have enough armed operatives inside Syria to threaten the lives of key Assad clan members. Currently, Iranian power is unusually weak inside Iraq and Syria. Now is a good time for the Assads to make a break from Iran, especially if he has the support of the Arab League and assurances that the League will help, not hinder Assad use of force to maintain their rule in Syria. Turkey does not belong to the Arab League but agrees that it is time to send its Syrian refugee’s home. The Assad offer is acceptable if it will finally get those Syrians out of Turkey. The Assad’s appear to have decided in favor of the Arab League. That outcome of that decision will become known and put into effect sometime this year.
July 8, 2023: President Erdogan announced that he will meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when Putin visits Turkey in August. Erdogan made the announcement during a visit to Turkey by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. During his meeting with Zelenskyy, Erdogan said he supports Ukrainian membership in NATO. Erdogan also repeated something he has said since 2014, that Russia's seizure of Ukrainian territory violates international law. Zelenskyy noted that Turkey can play “a leadership role" in ending the war. Zelenskyy also indicated Turkey supports Ukraine’s peace plan. (Austin Bay)
Despite Russian objections, Turkey has sent five former Ukrainian prisoners of war back to Ukraine. The men were released to Turkish custody as part of a prisoner exchange President Erdogan arranged in 2022. Russia accuses Turkey of violating the terms of the agreement.
July 7, 2023: President Erdogan will meet Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius, Lithuania before the NATO alliance gathering begins in Vilnius. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had indicated such a meeting was in the works. Finland became NATO’s 31st member in April. Sweden would be NATO’s 32nd member. Admitting a new member requires the unanimous approval of all NATO nations. A NATO official said that the alliance hopes Turkey will agree to lift its objections. Sweden’s formal admission would occur at a later date.
July 6, 2023: Greece confirmed it plans to revive talks with Turkey to resolve maritime border and resource issues. For several months diplomats have signaled that progress on a Greek-Turk agreement was underway. In late June both Greece and Turkey announced that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Erdogan will meet on the sidelines of the July NATO summit.
Sweden’s Stockholm District Court has convicted Yahya Gungor, an ethnic Kurdish activist, for committing several security-related crimes. The crimes included financing terrorism. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. According to Swedish sources, this is the first time Sweden has convicted a Kurdish PKK militant under its new counter-terror laws. Gungo will serve his sentence in Sweden. Upon release, he will be expelled from Sweden and banned from returning.
July 3, 2023: Turkish media reported Turkish counterintelligence agents arrested seven members of an alleged Israeli spy ring.
June 29, 2023: President Erdogan criticized Sweden for permitting the burning of a Koran during a protest in Stockholm. Erdogan said the act was provocative. After the protester burned the Koran, Swedish police arrested him on charges of agitating against an ethnic or national group. This arrest proved the protestor’s point.
June 27, 2023: The Turkish military is conducting developmental tests on its new Yeni Altay main battle tank (MBT). The vehicle will be built in Turkey and will feature a substantial percentage of Turkish-made and developed technology. The vehicle will carry a 120mm smoothbore gun, just like all NATO standard tanks like the M1 and Leopard. Altay is also one of the most blatant and costliest examples of Turkish corruption. The military was forced to buy the locally developed and manufactured Altay tank instead importing an existing modern tank like the M1 or Leopard.
Turkish manufacturer BMC began developing Altay in 2008 and it was initially a struggle because the proposed Altay tank was more expensive and less capable than the American M1 and German Leopard that Turkey had access to. Major customers for the M1 are allowed to assemble it locally. Egypt does this and Poland, the latest customer for M1s, is doing the same. Turkey could have saved a lot of time and money by assembling M1s locally and using what was learned from that to develop a Turkish tank that was cheaper and more capable than the Altay. Local assembly operations provide less immediate and far fewer opportunities for corruption, especially for Erdogan’s political party and close associates. The Altay project did that because a distant relative of Erdogan was a major investor in BMC and benefited from any government business BMC received. Turkish journalists were discouraged from covering this but well-informed foreign journalists were not.
Meanwhile, BMC had to shop around for counties able to supply them with key Altay components that most Western nations refused to supply because of Turkish and Turkish-hired mercenary battlefield abuses of Arabs in Syria and Libya, and of Kurds everywhere. In 2021 BMC was able to obtain needed Altay components from two South Korean firms who agreed to build engine and transmission systems for Altay. Originally Turkey planned to use German manufactured engine components and French composite armor. Germany and other Europeans have since put sanctions on Turkey for atrocious behavior against Kurds and Arabs. The Turks are still looking for someone to supply composite armor equal to the French design. If not, they can use less capable designs that are adequate. Turkey already paid South Korea nearly half a billion dollars for use of South Korean tank tech developed for South Korea K1 and K2 tanks. Both of these were based on the U.S. M1 and some licensed U.S. tech was used, but the South Koreans gradually developed their own engines and other components. These are free to export.
Turkey has been a major customer for licensed South Korean military tech. All of this greatly increased the Altay budget, providing ample opportunities to reward pro-Erdogan politicians and Erdogan himself. This scandal is one reason why Erdogan is losing so much voter support in Turkey. This threatens Erdogan and his party. Erdogan is very worried about the corruption accusations and Turkey’s shaky economy. National elections were held in June and Erdogan was reelected for what he says is his last term as president. This gives Erdogan enough time to see the Altay tank project completed. This provides some justification for all the corruption associated with the Altay project.
June 26, 2023: NATO leaders are trying to resolve Turkey’s objections to Sweden joining the alliance. This involved NATO leaders arranging talks with President Erdogan and senior Swedish officials.
June 24, 2023: The Russian government announced President Erdogan had contacted the Kremlin and offered his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s responses to Wagner mercenary organization’s mutiny.
June 22, 2023: Turkey’s central bank raised interest rates by 6.5 percentage points. The overall rate is now 15 percent. It was the first rate increase since March 2021. For several years President Erdogan has opposed interest rate increases. Turkey’s new finance minister has been advocating interest rate increases as absolutely necessary to fight inflation.
June 15, 2023: The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) announced that it was ending its unilateral ceasefire. The PKK declared the ceasefire after the February earthquakes.
A Turkish court decided political opposition leader and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu will still have to stand trial on what many Turks believe are false charges of rigging a government bid. The trial will take place in November.
June 14, 2023: President Erdogan indicated he will consider letting his new finance minister handle interest rates. Over the last five years the value of the Turkish lira against the U.S. dollar fell around 80 percent and Erdogan still managed to get reelected.
June 13, 2023: President Erdogan announced his government is willing to open a consulate in the Azerbaijan city of Shusha. Armenian forces took the town in 1992. Azeri forces seized it in the recent (2020) war with Armenia. Turkey provided military assistance to the Azeris because they are a Turkic people and Turkey has been trying to promote itself as a protector of Turkic peoples in the region.
Kuwait has agreed to buy about $370 million in weapons from the Turkish defense manufacturer Baykar. Kuwait is particularly interested in acquiring TB2 UAVs.
In Iraq (the Kurdish north), Turkey claimed that one of their airstrikes killed three Yazidi militiamen and wounded three others. Yazidi officials insisted there were no casualties because the Turkish UAV had fired a missile at an abandoned village and the only one killed was a local shepherd. The Turks accuse the Yazidi of supporting PKK (Turkish Kurd separatist). The Yazidi are Kurds who practice a pre-Christian religion related to the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion once common in Iran before Islam and now only found in India. The Yazidis are considered pagans by ISIL and to Moslems pagans must either renounce their beliefs or die. The Kurds have always gotten along better with Yazidis, Christians and other minorities and many of those people fled to the Kurdish north. In 2015 it was the Kurds who recaptured Yazidi territory from ISIL.
June 12, 2023: Sweden agreed to extradite a Kurd activist to Turkey. The individual was not named. It is known he has been legally living in Sweden.
Two Turkish soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb during an anti-PKK operation in southeastern Turkey.
June 11, 2023: Syrians blame outsiders like neighbor Turkey for the length and severity of the 12- year-long civil war. Iran and Russia came to the aid of the Syrian government while Israel continued to attack Iranian forces in Syria, and Turkish forces crossed the border to deal with Islamic terrorists threatening Turkey as well as Syrian Kurds who control most of the northern border with Turkey. In northwest Syria there is Idlib province, which remains under the control of Islamic terrorists who don’t belong to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). For years the Assads made deals with Islamic terror groups that controlled areas throughout Syria for them to move to Idlib rather than fight to the death with the Assad troops. The Assads did this to maintain morale among their own troops, who had been fighting for years and were liable to desert rather than face a death-match with Islamic terrorists. For the last few years there has been fighting in Idlib involving the Islamic terrorists attacked by Assad, Turkish and Kurdish forces, with air support from Russia and Turkey. The fighting is slow, methodical and relentless in killing Islamic terrorists and shrinking the terrorist controlled area. Although there are fewer than a thousand American military personnel in Syria, they are constantly attacked by Iran-backed militias and harassed by Russian warplanes. The Iranian violence has been going on for a long time but the harassment of American aircraft by Russian fighters is recent. Both countries long had an agreement to avoid such interference by each other’s aircraft. Both nations were using their warplanes mainly to seek out and attack ISIL forces. Apparently in response to Western economic sanctions on Russia because of the Ukraine War, the Russian fighters are now engaging in dangerous maneuvers around American aircraft. Since the civil war began in 2011 the death toll is estimated to be between 400,000 and 500,000. Iran wanted the civil war to end so they could concentrate on Israel. The key role of Iran in Syria has been noted and no one, not even Iranian allies, are cooperating with the Iranian activities. The only ones who cannot walk away from this are the Assads, Turkey and Israel.
June 9, 2023: Russia and the Turks refuse to withdraw their troops from Libya until they receive guarantees that their interests in Libya are respected. The UN and NATO oppose that because the Libyan Tripoli faction wants to legitimize an illegal treaty signed by them in 2019 granting Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey. This treaty ignored existing, and internationally recognized, Greek claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government. Many people in both factions do not want to be stuck with a treaty that the UN and NATO consider illegal. Russia is no friend of NATO and is currently at war with NATO in Ukraine. Turkey is also a NATO member but most other NATO members would like to expel the Turks from NATO and there is no legal mechanism for that. Turks and Russians are troublemakers in Europe and Libya is a foreign branch of that mischief. Despite all the divisive problems, all the factions recently agreed to support one prime minister and hold national elections before the end of 2023. Russia has moved its embassy from Benghazi to Tripoli. Delays were caused by security concerns. Tripoli still has problems with local militias. By reopening its embassy in Tripoli and backing the Abdulhamid Dbeibah faction in Tripoli rather than the Fathi Bashagha faction and the LNA (Libyan National Army) in the east, Russia is in effect cooperating with Turkey, whose illegal agreements with the Tripoli government include giving Russia some of Greece’s rights to explore for oil and gas in areas of the Mediterranean. Libya is encouraging the reestablishment of embassies in Tripoli. The American embassy closed in 2014 but so far the Americans have no plans to reopen their embassy. A few dozen nations have, or are planning to reopen their embassies in Tripoli.
June 8, 2023: The U.S. is willing to support giving Turkey F-16 fighters and avionics upgrades if Turkey ends its opposition to Sweden joining NATO.
June 7, 2023: Some, 2.6 million Turks who lost their homes in the February earthquakes are still living in what are called “temporary settlements.” A medical aid group noted that during summer the higher temperatures increase the risk of heat stroke in these camps.
June 6, 2023: A preliminary report on Turkey’s April’s current-account deficit is that it will top $5.4 billion. The gap in March was $4.9 billion. This is another indicator that the worsening Turkish economy is not recovering.