Turkish President Erdogan appears to be reconsidering his decision to let Turkish-U.S. relations deteriorate. The last week has been instructive. First Erdogan acknowledged the deterioration in relations with America and then characterized the Turkish-U.S. strategic relationship as vital. That statement alone was a backdown from his accusations in mid-February that America was supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Erdogan made the outrageous accusation after PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq murdered 13 Turkish hostages. The U.S. does not support the PKK. The U.S. labels the PKK a terrorist organization. The PKK is a terrorist organization. The U.S. does support Syrian Kurdish militias fighting ISIL in Syria. That support infuriates Erdogan, though many observers think his fury is theatrics for his Turkish Islamist supporters. Why? Some of the American logistical support for Syrian Kurds is believed to flow through Turkey. As it is, Turkey invests in northern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan. Who really aids the PKK? Iran. And Turkish intelligence knows it. (Austin Bay)
February 24, 2021: The U.S. once again urged Turkey to halt its acquisition of more Russian S-400 surface to air missiles and get rid of the S-400 battery it has already purchased. The American appeal came after Turkey announced it is talking to Russia about buying a second S-400 SAM battery. Turkey acquired the first S-400 battery in 2019 after deciding it wouldn’t buy an upgraded U.S. Patriot SAM system. The U.S. agreed to sell the system but refused to share technology. The Pentagon contends deploying the S-400 opens an intelligence window on NATO air operations. The U.S. removed Turkey from the NATO F-35 program after Turkey acquired its first S-400 battery.
February 23, 2021: Is Erdogan in domestic political trouble? In the last two decades Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) has won every national election. But two recent polls show support for his government alliance is well below support for the opposition coalition. Erdogan has had to confront the spate of protests at Bosporus (Bogazici) University that followed his decision to appoint a non-academic AKP official as president of what is regarded aa Turkey’s top public university. The protests began in January and continue. After police, supposedly on Erdogan’s order, attacked protesting students with tear gas and riot batons, the protests spread. First throughout Istanbul then to other cities around Turkey.
February 19, 2021: Turkey’s fiscal and currency crisis continues. The value of the Turkish lira has fallen since Erdogan removed Turkey’s central bank director last fall. The resignation of Turkey’s finance minister, Berat Albayrak, also helped. For the record, Albayrak is Erdogan’s son-in-law. Two professional economic administrators replaced them.
February 16, 2021: A new buzz term describing Turkey’s geo-political operations is making the rounds: Bayraktar Diplomacy. The Bayraktar TB1 is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, or drone) designed for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft is rated as a “high endurance” platform – it can stay aloft a long time. But the buzz term refers to “small footprint” Turkish intervention operations that rely on intensive surveillance by drones and other intelligence sources. In a Bayraktar intervention, Turkish-supported forces (often Syrian Arab mercenaries) deploy a mix of light infantry weapons, anti-tank guided missiles and anti-materiel “heavy” sniper rifles (think 12.7mm/50 caliber). Occasionally they will have mortar and light artillery support. A Bayraktar can also carry and use two laser guided missiles. This weapon and personnel mix is inexpensive, compared to deploying conventional ground forces. Turkish advisers also train local personnel. Turkey’s support for Libya’s GNA (Government of National Accord) is an example of Bayraktar Diplomacy. (Austin Bay)
February 15, 2021: Iran confirmed that Turkey had arrested an Iranian citizen earlier this month but denied the individual was a diplomat.
February 14, 2021: Turkey confirmed that 15 Turkish sailors kidnapped by pirates operating in West Africa (Gulf of Guinea) have returned to Turkey. The men were kidnapped January 23 after pirates attacked their container ship. One sailor, an Azeri, was killed in the attack. The seamen reported the pirates held them in a jungle camp in Nigeria for three weeks.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Defense Ministry reported that PKK terrorists in northern Iraq murdered 13 Turkish hostages. Turkish Army soldiers and paramilitary policemen were among those slain. The executions took place in a cave in northern Iraq. Many of the hostages had been held since 2015. The Defense Ministry also announced it will begin a new anti-PKK operation in northern Iraq later this week.
February 13, 2021: Turkish diplomats are once again discussing reviving relations with Israel. Talk of Turkish-Israeli rapprochement has cropped up four or five times in the last three years but it didn’t happen. In May 2018 Israel and Turkey expelled each other’s ambassador. The Turks objected to an Israeli operation that killed several dozen Palestinians in Gaza. Turkey also objected to the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. President Erdogan has portrayed himself as a protector of Palestinians. At one time Turkey and Israel were functionally allies, particular in defense technology and sharing intelligence. Don’t expect a rapid thaw. But Turkish media note that Israel’s El Al airline now flies a route to Istanbul. The Tel Aviv-Istanbul route was suspended for ten years. Turkish and Israeli media both credit the Abraham Accords (Israeli-Arab rapprochement) with nudging Turkey.
February 12, 2021: Turkey accused Greece of slandering Turkey at a meeting in Athens that included representatives from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Bahrain and Cyprus. The meeting, named the Philia (Friendship) Forum, was called to address economic and security issues in the eastern Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and Europe. There was a special focus on the Balkans. Turkey contends Greece is trying to create an alliance whose goal is denying Turkey its economic rights in the Mediterranean. Greece and Turkey have disputes over maritime boundaries and offshore resource rights. The deep issue is divided Cyprus where the Turkish Army and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) have been deployed since 1974.
Turkey’s government news agency reported an Iranian consular official had been arrested in Istanbul. The suspect is believed to be connected to the November 2019 assassination of Masoud Molavi, an Iranian dissident leader. Molavi was murdered in Turkey.
February 10, 2021: Despite the political friction, the U.S. and Turkey are conducting a joint naval exercise in the Black Sea this week. Two U.S. Navy destroyers are participating in the exercise.
President Erdogan announced Turkey will begin a space program that will include missions to the Moon. The space program will demonstrate that Turkey now has an expanded regional and global role. The first Moon mission could occur as early as 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.
February 9, 2021: The diplomatic rumor mill indicated Turkey might dispose of the S-400 it has purchased if the U.S. ends support for Kurdish YPG militias in Syria.
February 7, 2021: Turkish security forces arrested four protest leaders at Bosporus University. The demonstrators accuse Erdogan’s government of politically encroaching on their academic institution.
February 6, 2021: Turkey will soon launch the first of four Milgem-class corvettes built for the Pakistan Navy. Pakistan plans to take delivery of the first ship sometime in 2023. The second corvette will be built in Turkey but the third and fourth ships will be built in Pakistan. The ships will have 16 vertical launch cells.
February 5, 2021: The new American government announced that the 2019 ban on Turkey acquiring F-35 stealth fighters will continue. The U.S. decided to drop Turkey form the F-35 consortium after Turkey purchased Russian S-400 surface to air missiles. The U.S. military maintains the S-400 is not operationally compatible with the F-35.
February 4, 2021: Senior members of the ruling AKP called student protestors at Bosporus University “terrorists.” An opposition leader pointed out that the AKP now calls any political critic a terrorist.
The United States reiterated that the U.S. had no involvement in Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt. President Erdogan routinely suggests the U.S. was behind the coup. The fact is, the U.S. quickly condemned the coup.
February 3, 2021: Azerbaijan denied media reports that Turkey is establishing three military bases in its territory. The media reports implied the bases were a payoff for Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan during its 2020 war with Armenia. Turkey’s assistance was seen as an example of Erdogan’s “neo-Ottoman” political policies which seek to support Turkic nations in central Asia and former Ottoman territories.
February 2, 2021: Senior Turkish and U.S. diplomats and military advisers held a telephonic discussion about issues confronting Turkey and the U.S. Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, and Nagorno-Karabakh were included in the discussion.
February 1, 2021: Turkey and Azerbaijan began a large-scale joint military exercise in eastern Anatolia (Turkey) near the border with Armenia. The exercise, centered on the city of Kars, will last until February 12.
January 30, 2021: A joint Turkish-Russian observation center created to monitor the Armenia-Azerbaijan ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh began operations inside Azerbaijan.