Turkey: The Russia Disconnection

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April 19, 2021: Turkey has opened another front against Russia. This time it’s Ukraine and, since the April 10 meeting in Turkey between the Turkish and Ukrainian leaders, Russia has been seeking ways to strike back at Turkey. President Recep was once again once showing Russia he has a Ukraine card in his hand. The meeting was held to mark a decade of strategic partnership between Turkey and Ukraine. Officially this was the ninth meeting of the Turkish-Ukrainian High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council. Both men emphasized the importance of protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the need to de-escalate tension in the Black Sea region. The discussions focused on eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatist forces have been fighting since 2014. At a joint press conference Zelensky referred to Crimea and the Donbass region as “temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.” He added that Turkey’s support for the “restoration” of Ukraine’s territories is vitally important. Erdogan told Zelensky that Turkey does not recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and that Turkey is ready to provide "necessary support" to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine using the Minsk accords as a basis for resolution. Initially this consisted of offering more Turkish armed UAVs to Ukraine. Turkey hedged when it came to a direct confrontation with Russia. Erdogan said Turkey’s cooperation with Ukraine did not mean it was taking a stand directly in opposition to other countries, even though Ukraine considers Turkey the only other nation (after the United States) to offer direct aid versus the month-old Russian invasion threat.

Indirectly Turkey and Ukraine are increasingly valuable to each other. Since the 2014 Russian attack on Ukraine, the world has learned just how important Ukraine is to Russia, and many other countries, as a source for key military items. After 2014 Russia had to revise its warships and helicopter production plans because Ukraine was the only source for key components, China, then Turkey, turned to Ukraine for some of these items because sanctions had made it impossible to obtain the items from the West. Most recently Ukraine has provided Turkey with key tech for tanks and helicopters. Turkey has already exported UAVs to Ukraine. These previous exchanges between Turkey and Ukraine were done quietly, but now these links are getting more publicity and Russia is annoyed, because they are already confronting Turks in the Caucasus (Armenia) and Africa (Libya). Turkey and Russia are technically allies in Syria but that alliance is fraying. (Austin Bay)

April 18, 2021: It’s old news that’s new news, again. Greece announced it cannot ignore its territorial disputes in the Mediterranean involving Turkey. Solutions are difficult, the Greek statement said, but not impossible. The statement followed a recent meeting in Turkey between the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers. It was the first visit to Turkey’s capital by the Greek foreign minister since 2015. The meeting ended with mutual accusations but the fact the meeting took place is a good sign. It’s also a good sign that the Turkish foreign minister has been invited to visit Greece – with the possibility of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis eventually meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. There are many Greek-Turk disputes. Air space and air space control have been issues since the 1950s. Cyprus’ split into Turkish and Greek halves is a continuing problem. Now competing maritime territorial claims, including extent and boundaries of their continental shelves, is a huge issue since the area may have extensive natural gas reserves.

April 17, 2021: Turkey confirmed that it supports Iraq’s “Sinjar Deal” to rebuild Iraq’s second largest city Mosul and insure Iraq’s territorial unity. Turkey intends to help rebuild and improve Mosul’s infrastructure, which was badly damaged during the war against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The Sinjar Deal was reached in October 2020 between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The deal may eventually lead to the removal of PKK (Kurdish Turkish separatists) rebels from the Sinjar and perhaps the KRG. The PKK established a base in Sinjar in 2014. It also facilitates the return of displaced Yazidis to their homes. Turkey believes the deal will also help “eradicate” ISIL fighters in the region.

April 16, 2021: President Erdogan criticized the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for a court decision he claims will restrict teaching Koran courses. Erdogan threatened to retaliate against the statelet if the court ruling isn’t overturned. The court ruled the Republic of Northern Cyprus’ Ministry of Education should regulate Koran courses, not a Muslim religious commission. Turkey has long had problems with Cyprus because of its mixed Greek-Turk population. This led to a crisis in 1974 when Greek Cypriot guerrillas with links to the Greek "Colonels" junta in Athens attempted a coup aimed at "enosis" -- the unification of Cyprus with Greece. The coup collapsed when the Turkish military garrison in Cyprus was reinforced by Turkey. The Turkish response was generally portrayed in the western media as an aggressive invasion akin to Saddam attacking Kuwait. That was not the case. A 1960 agreement when Cyprus became independent, gave Greece, Turkey and the former colonial power Great Britain the right to guarantee Cyprus' status as an independent state. The Turk intervention left Turk Cypriots (20 percent of the population) controlling 40 percent of Cyprus, with a "Green Line" snaking through the capital, Nicosia.” Efforts by Greek and Turkish Cypriots to end the division resulted in the establishment of two entities that seek to become completely foreign (Greek and Turkish) control and relying more on allies like America, Britain and Israel to help protect any independence they have. The current dispute over Islam is another example of that unpopular foreign interference.

April 13, 2021: President Erdogan announced a partial lockdown of Turkey during the first two weeks of the Moslem month of Ramadan to prevent more covid19 infections. In the last month the country has seen a huge increase in cases. One source said daily infections have increased five-fold since March. On April 8 Turkey reported 55,941 new cases, the most in Europe. The lockdown includes a ban on intercity travel. People over 65 and under 18 cannot use public transport. Some areas will have night-time travel restrictions.

April 12, 2021: Egypt announced it has temporarily suspended diplomatic normalization discussions with Turkey and will also freeze bilateral security cooperation. Egypt made these decisions for several reasons, but diplomats said Egypt is particularly incensed because Turkey has failed to withdraw its mercenaries from Libya. Egypt also wants two senior members of the Moslem Brotherhood extradited from Turkey. Despite the rebuff, Turkey indicated it still hopes to sign a new maritime border agreement with Egypt.

April 11, 2021: The Turkish government issued a statement urging Ukraine and Russia to peacefully end their confrontation. The statement indicated Turkey would help resolve the Russia-Ukraine dispute but did not specify how Turkey would be involved. The statement came the day after Erdogan met with Ukrainian President Zelensky.

April 10, 2020: Turkey and Azerbaijan have concluded a two-day joint military training exercise designed to “improve interactions” between the nations’ military forces. In February the two nations conducted a joint training exercise in Turkey Turkey’s border with Armenia.

April 9, 2021: The U.S. criticized Azerbaijani attacks on civilian targets by in the late 2020 Karabakh war with Armenia. The report noted Turkey supported Azerbaijan’s invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh. The report also criticized hate speech in Turkey directed against its Armenian community.

April 8, 2021: And now Champion of Islam Erdogan into Sofagate -- a minor diplomatic protocol SNAFU but one that’s very awkward for the guy who recently annulled Turkey’s ratification of the 2014 EU Istanbul Convention on violence against women. After a photo op preceding a formal meeting at Turkey’s presidential palace in the capital, Erdogan and EU Council president Charles Michel sat down in two gilded Ottoman-style chairs. However, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was left standing by herself, without a chair. Mrs. von der Leyen eventually sat on a sofa away from Erdogan and Michel. Mrs. von der Leyen was also the only woman in the room. According to the EU, diplomatic protocol requires Mrs. von der Leyen have a chair like the other two senior leaders.

April 7, 2021: Twenty-two former members of Turkey’s presidential guard regiment were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the July 2016 coup which attempted to remove Erdogan from power. Two senior officers received life sentences for their roles in seizing the national public television (TRT) main studio building and forcing a broadcaster to read the coup plotters’ declaration.

April 6, 2021: Yesterday 104 retired Turkish Navy admirals issued a signed public letter harshly criticizing the so-called Istanbul Canal project. President Erdogan is a staunch advocate of the canal. Today ten of the admirals were arrested on charges of “conspiring against the constitutional order.” Erdogan said the Istanbul Canal letter was “about a political debate” and implied a coup.

The public letter was about the 104 admirals expressing strong support for the Montreux Convention of 1936 that regulates ship traffic through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits and sea transit between the Aegean and Black Seas, via those straits and the Sea of Marmara. The admirals contend the Montreux agreement is vital to Turkish security. They are concerned that the unpredictable Erdogan might withdraw from it.

The proposed canal would start on the Black Sea north of Istanbul and connect to the Sea of Marmara. It would be about 45 kilometers in length. Erdogan and canal supporters say Turkey needs an alternative route for shipping. The Bosporus is very narrow. The wider, bigger canal would protect Istanbul from environmentally threatening shipping accidents. It would also be a revenue generator because Turkey would charge a transit fee. However, many residents of Istanbul believe the canal would damage Istanbul’s fresh water supplies. Polls indicate a majority of Turks oppose the canal. Ekrem Imamoglu, Istanbul’s mayor and an Erdogan opponent, is against the canal project. There is some public concern that a canal circumventing the Bosporus would put the Montreux treaty jeopardy – the retired admirals suggested the canal could undermine the treaty, which gives Turkey complete control of the Bosporus.

The new canal may not be a big revenue producer. The Montreux Convention gives ships the right of free passage through the straits. Why pay for use of the canal when sailing through the Bosporus is free? Which brings us back to why the admirals are concerned that Erdogan might withdraw from the treaty. (Austin Bay)

April 2, 2021: Greece reported several maritime incidents occurred between the eastern Greek island of Lesbos and the Turkish coast. These involved Greek ships and Turkey's coast guard. In six incidents, Turkish vessels were intercepted as they escorted small boats carrying migrants who were trying to enter Greek waters. The small boats carried an estimated 300 migrants. When they were forced to turn back Turkish coast guard boats picked up the migrants. In another case, Greece claimed a Turkish coast guard boat threatened a Greek coast guard boat with “dangerous maneuvers.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s energy ministry announced that drilling rigs and survey ships will be returning to the Eastern Mediterranean to conduct seismic surveys off Turkey’s southern coast.

Turkish police arrested Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a Kurdish rights advocate, a former member of parliament and a member of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). This year he was removed from parliament after being convicted posting “terrorist propaganda” on social media.

March 30, 2021: Turkey has reportedly told Israel that it is prepared to exchange ambassadors and normalize relations. President Erdogan initially suggested this at the end of 2020 by saying he wanted to improve relations with Israel and acknowledge that Turkey and Israel already share intelligence information.

March 27, 2021: President Erdogan issued a decree annulling Turkey's ratification of the 2014 EU Istanbul Convention on violence against women. The convention is a legally-binding Council of Europe treaty affecting 34 European countries. Turkish opposition leaders said Erdogan was trying to appease Islamic “hardliners” in his AKP party and the Felicity Party.

 

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