Turkey: Political Earthquake

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April 21, 2023: In 1923 Kemal Ataturk founded Turkey’s secular republic. Turkish and other European media are calling the May 2023 election the most important in 100 years because it pits the authoritarian Recep Erdogan, advocate of executive presidency (authoritarian power and control vested in the presidency), against the much more moderate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Erdogan disdains the EU and is a rogue within NATO. Kilicdaroglu intends to revive Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Kilicdaroglu’s political coalition, The National Alliance, also wants to end Erdogan’s opposition to Sweden joining NATO. Erdogan’s poor response to the February 2023 earthquakes has become a major issue. So has Turkey’s rampant inflation. (Austin Bay)

April 20, 2023: Turkey has refrained from selling Ukraine weapons, but non-combat items are another matter. This may explain why Turkish TRLG-230 rocket launcher vehicles have been spotted in Ukraine. This vehicle is similar to the HIMARS vehicle that uses guided rockets. No Turkish made rockets were seen and the TRLG-230 can launch a number of unguided rockets from launchers that fit on the back of the TRLG-230. Ukraine may have obtained the TRLG-230 vehicles from an export customer for the vehicle.

April 19, 2023: Turkish anti-terror police in Istanbul have arrested six men suspected of belonging to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and al-Qaeda. The police operation targeted ten different hideouts in the city.

The American Secretary of Defense encouraged Turkey to agree to let Sweden join NATO sooner rather than later. The Americans believe this will happen prior to NATO’s summit in July 2023. The main reason for this optimism is the May presidential elections in Turkey. Erdogan’s policy of blocking Sweden from joining because Sweden refuses to extradite Swedish citizens who are Kurdish. Turkey cannot provide proof that these men committed any crimes against Turkey. NATO is backing Sweden in this matter but the only that that will break the deadlock (and lift the sanctions imposed on Turkey because of it) is Erdogan dropping his demands or getting removed from office during the mid-May national elections. Polls show Erdogan’s more liberal opponent as leading in the polls.

April 18, 2023: Ukraine is asking Turkey to seize a freighter carrying an estimated 19,000 tons of stolen barley. Ukraine maintains that Russians stole the barley from occupied Ukrainian territory. The freighter anchored April 17 in the Turkish Black Sea port of Samsun.

April 17, 2023: The Americans have agreed to sell Turkey avionics upgrades for their F-16 fighters. The deal is worth around $260 million. So far there is no decision on Turkey’s request to buy new F-16s. That deal would be worth an estimated $20 billion but is stalled because of Turkish opposition to Sweden joining NATO.

April 14, 2023: International banks are betting Turkey’s rampant inflation will get worse after the May elections. Turkey's lira now trades at around 19 for a U.S. dollar. How far will it fall? One major bank says 30 to the dollar by the end of 2023.

April 13, 2023: Senior diplomats in Turkey and Greece are both indicating it serves the interests of both nations to end their threats of war and brinkmanship in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean Sea. The diplomats indicate they are trying to establish a “framework for discussion” that will include addressing their disputes over oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. What spurred the thaw? Turkish diplomats say that Greece’s help after the February 2023 earthquakes was immediate and appreciated.

A recent study by Chinese scientists at Beijing University concluded that the first of Turkey’s February 6 earthquakes was one of the largest in Turkey in the last 2,000 years. The Chinese study says the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.95. The second quake was measured at 7.86.

April 12, 2023: The U.S. has imposed sanctions on four organizations based in Turkey. These four violated U.S. export controls in order to aid Russia’s Ukraine war effort. At least two of the organizations are accused of transferring “dual use” technology to Russia. Dual use means the commercial items have military utility.

Secret U.S. defense documents allegedly leaked recently suggest the Russian mercenary group Wagner tried to buy weapons from “Turkish contacts.” The weapons were to be used in Mali.

April 10, 2023: The Turkish Navy is touting its new amphibious assault ship the TCG Anadolu. The navy accepted delivery in March but now the vessel is officially part of the fleet. The 27,500 ton, 231 meters (739 foot) long TCG Anadolu is the navy’s largest ship. The ship can carry a battalion of naval infantry (approximately 1,200 troops), eight to nine helicopters and several UAVs. The vessel can also carry over 100 vehicles (including tanks). Turkish Navy sources say that the ship will be a UAV platform. The ship’s deck is capable of handling short takeoff-vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft like the F-35B or the Harrier. However, Turkey is no longer in the F-35 consortium. This led to the concentration on using versions if the popular TB2 missile armed UAV modified to operate on a carrier. In addition, Turkey is developing a larger, jet-powered UAV that can carry over a ton of weapons as well as a powerful AESA radar. This won’t be ready until the late 2020s.

April 7, 2023: Turkish UAVs struck targets near the Sulaimaniyah airport (northern Syria). The senior commander of Syrian Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was in the area. The SDF is allied with the Americans and usually operates with a contingent of American troops.

Russia is threatening to end the UN-sponsored Black Sea Grain Initiative unless sanctions on its agricultural exports are lifted. The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers are meeting in Ankara in an attempt to keep the grain deal on track. Turkish media reported Russia wants access to the SWIFT financial messaging system. According to UN and Turkish authorities, over 27 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs have been exported from Ukraine since the grain export deal started I August 2022. Some 880 outbound ships have carried the grain from Ukraine.

April 5, 2023: The Turkish Interior Ministry has updated death toll figures for the February earthquakes. In Turkey 50,399 people were killed. In northern Syria at least 8,476 people lost their lives. Disaster aid experts fear the toll is much higher.

April 1, 2023: According to relief organizations at least 1.5 million Turkish citizens who survived the February earthquakes are still living in tent cities or other temporary accommodations.

March 30, 2023: Turkey’s parliament approved Finland’s application to join NATO. There was no opposition. All of the 276 representatives present voted for Finland. Erdogan approved this but continues to block the Swedish application.

March 28, 2023: The government reported that Turkish arms exports in 2022 were worth over $4.4 billion. A Turkish defense industry group believes Turkey will export around $6 billion in armaments in 2023. That figure is reasonable. Defense export revenue rose by 4o% between 2020 and 2021,

March 25, 2023: Turkish media are arguing a “hasty rebuild” after the February earthquakes will set conditions for another disaster. President Erdogan has promised rebuild areas devastated by the quakes in one year.

March 24, 2023: Turkey and Armenia are discussing permanently reopening their land border. The border has been closed for almost 30 years.

March 23, 2023: The political coalition led by The Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu is making a strong case that exacerbated two decades of economic mismanagement and corruption under Erdogan’s leadership allowed the construction of unsafe buildings Turkey’s most quake-prone areas. An estimated 280,000 buildings were either destroyed or suffered “structural compromise” so they must be abandoned. The number is a fact, not an opinion.

March 21, 2023: Turkish defense industry sources report that Russia’s war against Ukraine has lessened the government’s interest in deploying the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system, which did not perform well in Ukraine. The Turkish arms makers argue Turkey’s domestically designed and manufactured air defense systems can do what the S-400 does. Moreover, buying Turkish systems will likely end the conflict between Turkey and the U.S. over the Russian system. The U.S. argues the S400 damages NATO’s air defense system and compromises the F-35’s top-secret technology. The Turkish orders for F-35Bs were canceled in 2019 when Turkey received a Russian S400 air defense system.

March 20, 2023: The Turkish central bank reported its net international reserves increased by $6 billion last week to $25 billion. In mid-March Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Fund for Development deposited $5 billion in the Turkish Central Bank. Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have improved significantly since Fall 2022.

March 16, 2023: President Erdogan continues to be severely criticized for his slow response to the February 6 earthquake. He also faces criticism for very poor decisions prior to the quakes. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD, the agency tasked with handling the disaster) is a focal point of criticism. AFAD is run by an Erdogan political appointee. He was appointed despite the fact he lacked emergency management experience. Another major criticism has gained political traction in the last week. Erdogan also permitted “construction amnesties” that served him politically. A construction amnesty by the government allows builders to ignore building safety codes in areas where housing shortages exist – in other words, where voters need place to live. In 2018 Erdogan allowed one in the city of Kahramanmaras. In March 2019 he publicly touted new housing in Kahramanmaras as one of his administration’s major achievements. The February quakes left Kahramanmaras in ruins.

March 14, 2023: President Erdogan’s government has sanctioned and fined four Turkish tv stations for what it considers false campaign coverage of the upcoming election. An opposition spokesman said the government’s action is aimed at bringing “critical broadcasters in line” before the May 14 national elections. A spokesman for an organization advocating media freedom said ““The target of these fines and broadcast bans is obvious – critical speech that was aired in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes ahead of the elections.”

 

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