02.03.2015 Author: Valery Kulikov

Turkey on the Сrossroads, or ‘Erdogan the Compromiser’

T4534522Recently in regional, and perhaps in international politics, Turkey has begun to attract more and more attention.

The root of this behaviour isn’t the growing economic, military, or political role of the NATO member state. It is simply that Erdoğan, like all of Turkey, is tired of waiting for a verdict from Grand Old Europe on what kind of country Turkey is. Is Turkey a European state or one doomed forever to stand in the shadows? With this in mind, Erdoğan decided to get mixed up in the fight with Europe over Turkey’s ‘European image’ (I mean, 3% of Turkey is Europe after all!) and resurrect the authority of the former Ottoman empire and bestow unto himself a title. If he isn’t at least ‘Magnificent’ (like the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire: Suleiman the Magnificent) then at least he can be ‘the Compromiser’.

This is what enabled Erdoğan to take the initiative to show Europe (read: The European Union) that without Turkey they have no hope in solving the question of energy security. This is especially true given the EU’s ban on the South Stream gas pipeline and the deal, the so-called ‘energy U-turn’, consequently reached between Turkey and Russia, which will be the primary provider of gas to Europe should the situation in Ukraine (due to the fault of the same West) completely break down. Thus we see the creation of favourable conditions for Turkish expansion.

So yes, amid the restrictive sanctions demanded by Washington, directed at Moscow’s growing regional and global authority, closer ties with Russia were not met with cries of jubilation in Brussels. But then again we all know that Brussels is just a deflective screen, and that actually, Europe’s supreme leader is Washington (although we do understand geography perfectly well and we know that Washington isn’t a ‘state’ of Europe and therefore its political-economic interests don’t always entirely coincide with those of the EU).

Consequently Erdoğan has to manoeuvre himself as if he is skiing down a black run at a high speed. Speed of course is the name of the game these days, since if you slow down your place will be taken by some other country seeking indulgences from the EU or US. It could be Bulgaria, Romania, it could even be the “Great Ukraine” herself, selling her national pride and interests for nicely decorated cookies from Victoria Nuland and John McCain.

Thus in its manoeuvring, Ankara once again set off on the road to war in the name of Turkish interests (but most of all, Washington’s). The decision was announced in January of this year when the prime minster of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoğlu, declared that “…Turkey doesn’t want victory for either Assad or IS in Syria, and if the international community doesn’t plan on sending ground troops to Syria, the only alternative is the preparation and equipment of a moderate task force in Turkey”. This idea was subsequently confirmed at the end of this January by the Turkish president R.T Erdoğan, underlining that Ankara’s political goal in relation to Damascus is the replacement of the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and his government.

As a result of EU and US pressure and of Erdoğan trying to sit on several chairs simultaneously, in a matter of days Ankara and Washington signed an agreement for a three-year military training programme of Syrian opposition forces, starting in March 2015. By the terms of the agreement, 400 American soldiers will train 15,000 representatives of Syrian opposition forces hostile to Damascus in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The Turkish stage of the process will take place in a Gendarmerie training base in Kırşehir; there they plan to train 2,000 opposition fighters every year as selected by a joint committee of Turkish and American military specialists. To begin with, in the coming days, 30 instructors will be sent to Turkey from the USA who will first of all start to work with Turkic people who have arrived from where they are living in Syria.

Overall the training of the Syrian opposition forces will take place in groups of 200-300 people and each group will be given three months for their training. The US army will supply the opposition fighters with weapons and equipment.

However, according to statements released by Turkish spokesmen, there is no precise answer in the written agreement between Turkey and the USA to the question of who exactly the trained opposition fighters will be fighting against. It is assumed that they will fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and also IS, who, according to Washington, can’t win without the removal from power of the current Syrian president.

As stated recently by the Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby: “one thousand two hundred people from the Syrian opposition forces have already been chosen by the American side to take part in these preparations. They may be used on Syrian territory as reconnaissance to locate IS positions for air strikes by the international coalition.” He reported that in the near future around one thousand American military instructors will be stationed in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar; around 100 of whom have already arrived in the region. They plan to start the Syrian fighter’s training by the middle of March 2015.
On February 22 of this year, the Omani newspaper al-Watan reported that even though the joint Turkish-American agreement states that the forces trained by the Americans will be fighting IS, they will in fact be fighting against the Syrian populace itself. This is because IS is a myth initially created by the USA and the American Airforce provides its fighters with arms and provisions. The newspaper also wrote that the former US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, thinks that the current agreement is worthless and he calls on the US administration to adopt a more aggressive policy towards Syria. The training and arming of terrorist groups, which the American administration and a few other countries in the region call “moderate”, is a violation of international law and a repeat of previous strategic mistakes which themselves gave rise to the formation of IS and the al-Nusra front.

It can’t be ignored however that, having signed an agreement with Washington, Turkey is seriously worried about the developing situation both inside the country and surrounding it. This worry has its roots in Ankara’s catastrophic errors during in the Arab Spring where it acted as a destabilising force in the region. Now the country is fraught with the threat of the formation of another Kurdish enclave on Turkey’s borders and the spread of Kurdish fighting onto Turkish territory which could bring about the country’s collapse. An army of radical Islamists have sprung up by Turkey’s border and in the bordering regions that were originally distanced from Turkey by Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria. Today the war is expanding in earnest towards Turkey, however thankfully it isn’t possible, even theoretically, for the radical mujahedeen to become allies with Turkish Islamists. Ankara’s mistakes are plain to see, and it is more than probable that the creator of these policies, Prime Minister Davutoğlu, will eventually have to answer for them.

Objectively speaking, a strengthened cooperation with the US army has its own limitations. As reported by the newspaper Military Times, a moral crisis is brewing in the US armed forces. The newspaper says that one of the main problems that faces the American army is the legacy of the wars it has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only 30% of those questioned believe that the US operations in Iraq were completed successfully and 70% are opposed to American troops returning to Iraq or any other country in the Middle East.

Thus this is why discussions today in Ankara are revolving around how to escape this dead-end which Turkey has led itself into. As such it appears entirely logical that Turkey is looking for protection in the form of China or Russia.

We can see why Ankara built an anti-rocket shield in cooperation with China, independent of NATO. As confirmed by the Minister for defence, Ismet Yilmaz, the shield would offer protection for Turkey from the east of the country.

It probably isn’t the last time Ankara will align itself first to one side, and then to the other in the hope of finding refuge for itself. However it is unlikely that Erdoğan’s politics of compromise will garner him any kind of authority on the international arena. The most important thing in ‘games’ such as these is to save your reputation so future generations can be proud of you, like they take pride in Suleiman the Magnificent. Even with the support of Washington in training soldiers to fight against Syria, or even in fighting against any other independent state, it is most unlikely that such a policy will earn you any kind of historical worth.

Valery Kulikov, political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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