The Istanbul airport bombing and “attempted coup” have left Turkey looking for terrorists looking for a paymaster and a cause on its own soil. The present situation reminds us of the famous line in the 1942 Movie Casablanca – “Round up the usual suspects.” However the real culprits are not the ones being reported in the media, precisely because the usual suspects are the same as ever.
Let us look at the reaction to the airport bombing. According to Turkish media reports, a Russian citizen was among the three suicide bombers responsible. This report came from Reuters, which [naturally] cited an unnamed Turkish government official who also maintained that the two other suspects were from the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. No other details were provided beyond the attackers’ alleged nationalities. Those, in themselves, are supposed to explain everything.
One thing that never ceases to surprise me is how quickly blame is allocated without any hard proof. The faster the fixing of the blame, the more questions should arise as to who benefits. The tactic of simply naming nationalities and leaving the public to fill in the blanks, meaning that any subsequent explanation will have to reflect “truths” everyone has already found without evidence, is a familiar one from the Paris and Brussels attacks. If Turkey is adopting it too, it is not hard to see that it has been told to get with the programme, having long faced criticism for failing to do exactly this.
America’s proxy terrorists
The mastermind of this bombing is claimed to be the Russian citizen involved, Akhmed Chateev, an ethnic Chechen. As reported in previous articles, US and Georgian intelligence have long been importing Chechens for training in Georgia, and all the known terrorist networks, the ones which can be shown to be funded and armed by either the US State Department or the CIA, have a history of Chechens suddenly joining them, even though the conflicts they are part of seem to have little to do with Chechnya.
When Chechen terrorists show up in Jihadi movements it is generally alleged that they were recruited by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Gulf states long described as “sponsors of terrorism” because their government structures would allow them to be if they so wished. However, this could only be happening with the full knowledge and complicity of the US and NATO. At the same time, great efforts have been made to keep America’s terror training base in the Republic of Georgia out of the news.
This is an attempt to play on the Western assumption of institutional superiority. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are Muslim states which do not pretend to be democracies, and as such are seen as inferior to Georgia, which the West always insists is a democratic state in defiance of the experience of the local population. Consequently they can blamed for anything by the mere strategic mention of their names, whilst everything that goes on in a democracy must be alright really, however dodgy it may appear on the surface.
Based on the nationalities of the three suspects, the Turkish and international leadership and media quickly suggested that the Islamic State (IS) was responsible. Neither Russia, Uzbekistan nor Kyrgyzstan are controlled by the IS, but as they are not regarded as beacons of democracy either, we are led to draw conclusions about what their nationals might be up to.
Akhmed Chataev is described by the US Treasury Department as “the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion, a Chechen faction of ISIL.” Predictably, his links with Georgia and some “rogue” elements in Georgian security are well known to intelligence sources. Equally predictably, little mention is made in these US reports of how he has been funded and been able to recruit and train terrorists so openly.
It is alleged by intelligence sources in Tbilisi that Chateev was trained in Georgia by US operatives. Russian media has added that he joined the Islamic State in 2015 and has apparently been under the protection of foreign intelligence services in Europe in recent years.
Crime and punishment
Turkey has frequently allowed IS operatives to pass through its territory, often with faked Georgian passports. This is hardly surprising given the longstanding Turkish and US intelligence co-operation. We remember that on 9/11 the only things left intact were the terrorists’ passports, despite the impossibility of any planes causing the destruction those did when they hit the twin towers and the fact that the strikes were being reported by news media before they had taken place.
Both the Istanbul airport bombing and the subsequent failed coup plot bear the usual hallmarks of responses to US intelligence orders given to further its own ends. The use of suicide bombers and AK-47s does make the airport attack appear an ISIL operation at first impression. But the Bataclan tragedy was perpetrated using very similar methods. That was ordered to punish France for changing its priorities: first it sided with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the CIA and the UK and then it drew closer to the Russian position.
Turkey is doing what France tried to do then – mending relations with Russia, which were damaged by the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane near the Turkish border seven months ago. This was another motivation for CIA operatives to try to overthrow the government. The question asked when that happened was where would this lead? It was pointed out that the consequences may be such that the framers of Turkish foreign policy would look back on the old days with nostalgia.
Turkey is on the main supply route to all the terrorists. Turkey apologising to Russia, and then following the Russian policy of cracking down on terrorists to show it is sincere, could disrupt those supplies. What was done in France was therefore much more likely to happen in Turkey at some point, particularly when the same media game is being played by those responsible.
Turkey owes a great deal to the US and NATO. At one time the US could exploit this strategic relationship in order to avert any threat of Turkey going off-message. But now there is an extra factor at work which has persuaded the US to take direct action, though it is entirely its own fault it has emerged.
Turkey’s apology has left Russia expecting favours rather than simply words, as individuals generally do in the same situation. If Turkey won’t grant them due to US pressure the FSB will immediately release a number of nice documents, recordings and videos related to President Erdogan, his family and his AKP and MHP acolytes. The more crimes the US has allowed the Erdogan family to get away with the more it has left it susceptible to blackmail. Thus protecting itself from blackmail has become its top priority.
It has already tried its own blackmail to forestall the need for the airport bombing, but this did not have the desired effect. Thousands of foreign fighters, hired by the CIA on the basis of false promises, have been kept on Turkish soil as a reminder of what might happen if Turkey bites the hand that has long fed it. Then they have not been given what they were promised in order to make them hostile to Turkey. But this has not worked because these fighters don’t have popular support, and the public would rally round Erdogan, not these disparate bands, if they tried anything.
Another “terrorist attack” out of the playbook, supposedly masterminded by a Russian national, probably seemed the best option to the CIA. It also gave the Turkish president the opportunity to both reaffirm his public commitment to combatting terrorism and put himself on the side of “legality” and the Kurds and others, represented by the PKK and moderate fighters in Syria, on the side of “criminality.”
Thus he can continue supplying terrorists, and terrorising his own Kurdish population, by regaining the moral high ground. He hopes that will be enough to protect him from any evidence the others might present as to his business dealings, including the smuggling of stolen oil.
The birds in the path of the stone
The Turkish leadership also has other problems it needs to address by means of bombings and attempted coups. Firstly, it has to extricate itself from its involvement in Syria. Erdogan could pull off the old trick of turning retreat into attack if he quietly redirected Turkey’s energies to fighting the terrorists it has so far supplied, and doing it more effectively than Russia has done, which it can because of what it knows about the groups it has worked with for so long.
It is similarly under the reduce migration flows. The EU is demanding this due to anti-immigration activism in all its member countries, which has the potential to pull the EU apart, as the UK’s referendum and the 500% rise in reported racist incidents there following it have demonstrated. It has much to gain by helping the EU promote the idea that migrant equals terrorist. By claiming that its own atrocity was the result of migration it can again buy itself a cover for its creation and sponsorship of this migration, and time to see if the EU’s current weakness can be held against it at some future date.
Erdogan is probably hoping that the 40 dead at the airport, sacrificed to further several ends, are a much smaller number than might be killed by the advanced weaponry Russia is threatening to supply to the Kurds. He is happy to see lives lost, and Turkey’s economy and reputation damaged, to prevent this happening, as his behaviour since the “coup” has also demonstrated.
Nuclear options can also run out
The US is likely to pull more stunts like this in the near future, as many countries are going off-message to varying degrees. All these countries will be victims of a contradictory policy which was never going to work, but the US doesn’t want to admit was never going to work.
It was the US which once promoted globalisation most aggressively. Now the same US is doing its utmost to prevent its allies having other friends, even though globalisation implies that they should. The US didn’t think this through. Its allies have taken everything the US said at face value, so it is now taking desperate measures to prevent he same global understanding it once wanted, because it can’t control the terms of that.
Russia can help Ankara get back on track economically and politically. The US may not be able to match Russia’s offer. Turkey has now given itself more credibility with the US be being a willing victim. But what will the US find easier: allowing its partners to find common geopolitical ground with other nations, or keep blowing things and people up until no one, least of all Erdogan, is safe?
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.