August 11, 2016

The Zigzags of the Turkish March

Oleksiy Volovych

Many people must have heard more than once Mozart's “Turkish March” written by him in 1783. At that time this tune gained incredible popularity in Austria, despite the fact that the Austrians and Turks had been old enemies and fought intermittently from 1521 to 1791. Within that period, there had been 13 wars between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, in which dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of Turks and subjects of the Austrian Empire had been killed. Despite this long enmity, the Austrians showed a great interest in the Turkish culture in general, and in the Turkish music in particular.

It is noteworthy that Mozart's music is loved in Turkey. Istanbul hosts the annual festival of classical music named after Mozart. So much for the music. However, a completely different situation is observed today in politics. Thus, in response to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern's statement that negotiations on Turkey's accession to the EU are a “diplomatic fiction,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that modern Austria is the “capital of radical racism”. However, skirmishes between Austrian and Turkish politicians do not interfere with thousands of Austrians holidaying in Turkey and 300 thousand Turkish immigrants' living and working in Austria, where many of them get Austrian citizenship. The neighboring Germany is home to about 3 million ethnic Turks who have become citizens of the FRG. All in all, Europe is home to about 16 million ethnic Turks, but Turkey for 53 years has been waiting for a decision on its admission to the European Union…


Turkey After the Coup

July 21, on the initiative of President R. Erdogan, in the country for 3 months was introduced the state of emergency, the European Convention on Human Rights has been suspended, the authorities are considering reintroduction of capital punishment (abolished in 2004), which has caused sharp criticism in the EU countries. Currently, steps are being taken with a view to amending the Constitution, providing for Turkey's turning from a parliamentary to a presidential republic.

The wave of repressions has swept mainly those strata of the Turkish society, which are the intellectual opposition. The Turkish Ministry of Education has removed from 15 thousand teachers of schools and private educational institutions, against whom judicial investigations have been started. 1 045 private schools, 300 private clinics, 15 most prestigious private universities have been closed. The Higher Education Council has decided to dismiss 577 university deans.

R. Erdogan blames for the coup attempt the alleged terrorist organization of the living in the United States, preacher and opposition st Fethullah Gülen (FETO or “parallel state”). In my opinion, the relationship between R. Erdogan and F. Gülen resemble the confrontation between J. Stalin and L. Trotsky. Both, F. Gülen and R. Erdogan, are characterized by Islam experts as moderate Islamists. Both are supporters of political Islam in one form or another, but disagree on some issues of the theory and methods of its realization in practice. There is also an element of personal rivalry of these leaders, who cooperated and were friends in their youth.

R. Erdogan says his Justice and Development Party is an analogue of the European Christian Democrats, advocating for conservative values. F. Gülen is said to be for dialogue of civilizations — Christian, Jewish and Muslim, serving the society and not perceiving extremism in Islam — Salafism. F. Gülen has condemned the attempted coup and thanked his supporters — members of the banned in Turkey “Khizmat” (Serving) movement — for their having remained faithful to the ideology of non-violence and pacifism. The Turkish authorities demand from Washington to extradite F. Gülen as “the worst Turkish terrorist,” but the US administration does not see sufficient grounds for this.

After the suppression of the attempted military coup on July 16 in Ankara and Istanbul almost daily pass manifestation loyalists in which sound bravura Turkish marches, under which people are not marching and dancing, rejoicing in the victory over the coup, opposition and dissent, which, according to some, recruited good half of the 80 million population of Turkey.

August 7 Istanbul held a mass demonstration in support of democracy, which was attended by about 1 million Turkish citizens. Of course, if desired, and opportunities can be collected at the meeting and 5 million demonstrators loyal, but still the majority of the population remain outside the meeting and apparently not all of them support the protesters and the current government. In his speech at the meeting Erdogan said that he would sign a law imposing the death penalty, if this is to support the people and the parliament will approve. Head of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, Hulusi Acar, thanked the civilian population for his role in suppressing the coup and stressed that the national army in full force defending the democratic foundations of the Turkish society.


Turkey-The West: Contradictions Are Growing

Turkey's relations with the West (the USA and Europe) have never outstood with special stability or complete mutual understanding. Ankara has always been a difficult partner for the West. And today many European politicians, statesmen and officials of the European Union condemn the actions of the Turkish authorities for unjustified repressions against the tens of thousands of dissidents. According to many Western political analysts, Turkey is moving towards strengthening the authoritarian regime. However, this does not stop R. Erdogan, but is seen by him as Western partners' unfriendly policy.

The EU's officials have promised Turkey a visa-free regime in exchange for Turkey's readiness to take back illegal immigrants coming from its territory. While promising to abolish visas, the EU also demanded from Turkey to change its laws on fighting terrorism, in accordance with which it many journalists and activists had been arrested. However, R. Erdogan refused to do so.

The head of the Free Democratic Party of Germany, Christian Lindner has compared the Turkey under President R. Erdogan to the Nazi Germany in 1933. According to Lindner, the attempt of coup d'etat in Turkey was organized from above, like the Reichstag fire in 1933, to tighten laws, abolish most of the constitutional rights and freedoms and to begin repressions against members of the opposition. Therefore, according to Lindner, the Turkish President “cannot be Europe's partner”. He also has criticized Chancellor A. Merkel's “spineless policy” and expressed indignation at the fact that the negotiations with Turkey on its joining the EU have not been terminated yet.

Many statements by loyal to President R. Erdogan politicians contain blaming the US and EU for their having not given a sufficient, real and immediate moral support to the current Turkey's authorities at the time of the military coup attempt, and for some time had even been allegedly “waiting to see the result of the confrontation between the coupists and the Turkish government”.

July 29, R. Erdogan accused some US generals, in particular, the Chief of the Central Command of the US Armed Forces Joseph Votel, of supporting the military coup in Turkey on 16 July. At this, he reminded that the United States had sheltered the “chief mastermind of the coup” — F. Gülen, whose extradition was sought by Ankara. August 2, speaking at an economic forum in Ankara, R. Erdogan directly accused Western countries of supporting the rebels, saying that the coup scenario had been developed in the West.

The military coup attempt in Turkey has gone beyond domestic events and led to a change in the geopolitical priorities: Putin is friend again, the United States and NATO countries are “unreliable allies”, with whom disagreements keep emerging, and there is less and less mutual understanding. The West's recommendations on the observance of democratic rules and laws irritate R. Erdogan and are simply ignored by him. In response to the leaders of the EU states' criticism of introduction of the state of emergency in Turkey, R. Erdogan said: “I do not care what European leaders say, and I do not listen to them”.

R. Erdogan has accused the EU officials that for 53 years they “have been pulling our leg” on the issue of joining the EU, constantly putting forward new conditions and requirements. According to R. Erdogan, Turkey at his own expense for several years now contains 3 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees, having spent on this matter about 20 billion US dollars, without financial assistance from the EU. R. Erdogan has accused the West of “substituting concepts, hinting on Turkey's attempts to change its secular character”.


Motives for Reconciliation between Ankara and Moscow

R. Erdogan decided to sacrifice his political ambitions for the sake of resumption of mutually beneficial economic ties with Russia. The Presidents of Russia and Turkey have repeatedly stated their desire to increase bilateral trade to 100 billion US dollars. In 2013, the trade turnover between Russia and Turkey was 33 billion US dollars, and in the first half of 2016 it equaled 6 billion US dollars . Turkey consumes around 60 % of Russian gas and about 30 % of Russian oil. Up to December 2015, there were about 100 Turkish construction companies in Russia. In 2014, Turkey was visited by about 5 million Russian tourists. In 2016 their number has decreased dramatically by 95 % compared to last year, which has caused significant damage to the Turkish tourism industry.

Before the coup attempt of July 16, R. Erdogan's desire to normalize relations with Russia was dominated by economic motives, after the failed coup there appeared geopolitical motives against the background of deteriorating relations between Turkey and the West. Some Turkish authors (Erdal Karagёl) argue that R. Erdogan met with V. Putin on the 9th of August mainly because of “Turkey's Western friends' hypocritical position after the coup attempt and the need to show that the country was not alone and could develop new alternatives in its foreign policy”. Having a “conciliatory” meeting with V. Putin on 9th August, RE. Erdogan not least wanted to demonstrate to the West that he has no shortage of alternative partners, who do not try to impose their conditions of interaction.

Turcologist Maryna Vorotnyuk believes that even when in November 2015 the Russian-Turkish relations deteriorated sharply because of the downed Russian aircraft Su-24, already then it was possible to predict that with the course of time they would get normalized. According to her, it was just Moscow and Ankara's “muscle-flexing”, to impress public, and a return to “business as usual” was inevitable.

In our opinion, the ruling regimes in Russia and Turkey have a lot in common in nature that does not allow them to feud for too long. Besides, the conflict had a nature of a collision between the two leaders' ambitions and actually was not a result of deep-seated contradictions or confrontation at the interstate and international level.

August 8, on the eve of his visit to the Russian Federation, R. Erdogan gave an interview to the representative of the TASS M. Gusman, in which among many things, he told about his vision of ways to restore friendly relations with Russia. R. Erdogan said that his visit to Russia seemed to him “a new milestone in bilateral relations, beginning with a clean slate”. R. Erdogan expressed his gratitude to V. Putin, who, according to him, was one of the first world leaders to express support for him on the next day after the coup attempt. However, R. Erdogan called “unfounded rumors” the information about the Russian special services' having allegedly warned the Turkish government about the impending coup.

In this interview, and the next day in St. Petersburg, R. Erdogan tried to present the destruction of the Russian Su-24 bomber as a tragic accident, though, as you know, in late July, the former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said publicly that he had given the order to shoot down that Russian plane. At this, R. Erdogan pointed out that “the Turkish pilot who killed the Russian pilot, is currently in prison” and accused of involvement in the coup attempt.

On the issue of the Syrian settlement, R. Erdogan said that “Russia is a major, the key and the most important player in the question of establishing peace in Syria” and expressed the need “to solve this problem with the help of Russia and Turkey's joint steps”. It is Ankara's absolutely different position compared to the one that it had a few months ago. Everything flows, everything changes and government positions, too.


R. Erdogan's 11th Visit to Russia

Turkish President R. Erdogan's ”conciliatory” visit took only the second half of the day on 9 August. It was his 11th visit to Russia since 2005. The main goal of this visit was resumption of Russian-Turkish dialogue and agreeing the plans of bilateral cooperation and interaction in the international arena, particularly in the Middle East and especially in Syria. R. Erdogan's visit to St. Petersburg was just a first step towards the restoration of bilateral relations, which, as hinted by V. Putin, will be quite long and complicated.

The fact that V. Putin on August 8, 2016, met in Baku with the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Iran, and on the 10th of August in Moscow with Armenian President, indicates that R. Erdogan's negotiations with Putin in St. Petersburg had also some anti-Western geopolitical component, which may have been most important for the Russian President on the eve of the G-20 summit on 4-5 September, 2016 in China parliamentary elections in Russia on 18 September.

It seems that at the talks in St. Petersburg, R. Erdogan cared about geopolitical ambitions to a much lesser extent, especially because Moscow and Ankara in this respect have had and will have different approaches. Normalization of relations with Russia is important for R. Erdogan first of all in economic terms, while politically — only to strengthen his positions in resolving controversial or difficult issues with the United States and the European Union. As for V. Putin, normalization of relations with Ankara is also important for strengthening Russian positions in the Caucasus and Central Asia, for seeking a compromise on Syria, for keeping Iran in Russia's sphere of influence, as well as for putting pressure on the same USA and EU.

After two hours of R. Erdogan and V. Putin's tête-à-tête talk, the negotiations continued in an extended format with the participation of several ministers and senior officials from the Russian and Turkish sides. Both leaders expressed the desire of their countries as soon as possible to reach the pre-crisis level of economic cooperation. According to V. Putin, Russia is planning before the end of 2016 to gradually lift restrictions on the activities of Turkish companies. In particular, in the nearest future it will cancel the ban on the work of Turkish construction companies in Russia.

The parties agreed on the resumption of the construction in Turkey of “Akkuyu” NPP by the “Rosatom” corporation in accordance with the agreement signed back in 2010. According to R. Erdogan, the Turkish side has given the project the status of strategic investment. V. Putin and R. Erdogan also decided to revive the project of the “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline which was announced by Russian President during his visit to Turkey, December 1, 2014. It should be noted that at the same time “Gazprom” resumed negotiations with Bulgaria on the construction of the “South Stream” gas pipeline, which is actually an analogue of the “Turkish Stream”.

At the government level, it is planned to adopt a special program of trade-economic, scientific-technical and cultural cooperation with Turkey for 2016-2019. In autumn 2016 they plan to hold a session of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, and in the first half of 2017 — a meeting of the group for strategic planning within the framework of the High Level Cooperation Council.

Speaking before representatives of business circles of the Russian Federation and Turkey, V. Putin called the Turkish-Russian cooperation in the field of construction “one of the drivers of the bilateral economic ties”. According to him, over the past two decades, Turkish construction companies in Russia have implemented over 1500 projects worth 55 billion US dollars.

During R. Erdogan's visit, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Turkish company Ronesans Holding signed an investment agreement totaling 400 million US dollars, providing for cooperation in the health care, construction, infrastructure and real estate spheres. According to V. Putin, mutual investments in high technology sectors of economies made 10 billion US. Dollars. The sides decided to reach the pre-crisis level of tourism — 5 million Russian tourists a year, and for this purpose to restore charter flights.

The process of “reset” of Russian-Turkish relations should affect also the Syrian crisis, in which the parties will work out some kind of a common position. Most likely, the Turkish government will side with Russia in the Syrian conflict and perhaps it will “make peace” with the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Some steps are being taken in this direction. On July 30 Turkey closed the border crossing Bab al-Hawa, which was used by the militants of the “Free Syrian Army” to go to Syria. It was reported that within the framework of R. Erdogan's visit, the sides discussed the complete closing of the Turkish-Syrian border, in order to “stop the flow of terrorists and weapons”.

Many observers have noticed that during a joint press conference with V. Putin, the Turkish President repeatedly called him “dear friend”, even though the Russian leader himself did not condescend to such a “familiarity” or simply morally was not ready yet. As you can see, sometimes there is only one step from hatred to friendship, especially if the need is great…


Ukraine in the Context of the Russian-Turkish Rapprochement

R. Erdogan's rapid reconciliation with his “dear friend” V. Putin, who yesterday was his foe, has raised fears in the Ukrainian expert community about the reanimated Russian-Turkish tandem' possible negative impact on the Ukrainian-Turkish relations. Indeed, the current sharp turn from hostility to “fraternization” between the leaders of the Russian Federation and Turkey, on the one hand, causes doubts in its (fraternization's) sincerity and naturalness, and on the other, raises fears that Turkey could act according to the principle that the enemy of my friend is my enemy. Whatever it was, but for Turkey it obviously will not be easy, and equally difficult to interact amiably with the two countries — Russia and Ukraine, which are in a state of war.

Obviously, in order to maintain friendly relations with both, Kyiv and Moscow, Ankara will have to show miracles of political balancing that can already be seen today. Thus, the head of the press service of the Turkish President Ibrahim Kalyn June 28 said that Turkey, striving for rapprochement and normalization of relations with Russia, however, is not going to change its attitude to the Donbas, the Crimean Peninsula and Syria issues, on which the Turkish government “drastically does not agree with Russia's policy and adheres to a fundamentally different position”. However, the impression is that the “fundamental disagreements” between Moscow and Ankara are becoming less with each day coming. Which is natural for strategic partners.

Turkey's Ambassador to Ukraine Yonet Jan Tezel has also repeatedly stated that Turkey's position on non-recognition of Russia's annexation of the Crimea will never change. He said, “Turkey is interested in Ukraine's becoming a strong, independent, well-reformed, democratic and integrated into Europe country, which preserves its national integrity (including the Crimea), independence and sovereignty”.

Before presenting our forecast of how the normalization of relations between Turkey and Russia may influence the Ukrainian-Turkish relations, it should be recalled that in the last years cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey in both the economic and political spheres was very successful. The Ukrainian President's official visit to Turkey on the 9th-10th of March 2016 became an extremely important event in the bilateral Ukrainian-Turkish relations. During the visit, the Presidents of Ukraine and Turkey expressed their intention to contribute to the development of bilateral economic cooperation, bilateral trade, development of transport, telecommunications and industrial infrastructure, as well as to strengthen cooperation in the implementation of joint projects in the field of space, aviation and defense industries. Kyiv and Ankara also pledged to strengthen regional security mechanisms in the Black Sea, to increase cooperation within the framework of NATO, to take joint steps towards de-occupation of the Crimea.

To a large extent this was possible thanks to the efforts of the Ukrainian Embassy in Ankara, which until June 2016, for 8 years, was headed by Ambassador Andriy Korsunskyi, Honored Economist of Ukraine, and the Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. In an interview to the UNN he said he “always felt friendly attitude and support from political leaders, government leaders, business circles, representatives of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar diasporas in Turkey”. At this, he pointed out that over the eight years of his diplomatic service in Ankara, the relations between Ukraine and Turkey have become a kind of strategic partnership.

The theme of the Crimea and the situation of the Crimean Tatar people in the occupied Peninsula was actually not touched upon publicly during R. Erdogan and V. Putin's meeting in St. Petersburg, with the exception of the Turkish President's short phrase in response to a question from journalists at a press conference: “We have some disagreement on the Crimean Tatars issue. Regarding this issue, earlier dear Vladimir said that this issue would be resolved, and I do not worry about it”, Perhaps the President of Turkey will not worry about what his “dear friend” is doing in the Crimea, but in Ukraine and in the international community his actions are being discussed with a growing concern and not perceiving, in particular, this was demonstrated by the Security Council at its meeting on August 11, 2016.


Conclusions and Forecasts

Turkey cannot afford to quarrel and to make peace not only with Russia but also with the West, as neither Russia nor the West will abandon it, given the geopolitical and geo-economic uniqueness of this largest regional country at the center of the world at the crossroads of three continents — Asia, Africa and Europe. At this, Ankara traditionally chooses the course of action that best meets its national interests or the interests of the ruling political forces. So the Europeans, Americans, Asians and Africans will always be forced to listen to the sounds of the “Turkish March” and to look closely at the direction of movement of the great Turkish nation, with all its sometimes unexpected zigzags.

Cooperation with the West and Russia is very important for the national interests of Turkey, which allows it to balance between the two geopolitical poles, receiving dividends from both the sides, and conducting an independent foreign policy. “Drawing Turkey over” into the EAEC and its withdrawal from NATO, in our opinion, is out of the question. EAEC, because of its modest economic opportunities can never replace for Turkey the EU, USA and NATO. Turkey can develop large-scale cooperation with the countries of the EAEC, SCO and BRICS, but not at the expense of a break with NATO, which will continue to be the main element of the architecture of Turkey's geopolitical security. On the other hand, on the 8th of November 2016, V. Putin will not strain relations with the United States because of Turkey, hoping for the pro-Russian D. Trump's being elected President of the United States, with whom he would try “and sort everything out”.

Going for the restoration of relations with Russia, the Turkish leadership first of all pursues pragmatic national interests at the level of cooperation between the two countries and peoples, and not just at the level of the two leaders of these countries. Leaders come and go, but countries and peoples remain. Despite all the respectful diplomatic rhetoric, the friendship between R. Erdogan and V. Putin will never be the same, and it will be very difficult to remove the exiting contradictions at the level of regional policy. Through normalization of relations with Turkey, V. Putin will try to strengthen positions of Russia as a geopolitical center of Eurasia, which obviously will be treated in Ankara very ambiguously, especially with regard to competing interests of the two countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. It seems that both Moscow and Ankara in the future will be very cautious and careful in setting priorities in their bilateral relations.

In our view, given the long-term mutually beneficial bilateral good-neighborly Ukrainian-Turkish relations, as well as taking into account the multi-vector, flexible and pragmatic character of Turkey's foreign policy, the slogan of which is “zero problems with neighbors”, there is every reason to believe that no one can quarrel Turkey and Ukraine, no matter how much some would like to. And most importantly — we must not follow the principle: my enemy's friend is my enemy. It's not all that simple in this hybrid world.