With immaculate timing, Turkey unrolled its defiant ‘Plan B’ – billed as the Euphrates Shield operation – in northern Syria just as the US Vice President Joe Biden’s aircraft was about to land in Ankara’s Esenboga airport.
This must be one of the biggest diplomatic snubs that the US has suffered in a long while. And it is being administered by a NATO member country.
I had written yesterday in Asia Times that the US was making a monumental error of judgment by underestimating the grit of the Turkish mind to safeguard its supreme national interests at any cost. (See my article Turkey gets its act together on Syria.)
As I explained, the main purpose of the Euphrates Shield operation is to occupy the strategic border town of Jarablus in northern Syria and have a showdown with the Syrian Kurds (supported by US Special Forces and American air cover). The Kurdish militia had crossed the Euphrates river a few months ago and, contrary to American assurances, they are now moving westward to realise their dream of establishing a Kurdistan straddling Turkey’s border, stretching from Iraq to East Mediterranean coast. Turkey’s ‘red line’ has been breached.
A cat-and-mouse game has been going on between Turkey and the US. The latter was calculating that Turkey won’t act on the ground to confront the Syrian Kurds militarily, especially after the recent coup attempt of July 15, which weakened the military, plus the Russian presence in Syria.
President Recep Erdogan has decided to call the American bluff. In the early hours of the morning, Turkish artillery began pounding Jarablus (which is under the control of the Islamic State presently.) After about 2 hours of shelling, Special Forces crossed the border with F-16 jets providing air cover. The latest reports say a column of Turkish tanks is moving into Syrian territory. (Hurriyet )
The stunning part is that the Turkish incursion follows a tacit understanding with Iran (and Syria). Interestingly, Russian jets aren’t visible anywhere in the Syrian skies to stop the Turkish incursion, either. Surely, NATO is rocking, since it is highly improbable that Turkey took the US-led alliance into confidence over the Euphrates Shield operation, which, ironically, aims at destroying America’s best ally on the Syrian chessboard.
A team of Iranian intelligence officials had made a quick dash to Ankara yesterday morning to give the final touch to the concerted Euphrates Shield operation against the Syrian Kurds. The Iranian delegation presumably carried messages from Damascus for the Turkish side and returned to Tehran yesterday evening itself.
According to Iranian media reports, the deputy head of the Turkish intelligence had paid a secret visit to Damascus on Sunday. Prior to that, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a stopover in Tehran on Thursday for 5 hours to personally coordinate with the Iranians – avoiding phone conversations that could have been tapped by the American electronic intelligence system. Clearly, we are witnessing the first tangible signs of a super-secret deal between Turkey and Iran to further their common agenda of preventing the emergence of a Syrian Kurdistan backed by the US and Israel connecting the Kurdish homelands between the Iraqi Kurdistan and Eastern Mediterranean. (Asharq Al-Awsat )
Turkey fears that a Syrian Kurdistan will inexorably boost the separatist Kurdish insurgency on its territory. Iran fears that Kurdistan may turn out to be the playpen of American and Israeli intelligence for undertaking subversive activities against it. Equally, Iraq and Syria also stand to lose since the creation of a Kurdistan will be at the cost of their own national unity and territorial integrity. A convergence on the Kurdish problem brings together Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Indeed, for the first time in the Syrian civil war, government forces have begun attacking Kurds. Last week the US warned Damascus not to launch aerial attacks on the Syrian Kurdish militia on the specious plea that its Special Forces are ‘embedded’ with the Kurds. (Telegraph )
If Biden had hoped for a trade-off with Erdogan over the Turkish concerns regarding Kurds, the latter is literally showing the middle finger. The Euphrates Shield is a stark message to the US that Ankara no longer depends on American goodwill or help.
Erdogan is literally signalling to Biden, ‘No more waffling, Buddy, just send Fetullah Gulen back to us’. Now, that is putting Washington in a fix. Erdogan has repeatedly warned that he will take Gulen’s extradition as the litmus test of US intentions toward Turkey and the raison d’etre of the Turkish-American alliance itself. On the other hand, how can the US possibly allow the extradition of Gulen, who has been the CIA’s longstanding ‘strategic asset’ in Muslim countries?
Biden enjoys a fabulous reputation within America’s political class as wheeler dealer par excellence. His reputation faces an acid test through the coming 12 hours. He’s just about sitting down with the Sultan at Ak Saray (White Palace) — Erdogan’s 1000-room palace in the dark and lovely woods outside Ankara — for a ‘frank’ conversation.
Read today’s column by a dear old friend Ilnur Cevik, a noted Turkish editor, in the pro-government daily Sabah, entitled Welcome to the land of the brave, Mr. Biden.
Former U.S. ally and current ally of the Houthi rebels, Ali Abdullah Saleh, said his future government would be ready to open naval and air bases for Russia.
A newly-formed governing council in Yemen could work with Russia to “fight terrorism” by allowing Moscow use of the war-torn country’s military bases, Yemen’s former president said on Sunday.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former counterterrorism ally of the U.S. who was toppled by mass protests in 2011, told state-owned channel Russia 24 that Yemen was ready to grant Moscow access to air and naval bases.
“In the fight against terrorism we reach out and offer all facilities. Our airports, our ports… We are ready to provide this to the Russian Federation,” Saleh said in an interview in Sanaa.
The ex-strongman may lack the clout to implement such an offer. But officials from the party he heads now run a political council that controls much of the country along with the Houthi movement. For the first time last week Iran let Russian jets take off from its territory to bomb armed groups in Syria.
Russia is the only major country that maintains a diplomatic presence in Yemen where a 16-month war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels has killed over 6,500 people and raised the prospect of famine in the Arab World’s poorest country.
The war has allowed Islamist militants including al-Qaida and the Islamic State group to flourish, even though the United States has for years launched drone strikes against groups in Yemen.
Russia abstained from a United Nations Security Council resolution in 2015 that imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi rebels.
Moscow’s relations with Yemen date back decades and until the break-up of the USSR, thousands of Soviet military advisers and trainers worked in the formerly-independent south.
On Saturday tens of thousands of Yemenis rallied in the capital to show support for the Houthi-led bloc as the head of the group’s new governing council vowed to form a full government in the coming days.
Press TV – August 22, 2016
Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh says the new government in the country is ready to cooperate with Russia against terrorism by allowing Russian access to Yemeni military bases.
“Russia is the closest to us and we extend our hand to Russia to cooperate in the field of combating terrorism,” Saleh said in an interview with state-run Russia 24 TV channel on Sunday.
He said Yemen was ready to open the country’s military bases to Russia.
“We provide all the facilities in our bases, airports and sea ports. We are ready to provide all facilities to the Russian Federation,” he said.
He said, however, that such cooperation would not mean Russia would be fighting alongside Yemeni forces against Saudi forces waging war on Yemen.
‘Iran has no presence in Yemen’
Saleh also rejected claims that Iran is interfering in Yemen’s internal affairs.
He said Saudi Arabia has launched the war on Yemen under the pretext of defending Saudi national security against Iran, emphasizing that the pretext is “baseless.”
“Iran has no presence in Yemen at all,” he said, adding that, “The international intelligence services know that Iran is not present in Yemen.”
“We are not against Iran; Iran is an Islamic brotherly country. We don’t have any agreement or coalition with her currently,” he said, referring to Iran.
Yemen has seen almost daily military attacks by Saudi Arabia since late March 2015, with internal sources putting the toll from the bloody aggression at about 10,000.
In late July, Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement and Saleh’s General People’s Congress party decided to establish the Supreme Political Council to run the country. It was formally launched on August 6, when the Houthis and Saleh’s faction announced that they both had an equal share in the 10-member body.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday unveiled the country’s long-awaited Bavar-373 air defense missile system with characteristics similar to Russia’s S-300, according to the local media reports.
On the National Defense Industry Day, which is celebrated in Iran on August 21, Rouhani, accompanied by Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, visited the exhibition at the Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO) at the Defense Ministry, which showcased the latest achievements in the air defense industry, including the domestically-built Bavar-373 air defense system.
The Iranian president inaugurated the Bavar-373 (meaning ‘Belief’), which was commissioned in February 2010 amid the suspension of a deal with Russia on deliveries of five S-300 systems over the adoption of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.
The long-range mobile Bavar-373 air defense system has been designed and constructed by Defense Ministry scientists and experts in cooperation with the country’s Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base and other scientific and investigative centers.
The home-grown system was successfully test-fired in August 2014. It is similar to the Russian S-300 and is capable of hitting targets at a high altitude.
The new system uses a phased array radar like Russian 96L6 radar for tracking aerodynamic targets and ballistic missiles in medium to long ranges, mounted on the ZAFAR heavy truck.
In May, Dehghan announced that Iran had completed development of the domestically-produced Bavar-373 air defense system, with mass production expected to be launched later in 2016.
Hassan Rouhani also observed the latest achievements and developments in air defense technology, including fighter and transport aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The president was also briefed on the progress in the designing and manufacturing of the first national Turbojet engine.
On Saturday, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan said the country is not going to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system, though Moscow has offered to sell it to Tehran.
During his press conference in Tehran, the defense minister confirmed that Russia has offered Iran “S-400 and some other systems,” but Tehran currently has no plans to order them.
He also commented on the S-300 system, which Moscow had undertaken to sell to Tehran under a 2007 contract.
Dehqan said Iran has voluntarily terminated a lawsuit against Russia after the delivery of the missile system to Iran began.
However, he added, Iran reserves the right to legally pursue the case if the full implementation of the deal runs into any problems.
Iran has received the bulk of the S-300 missile system, the minister noted, adding that the remaining parts are expected to be delivered within a month.
In exceptionally assertive remarks on Saturday, Iranian Defence Minister Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in Tehran that more numbers of Iranian military bases could be made available to Russia, depending on operational requirements, in addition to the use of the Hamadan air base by Russian bombers currently.
He added that there is no time limit set to the access given to Russian aircraft to operate out of Hamadan military base. Dehqan disclosed:
- Russian jets and bombers are free to undertake repairs and load ordnance in the Iranian base;
- Iran’s military cooperation with Russia in this respect is “strategic” in nature;
- The cooperation stems from a defence pact to upgrade military cooperation “so as to act in more harmony, particularly in the fight against terrorism”;
- The use of Iranian military bases by Russia is a topic that is beyond the purview of the Majlis (implying it is based on decision by the Supreme Leader);
- The Iran-Russia alliance aims to bring an early end to the Syrian conflict.
The big question will be whether an Iran-Russia mutual security alliance could be in the making – something akin to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971.
A Moscow pundit Prof. Dmitry Yevstafyev tiptoed around the explosive theme in the weekend. He made the following key points in an opinion-piece that is presumably intended for the Western audience:
- There is “still no talk of a full-fledged military union” between Russia and Iran;
- However, the use of Hamadan is not a stand-alone event, either;
- Nor is it to be seen as a mere tactical tie-up with the narrow objective of liberating Aleppo;
- On the contrary, it rests on a solid foundation that has been laid carefully in political, military and economic terms in the Russian-Iranian relations through recent period, which in turn is predicated on a cool assessment by Moscow that the US-Iran ‘honeymoon’ has become a thing of the past;
- Russia and Iran have created together a “completely new context” in the region and aspire to be “decisive players”;
- Russia has signalled to Washington that: a) its partnership with Iran is a “strategic priority”; b) Moscow is no longer bound by US’ ‘red lines’ as regards strategic ties with Iran; c) if Hamadan tie-up is successful, “moves that will lead to an unprecedented convergence between Iran and Moscow are also possible in future”; and, d) Washington cannot stop Moscow in its tracks in the priority task of “destroying the Syrian opposition in Aleppo”;
- Russia’s tie-up with Iran has emboldened Beijing to shed its reticence and to move to “expand its assistance” to the Syrian regime with the intention to “participate in future political and economic processes”.
To my mind, the above is an accurate assessment of the trends that have surfaced. This can only mean that the balance of power in the Middle East is phenomenally shifting.
India needs to take serious note even as Minister of State MJ Akbar arrives today in Damascus on a rare visit by an Indian dignitary. (Where China goes, can India be far behind?)
To be sure, Moscow is moving speedily to create new facts on the ground before the next US president takes over the reins of the US’ Middle East policies. Moscow aims to bolster Iran’s defence capability to a point that a military strike on that country becomes a non-option for the US and/or Israel.
Conceivably, we cannot rule out that there would have been some discussions already between Moscow and Tehran regarding a mutual security alliance in the event of a military threat from a new US administration dominated by neoconservative ideologues (which could be the case in a Hillary Clinton presidency.)
Russia is speeding up the delivery of the S-300 missile system to Iran. Reports from Tehran say that the delivery will be completed within a month from now.
The Israeli military intelligence sources have been cited by Debka as claiming that Russia has deployed the formidable S-400 missile system as well in Hamadan. (Despite Iranian denials, this should not cause surprise since pictures show an unspecified number of Tu-22M3 strategic ‘Backfire’ bombers – capable of carrying nuclear missiles – and Su-34 strike fighters parked in the Hamadan air base; and it is inconceivable that a solid Russian air defence system is not deployed alongside.)
The import of the Russian-Iranian strategic congruence is sinking in regionally. Over the weekend, for the first time Syrian jets attacked Kurdish forces in northern Syria (which are protected by the US Special Forces) despite American warnings to stay clear. (Reuters )
Equally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a 5-hour meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in Tehran on August 18 to follow up on Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Ankara on August 12. Cavusoglu’s hurried trip to Tehran aimed at Turkish-Iranian coordination in the move against Kurds.
Ankara will be pleased with the prospect of Damascus taking on the Kurds, finally. In remarks Saturday in Ankara, Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim strongly hinted at Turkey moving on the ground to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan enclave in northern Syria (with tacit US backing). Turkey has shared interest in this regard with Tehran and Damascus.
If so, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus may find themselves on the same page sooner than one would have expected. Moscow cannot but be pleased with this prospect.(Sputnik )
People living in the West don’t need their governments to tell them who their enemy is. Not when they have an obliging intelligentsia to do it for them.
A quick browse of the non-fiction shelves in your local UK high street bookshop offers prospective customers a banquet of anti-Russian books in which no superlative or pejorative is spared when it comes to depicting Russia as the epitome of evil and with its President, Vladimir Putin, a composite of every Bond villain the decades-long movie franchise has given us. Just consider some of the titles.
- The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
- Red Notice: How I Became Putin’s No. 1 Enemy
- Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
- The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War
- Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped
By now you should get the idea: Russia is the contemporary bête noire of Western liberal commentators and an intelligentsia that has extended itself in parroting the views of their own governments, happily abandoning their critical faculties in the process.
While conformity may be the enemy of critical and independent thought, for such people it is a religion. Acceptance and respectability, after all, requires nothing less. How else are they to secure those newspaper columns, book deals, and invites to dinner parties and literary functions without life wouldn’t be worth living?
The history of Western colonialism and wars of conquest is replete with its cheerleaders in the form of newspaper columnists, novelists, and writers.
During the high water mark of the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling was its unofficial chronicler. His most famous poem is White Man’s Burden, which he wrote as a celebration of the takeover of the Philippines by the United States in 1898.
“Take up the White Man’s burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild-
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.”
In modern times the now departed British writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens was perhaps most prominent when it came to carrying on the tradition of providing literary and journalistic muscle for the projection of Western imperial power. From a withering critic of the West and Western foreign policy in the 70s and 80s, Hitchens underwent a slow but sure metamorphosis throughout the nineties. It reached its apogee after 9/11, when he enthusiastically embraced the wars unleashed by George W Bush.
For him, and other members of the liberal literati, US imperialism and militarism was suddenly a force for good and human progress in the world. The Stealth bombers, Abrams tanks, battleships, aircraft carriers and legions of kevlar-helmeted marines which at one time stood for death and destruction in the name of US hegemony, now constituted the vanguard of a neo-enlightenment, spreading civilization and democracy to the dark peoples of the world.
Here was Hitchens’ advice to the US and British military leaderships, published in the pages of the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper, just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq:
“The best case scenario is a rapid attack by precision-guided weapons, striking Saddam’s communications in the first hours and preventing his deranged orders from being obeyed. Then a massive landing will bring food, medicine and laptop computers to a surging crowd of thankful and relieved Iraqis and Kurds. This could, in theory, all happen.”
After the invasion, with the resulting slaughter and carnage at its height, Hitchens had this to say this during a speech he gave at Kenyon College, Ohio in 2004 on the destruction of Fallujah, “The death toll is not nearly high enough… too many have escaped.”
As the Australian journalist and documentary makes John Pilger wrote:
“Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth’. They simply cipher and transmit lies.”
The problem is, of course, that those lies are being told in pursuit of a very dangerous attitude when it comes to Russia and its government. Allied to the increasingly bellicose stance of NATO in Eastern Europe, we are talking the prospect of direct military conflict, the consequences of which you would think would be self-evidently too awful to contemplate. But then this assumes reasoned and rational minds, the kind clearly absent in the case of a large section of the aforementioned Western liberal intelligentsia.
It really does defy belief that Putin and Russia are being depicted as a threat to the West when there are no Russian military bases on America’s border; no troops stationed in either Mexico or Canada, no Russian navy ships patrolling the Gulf of Mexico, and no missile defense shields either. Nor are there Russian troops deployed within striking distance of the UK, France, or Germany.
Yet such details are of trifling importance compared to the more important task of raising the Russian bogeyman as a convenient catch-all when it comes to explaining everything that’s wrong with the world.
But then again, they do say that if you can’t beat them join them. So with my bank balance and the prospect of mainstream acceptance in mind, I think I should add my own offering to the list. And given that sensationalism is the order of the day, the title will be: Vladimir Putin ate my hamster.
After three Americans from the US embassy were accused of espionage and tossed out of Nicaragua, a protest was lodged in Managua against this «unwarranted» decision, and the Nicaraguan government was warned that the relationship between the two countries would suffer inevitable damage in tourism, trade, and investment from the US. The State Department issued notice that Americans might face threats in Nicaragua. The war of propaganda waged against Daniel Ortega’s regime has become so ferocious that political commentators are drawing conclusions about Washington’s plans to «end the dictatorship» in Nicaragua once and for all.
The Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA), an international forum, was created in April of 2015 in order to launch attacks on Ortega and other Latin American «populist» leaders, and Washington was responsible for choosing its members: the chosen favorites include – Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, Alejandro Toledo of Peru, Lucio Gutiérrez of Ecuador, Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, José María Aznar of Spain, and others. These politicians work closely with the United States and continue to defer to Washington, even after leaving office.
IDEA released a statement in August that was highly critical of Nicaragua and which reads like something out of the Cold War: «The international community finds the violation of the democratic system in Nicaragua so worrisome that the former Ibero-American heads of state and of government have decided to ask the OAS and the EU to maintain critical oversight of these serious violations of democratic and constitutional order». And it goes on to say that statements by the members of IDEA «may be preceded by certain political and diplomatic actions, as provided by international law … in order to defend democracy and reestablish it where it has been compromised, as in the current example of Nicaragua».
In its attacks on the Nicaraguan government, the US National Security Agency uses materials obtained over the course of years of electronic surveillance of President Ortega, as well as his family and inner circle. Its deft use of such materials makes it possible to circulate all sorts of drivel that is designed to defame politicians who have been marked for public retaliation. Almost every «populist bloc» leader in Latin America is currently up against such cheap shots – Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa, Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales, and others.
Daniel Ortega has led his country for 13 years. He has been elected three times: in 1985, 2006, and 2012, and no one is predicting that he will have any opponents in the upcoming Nov. 6 election. Ortega’s political rivals are feuding amongst themselves. Despite the behind-the-scenes efforts of the US embassy, is has not been possible to consolidate the opposition in the run-up to the election. For this reason, the US has launched a blitzkrieg of propaganda against Daniel Ortega, his wife Rosario Murillo, and their grown children. The leitmotif of these «revelations» is a familiar one – some hogwash about the abuse of power, corruption, multi-million-dollar accounts in overseas banks, and the ownership of foreign real estate. The US continues to harp on the supposed parallels with the family of the dictator Anastasio Somoza; «Somoza García amassed a huge fortune, making him and his family some of the richest people in all of Latin America. By the time of his death in 1956 he left his children $200 million, which they managed to triple within a few years. His son, Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, owned 130 real estate holdings, as well as estates, residences, and tracts of land. He was owner of an airline (Líneas Aéreas de Nicaragua), a television station (Televisora de Nicaragua), the San Uribe and San Albino gold mines, and more».
One might well ask, what does Somoza’s wealth have to do with Ortega and his family? Nevertheless, the author of the article writes: «As is usual for totalitarian regimes of the past, there is no reliable information about the finances of the Nicaraguan president and his wife. That knotty question is top secret». Although there is no «reliable information», he goes on to claim that the family owns the Distribuidora Nicaragüense de Petróleos chain of gas stations, plus media outlets including four TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, websites, etc. In addition, Ortega has control over the project to build a transoceanic canal that would link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the cost of which is estimated at $50 billion. That mega-project has the backing of the Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing.
Naturally of course the Chinese-Nicaraguan canal mega-project was met with hostility by Washington. They don’t want anything competing with the updated Panama Canal. And as for the company Distribuidora Nicaragüense de Petróleos, that is a model for energy-sector cooperation between Venezuela and Nicaragua – not some private racket that is allegedly being used by Ortega’s friends for their personal enrichment.
During the years when the Sandinistas were in the opposition, Ortega was constantly faced with the problem of getting access to the media. His attempts to communicate his views to the public invariably ran up against an information boycott. But now the situation has changed drastically. Ortega has turned the tide to his own advantage. The government controls hundreds of Internet websites, as well as the news services Nicaragua Triunfa and Nicaragua Comovamos. Dozens of provincial radio stations work on the side of the government, as do influential national stations like Radio Sandino, La Nueva Radio Ya, Radio Nicaragua, and Radio Primerísima. The work of the government and the president gets favorable coverage by TV channels that are managed by members of the Ortega family – Canal 13, Multinoticias Canal 4, Canal 8, and Telenica Canal 10. The pro-government channels also include Canal 23, Canal Extra Plus, 100 % Noticias, and others. None of the «leftist» Latin American presidents enjoy such an effective mouthpiece for information and propaganda as Ortega.
Yet despite the accusations that it is a dictatorship, the country has no censorship restrictions. The opposition and, consequently, the US embassy have every opportunity to proselytize there. Popular newspapers like La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario and the weekly Confidencial are employed with particular vigor toward this goal. Ortega responds immediately, using fiercely anti-imperialist and anti-American terminology. Nor does he keep silent when Washington directs attacks against Nicaragua’s allies. Ortega’s speeches in support of Russia, Cuba, and friendly governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and other countries resonate far and wide.
The ideological underpinnings of Ortega’s international policy have remained unchanged throughout recent years: they consist of a fundamental rejection of American hegemony, coupled with patriotism, nationalism, and «socialism with a Nicaraguan face», plus support for the Latin American path to a true people’s democracy. This 70-year-old politician has never altered his revolutionary convictions. That said however, he is a flexible strategist who understands that a superpower can strike at any time and that the US is still unpredictable and dangerous. As the leader of a small country he has no choice but to maneuver, and he manages to do so without compromising his principles.
In December 2015 the CIA launched into yet another act of provocation against Nicaragua. Under the influence of inflammatory media reports about the Obama administration’s possible suspension of the preferential treatment Cuban migrants receive upon entering the US, hundreds rushed to emigrate from that island nation. The route suggested by the «well-wishers» from Miami: first by air from Havana to Ecuador (no visa needed), then by bus across several borders into Mexico, and from there into the US. Nothing to worry about, or so it would seem. However, Nicaraguan counter-intelligence got its hands on some information about CIA plans to use those migrants to stir things up. After arriving in Nicaragua from Costa Rica, their onward path – through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico – was to be closed, and the Cuban migrants would find themselves stranded in Nicaragua for a long time. As envisioned by the CIA, they were supposed to be the fuse to the ticking bomb of the country’s destabilization. Therefore, Daniel Ortega’s decision was emphatic: there should be no back doors, and the ones who came up with the whole migrant scheme should be the ones to deal with the mess! Demands that the migrants be admitted were hurled at that «inhumane regime» from all manner of human rights organizations patronized by American foundations. The members of the Central American Integration System (SICA) went public with their criticism of Ortega’s decision. The migrants themselves, as if on cue, tried to crash through the Nicaraguan border, with children and pregnant women planted in their forward ranks. The Nicaraguan government needed time to force the fugitives into Costa Rica. Tensions eased by February-March 2016. Ortega’s government refused to be blackmailed, and Washington had to quietly furnish its ally Costa Rica with financial assistance in order to provide for the migrants and evacuate them by air…
As the date of the Nicaraguan presidential election nears, new acts of provocation should be expected from US intelligence agencies and the American embassy. Ambassador Laura Dogu works assiduously with the Nicaraguan business community, persuading them that the ongoing Sandinista administration and its policy of «socialism with a Nicaraguan face» can only hurt their business interests.
The US embassy has conspicuously stepped up its work with the media and activists from NGOs and indigenous organizations, as well as the country’s youth. US intelligence agencies, diplomats, staffers with USAID (which is in reality a branch of the CIA), and Peace Corps volunteers are pinning their main hopes on Nicaragua’s youth, viewing that demographic as the most promising in the struggle against the Nicaraguan regime.
The Constitution offers no barriers to President Ortega’s reelection. He has been accused of taking control of executive, legislative, and judicial power, but the main factor ensuring his re-election is his broad popular support, which Ortega enjoys thanks to the social programs established during his years in office. Despite his socialist, anti-imperialist views, the president has many supporters in the country’s business community.
The November election forecasts don’t look too auspicious for the conspirators in the US embassy: Daniel Ortega is once again going to be elected president.
Brazil’s suspended President Dilma Rousseff has pledged to hold early elections if she survives a vote on her removal from office in an impeachment trial that is expected to conclude this month.
Rousseff, accused of illegally manipulating finances to hide a growing public deficit ahead of her reelection in 2014, is due to stand trial in the Senate on August 25, four days after the Rio Olympics end.
The Globo news organization reported that the actual judgment vote could take place between August 30 and 31.
In a letter to the federal Senate and Brazilian people that she read out on Tuesday, Rousseff said Brazil’s political and economic problems could only be resolved “through popular vote in direct elections.”
“The full restoration of democracy requires that the population be the one to decide what is the best way to expand governability and perfect the Brazilian political and electoral system,” Rousseff said.
“It’s the only way out of the crisis,” she wrote.
Rousseff admitted she had made mistakes, but said she had done nothing worthy of impeachment.
“I have listened to the tough criticisms of my government, for the errors committed,” she said. “I accept these criticisms with humility and determination so that we can build a new way forward.”
Rousseff further said that forcing her out through impeachment amounts to “an unequivocal coup.”
Rousseff impeachment: A timeline
October 9, 2015: Brazil’s federal audit court rules that Rousseff broke the law while managing the 2014 budget, paving the way for opposition groups to argue that the leader should be impeached.
December 2, 2015: Eduardo Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, agrees to start anti-Rousseff impeachment proceedings.
December 11, 2015: Rousseff presents a petition before the Supreme Court to stop the process.
March 17, 2016: The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian National Congress, elects a special impeachment commission, which has a majority derived from the ruling coalition, including the Workers’ Party and the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).
March 29, 2016: The PMDB leaves the ruling coalition, in a split that hurts Rousseff’s chances of derailing impeachment proceedings.
April 6, 2016: The special impeachment commission publishes a report recommending Rousseff’s impeachment.
April 11, 2016: The impeachment commission decides, in a 38 to 27 vote, to let the Chamber of Deputies vote on the president’s impeachment.
April 15, 2016: The Brazilian Supreme Court rejects Rousseff’s motion to stop the process.
April 17, 2016: A total of 367 out of 513 legislators in the parliament’s lower house vote in favor of Rousseff’s impeachment.
May 12, 2016: Senators vote 55 to 22 to suspend the president for 180 days and hold an impeachment trial in the Senate, the upper house of National Congress, with Rousseff slamming the vote and saying she was “being judged unfairly.”
Michel Temer becomes interim president and announces his new cabinet.
May 24, 2016: The interim government is rattled by a leaked audio tape suggesting a plot against Rousseff, a scandal that forces a number of key ministers in the new cabinet to resign.
June 28, 2016: An investigation by a team of independent auditors, comprised of career Senate budget technicians, concludes there is no evidence that Rousseff participated in budget manipulation.
July 18, 2016: Cunha resigns less than three months after he orchestrated the impeachment.
August 16, 2016: The Senate votes to hold an impeachment trial for Rousseff, pushing her one step closer to dismissal from office. Her trial is due to take place in the week after the Olympics closing ceremony.
A week ago, the Brazilian Senate voted to hold an impeachment trial for the country’s first female president.
A two-thirds majority of the Senate, or 54 votes, would be needed to see her permanently removed from office.
If the trial acquits Rousseff, she will be allowed to serve out her term until 2018. But if it removes her permanently, then acting President Temer will become the full-fledged president until the next election in 2018.
Rousseff is also under fire over a graft scandal at state oil company Petrobras, where she was the manager before taking office as president in 2010.
The embattled leader has denied the allegations and repeatedly asserted that she has fallen victim to a plot by the extreme right.
In recent months, Brazilians have held numerous counter rallies in support of and against the impeachment process.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has lashed out at NATO, saying the alliance is not fully cooperating with Ankara. In an interview with Sputnik, he hinted that Turkey would consider military cooperation with Russia.
Cavusoglu says that Ankara has become alarmed at the lack of willingness shown by NATO to cooperate with Turkey, which is a member of the alliance.
“It seems to us that NATO members behave in an evasive fashion on issues such as the exchange of technology and joint investments. Turkey intends to develop its own defense industry and strengthen its defense system,” he said in an interview with Sputnik.
“In this sense, if Russia were to treat this with interest, we are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in this sector,” Cavusoglu said when asked about the possibility of working with Russia in the defense sphere.
It is Cavusoglu’s strongest rebuke of NATO to date. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency on August 10, he said that Turkey and Russia would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism, while adding that relations with NATO were not as satisfactory as he would have wished.
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” he said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO,” he told Anadolu.
Meanwhile, a week ago, the Turkish ambassador to Russia, Umit Yardim, said NATO has no right to dictate foreign policy to Ankara.
“In no way can NATO limit our contacts with other countries… It means NATO has no right to dictate its terms and tell us who we should or should not meet and communicate with,” Yardim said on August 11, as cited by RIA Novosti.
The warming of relations between Turkey and Russia, which were previously at a low after a Turkish warplane shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November, has led to apprehension in the West.
Cavusoglu also previously pointed out that there is growing resentment in Turkey due to a perception that the EU and US have only been giving mild support to Ankara in the wake of the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15.
Turkey has been incensed by the US’ refusal to hand over cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara believes organized the attempted coup.
The Turkish government wants Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, to be extradited to face trial at home, but Washington has repeatedly refused. The US says it needs clear evidence that there was a link between Gulen and the attempted coup before it will consider complying with Turkey’s request.
Speaking to Sputnik, Cavusoglu accused the West of treating Turkey and Russia like “second class countries” simply because they did not see eye-to-eye.
“They consider Russia and Turkey to be second class countries, and they are outraged that these second class countries dare to criticize them… Therefore, faced with the straightforwardness and resilience of Erdogan and [President Vladimir] Putin, they feel very worried and anxious,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu’s criticism was not restricted to NATO, as he launched a broadside towards the West, saying it was largely responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.
“Look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he told Sputnik. “They were always threatening the country and forcing it to make a choice between them and Russia. They were saying, ‘you will either be with us or with Russia.’ This course of action is futile. What is happening in Ukraine is a reflection of the main problems in the region.”
In contrast, the Turkish diplomat says that Ankara wants peace around the Black Sea region and does not want it to become an epicenter for tension. He called on all parties to try and find a peaceful resolution and said there needed to be greater dialogue between Russia and NATO.
“There should be no threats emerging in the region for anyone, for Turkey, for Russia or for anyone else,” Cavusoglu said.
According to the minister, the need for dialogue with Russia was apparent at the last NATO summit. “In my opinion, all existing issues should be overcome through establishing dialogue,” he added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to take a high-profile trip to Tehran next week in a move seen by mainstream Arab media as the official launchpad for kickstarting the Turkey-Iran-Russia coalition on Syria.
Erdogan made a half-a-day trip to Russia after the recent coup in Turkey to meet and hold negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg. Their talks were mainly focused on finding a way to end the war in Syria while both countries have set up a joint commission to implement the results of their talks.
“Given the reports claiming that Erdogan had come to Iran the night of coup and then returned to Turkey after its failure, the Turkish president’s visit to Tehran is highly important in establishing new relations between Tehran and Ankara,” Arabic language al-Hayat newspaper said in a report, according to Fars news agency.
Sources told al-Hayat daily that a trilateral meeting, consisting of the Iranian, Turkish and Russian officials, is due to be held to confer on ways to terminate the Syria war, adding that part of Erdogan’s trip to Tehran will be focused on this issue.
Also, the London-based al-Arab daily referred to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent visit to Turkey, and said the trip was made within the framework of the goals pursued by Erdogan during his visit to Moscow.
According to al-Arab, the triangle of Iran-Turkey-Russia is forming an international coalition to confront the West.
The daily underlined that Zarif’s trip showed that rapid and important developments are being formed in the region which will marginalize the Arab states.
Al-Arab quoted analysts as saying that the Arabs’ foreign policy, specially on Syria, has failed deeply.
After the Turkish prime minister said it’s time for his country to improve ties with Damascus, top diplomats in Tehran said that Ankara is likely to initiate a major shift in policy on Syria and move to ally with Iran and Russia.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim suggested a three-pronged road map for a solution to the five-year-old war in Syria, which has not only affected neighboring countries but also many parts of the world with the flight of more than 4 million refugees.
Stating that he was optimistic that a solution was at hand due to the changing nature of Turkish foreign policy, in which Ankara aims to make more friends and decrease its number of enemies, Yildirim said the time had come for Turkey to mend relations with Syria.
He added that Turkey would overcome the Syrian problem together with the regional actors.
After his remarks, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hussein Jaberi Ansari said that Turkey will be invited to join Iran and Russia’s efforts to bring stability to Syria.
Addressing reporters in a press conference with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Bogdanov, Jaberi Ansari said that Turkey was an important country and influential in the Syrian crisis.
“The Iranian and Turkish officials agreed to continue talks in implementation of bilateral agreements in detail; we will soon send an invitation to Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Umit Yalcın and alternatively, I will pay a visit to Ankara to talk about the regional issues in detail,” he added.
Jaberi Ansari expressed the hope that new developments in the region would help the establishment of new grounds for Iran, Russia and Turkey to act in coordination to end the stalemate and humanitarian crisis in Syria, especially in Aleppo.
The Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif had earlier this month visited Turkey.
In remarks made upon his arrival in Ankara, Zarif said, “Iran, Russia, and Turkey are considered important players in the region, and they need to engage in dialogue and cooperation.”
Pointing to the failed coup bid in Turkey, Zarif said, “We believe that the era of bullying and coups is over and such things no longer have a place in our region. People’s choice and will cannot be suppressed by a military group.”
During his one-day visit to Ankara, Zarif also met with President Erdogan.
Also, Zarif and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a telephone conversation on Thursday discussed bilateral ties and the latest developments in Syria.
In the phone talks, the Iranian and Russian foreign ministers exchanged views on the latest developments in the region, specially Syria.
The two sides called for resolving the regional crises through political means.
The reported remarks Monday by Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim regarding a 3-step road map for ending the Syrian conflict would be the latest indication that Ankara is tiptoeing toward restoring Turkish-Syrian relations at the diplomatic and political level.
Yildirim’s road map envisages future Syria to be a unitary state that has an inclusive political system with constitutional safeguards that prevent domination by any sectarian, ethnic or regional groups. Its constructive ambiguity over the core issue of the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad is absolutely delightful. It abandons the pre-condition that President Assad should step down in any transition.
Yildirim instead leaves it to the Syrian electorate’s majority will to decide on Assad’s political future. He thinks Assad may not get a popular mandate, but then, he won’t deny Assad the right to seek one, either. Now, isn’t that a leap of faith? (Hurriyet )
To be sure, with the Turkish-Russian rapprochement in hand and a new-found rapport with Iran in the air, President Recep Erdogan is preparing to address the Syrian question, which is the root cause of the instability in Turkey. (See my recent articles in Asia Times Putin, Erdogan have a deal on Syria and Iran taps into Turkish-Russian reset.)
The road map suggested by Ildirim means that Turkey seeks convergence with the Russian and Iranian stance. Ildirim didn’t say so as many words, but implied that Turkey is abandoning the ‘regime change’ project in Syria. There are signs that Turkey is rolling back its support for the rebel groups fighting the Syrian government forces.
Unsurprisingly, there is a sense of urgency on the part of Turkey against the backdrop of the capture of Manjib from the control of the Islamic State in the weekend by the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) with the support of US Special Forces and air cover. (Associated Press )
Turkey had sought and obtained an assurance from the US in May that the Syrian Kurds will not be allowed to occupy Manjib and will be asked to leave the town after defeating the IS. However, much water has flown through the Bosphorous since then. US-Turkish relations have come under great stress following the coup of July 15. Suffice it to say, Turkey will be anxiously watching whether Washington will keep its word in the changed circumstances.
Indeed, the reports from Manjib should be highly worrisome for Turkey since the Syrian Kurds are now planning another military campaign to move further westward toward Al Bab, an important city in northern Syria, which will mean a significant expansion of their influence in the regions adjacent to the Turkish border. It would appear that the US is backing the Syrian Kurds in the new offensive on Al Bab. (VOA)
If so, Ankara’s worst fears seem to be coming true. A commentary by Deutsche Welle says that the Syrian Kurds are creating new “facts on the ground”. (German intelligence is active among Kurds.) The following excerpts suggest that the Syrian Kurds with US backing may be creating a fait accompli for Turkey:
- The SDF’s growing political and military clout is likely to further enrage neighboring Turkey, which views the YPG (Syrian Kurds) as a terrorist group because of its close relations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly had its redlines crossed by the Syrian Kurds and the United States. The latest iteration is in Manbij, where first the SDF crossed the Euphrates, thereby crossing one “redline,” then again when the YPG led the recapture of the city. This appears to have broken a reported understanding between Ankara and Washington that Arab forces would take the lead in Manbij.
- The Syrian Kurds’ ultimate goal is to clear IS-controlled ground to the west of Manbij in order to unite their territories in the northeast, the so-called cantons of Kobani and Jazira, with Afrin… Uniting the cantons would give the Kurds an uninterrupted stretch of territory along the Turkish border, a prospect that the Syrian regime and Russia could welcome, as it would also weaken the rebel groups they are fighting. The question remains whether the United States will go along with an SDF offensive to unite the cantons and equally important, Turkey’s response to the prospect of a contiguous Kurdish mini state on its border and what that would mean for any future political solution in the country. (Deutche Welle )
Clearly, Yildirim’s accent on Turkey remaining a unitary state under any settlement needs to be put in the above perspective. Turkey will be dependent on Russia and Iran to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan straddling its border regions with Syria.
On the other hand, Turkey also cannot antagonize Washington, since it is the US which is active on the ground in northern Syria and is equipping and helping the Syrian Kurds in their military campaign. Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu publicly demanded on Monday that the US should keep its word and have the Syrian Kurds vacate the regions to the west of Euphrates (which is Ankara’s ‘red line).
It is possible to see a degree of testiness in Cavusoglu’s words: “The U.S., even President [Barack] Obama, assured Turkey that the PYD (Syrian Kurds) would return to east of the Euphrates River after Manbij’s liberation. We expect them to keep their word.” (Anadolu )
Simply put, yet another fault line is appearing in US-Turkish relations in the run-up to the visit by US Vice-president Joe Biden to Ankara on August 24. Of course, Turkey holds a trump card insofar as the US operations in Syria are largely conducted from the Incirlik air base. But it will play the Incirlik card only if push comes to shove.
Russian warplanes have been deployed to the Hamedan Air Base in western Iran in a bid to take part in the fight against Takfiri insurgents in Syria.
Al-Masdar News (AMN ) reported the newly signed military agreement between Russia and Iran, noting that such move will allow Russia to reduce flight time by 60%, saving the Kremlin both money and improving airstrike effectiveness.
Currently, the strategic TU-22M3 bombers take flight from southern Russia at Modzok airfield, AMN reported.
The distance of these flights equal roughly 2,150km to reach a target near Palmyra. In comparison, the Hamedan Air Base in Iran is roughly 900km from Palmyra.
The Hmeimim (or Khmeimim) Airbase in Latakia province, which Russia was granted access to in late 2015, is not suitable for the massive TU-22M3, one of the largest bomber jets in the world.
The Russian military is yet to announce how many TU-22M3 will be operating from the Iranian airbase.
Russia has earlier requested Iraq and Iran airspace allowance to transport cruise missiles into Syria.
This development indicates significantly improved political relations between Iran and Russia.
Russia and Turkey massively upgrade their cooperation – however, agree to differ over Syria.
As is frequently the case the most information about what Putin and Erdogan discussed and agreed with each other came out of their joint news conference. The Kremlin has provided a transcript.
Putin and Erdogan both said that they had not discussed Syria prior to the news conference and that their discussion about Syria would take place after.
This could be for any of various reasons: that restoring their bilateral relations was the bigger priority with the contentious issue of Syria being put off till later; that Putin and Erdogan did not want to spoil the mood at the press conference by revealing how far apart they still are on this issue; or that the discussions they were about to have on Syria touched on such sensitive topics that they did not want to be questioned and reveal information about them at the news conference. Probably all of these reasons were in play.
Both Putin and Erdogan did say at the press conference that their positions on Syria remain far apart. In an interview with TASS on the eve of the visit, Erdogan however showed no shift in his longstanding positions on the Syrian conflict. For example, he continued to insist that President Assad had to go: “We don’t want Syria’s disintegration, but the departure of Bashar Assad who is guilty for the deaths of 600,000 people. This is the condition for preventing this scenario. Syria’s unity cannot be kept with Assad. And we cannot support a murderer who has committed acts of state terror.”
In a point that will be particularly contentious for the Russians (and one presumes for some people in the U.S.), he even denied that Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation despite its connection to Al-Qaeda: “Considering that the al-Nusra front is also fighting against the Islamic State, it should not be considered as a terrorist organisation either. This is an incorrect approach.”
Other comments Erdogan made during the TASS interview strongly suggest that it was he who was ultimately behind the recent Jabhat Al-Nusra announcement that it was distancing itself from Al-Qaeda.
In a recent post, the Moon of Alabama expresses bafflement that despite the Turkish rapprochement with Russia that has taken place since the coup attempt, there is no evidence of any slackening of Turkish support for the rebels in Syria. On the contrary, it seems that in connection with the fighting in Aleppo that support has, if anything, been stepped up. The Moon of Alabama speculates implausibly that this is being done by the CIA on Turkish territory contrary to Erdogan’s wishes.
The true position is, as I have said previously, Erdogan has invested too much in supporting the rebellion in Syria over too long a time to make it possible for him to change course. Were he to try to do so, he would expose himself to criticism in Turkey from many of his own supporters that he was selling out to the Russians. He would also risk a violent reaction from the many Jihadist fighters currently in Turkey, which at a time when the Turkish security forces are at their most disorganised following the coup would be highly dangerous. Beyond that, there is the fact that Erdogan is almost certainly sincere about his Syrian policy. His comments to TASS suggest as much, as do his actions on the ground.
The truth is what I said before: what we are seeing between Turkey and Russia is a strictly limited rapprochement, not a fundamental realignment. The two countries have moved closer to each other and are developing their political and economic relations at a blistering pace. However, there will be no switch in alliances, and on the question of Syria they fundamentally differ and continue to support opposing camps. The leaderships of both countries understand this perfectly well but are not prepared to hold the improvement of their mutual relations hostage to the situation in Syria.
On one question related to Syria there may, however be progress. Erdogan’s interview with TASS shows that he is still seething at Russian allegations made earlier this year that members of his family were involved in illegal trading with ISIS:
I had earlier been told that these facts also pointed to Turkey. I asked for the relevant evidence to be demonstrated. However, no one could prove it to me. Nothing of this kind can be found with regard to Turkey. They also tried to entangle my family in this. I said, prove it, I’ll leave my post if you demonstrate the relevant evidence. I turned to those who conjured up these insinuations and asked them about whether they would leave their posts if no evidence was found. Silence followed.
His comments to TASS suggest that Erdogan might be prepared to work with the Russians to destroy ISIS. However, the extent of that cooperation is for the moment difficult to gauge. It is unlikely to involve Russian aircraft operating from Incirlik.
As anticipated, there does appear to have been some discussion during the summit of the Russians and the Turks working together on a joint plan to end the war in Syria. In his interview with TASS, Erdogan hinted as much, also confirming that against U.S. and Saudi opposition he is also prepared to involve Iran in this plan:
Russia is fundamentally the key and most important player in establishing peace in Syria. I believe it is necessary to solve this crisis with the help of mutual action by Russia and Turkey. If the talk is about widening the circle of participants, then I already told my dear friend Vladimir [Putin] earlier: if necessary, we’ll also involve Iran in the effort. We can invite Qatar, Saudi Arabia and America. In this regard, we can form a wide circle of participants. If not, then the Russian Federation and Turkey given our common 950-km border with Syria, can take some steps, without violating Syria’s sovereignty.
However, given the differences between the Russians and the Turks over the future of President Assad and the status of Jabhat Al-Nusra, it is difficult to see at the moment how they could agree a joint position on Syria that they would be able to take forward in order to achieve a settlement of the conflict there. Doubtless the discussions between Putin and Erdogan after the press conference touched on this question. However, given the size of the gap between the two sides, it will take a long time for any consensus on the way forward between them to emerge. Most probably, it will be the situation on the ground that will decide the issue first.
The Turkish coup
Both in the press conference and in his interview with TASS, Erdogan again went out of his way to accuse the Gulen movement of being behind the recent coup attempt. I have previously speculated that Erdogan’s constant references to the Gulen movement are intended to signal that the U.S. (where Gulen is based) was somehow implicated in the coup. Nothing Erdogan said in either the press conference or the TASS interview refutes that speculation. He notably failed to say that the U.S. was not involved in the coup, or that the U.S. is Turkey’s ally and friend. On the contrary, in the TASS interview he appeared to criticise the U.S. for its foot-dragging in handing over Gulen:
In reality, even though we have demanded this man’s extradition. They say if you regard this man as a terrorist, then send us the documents. We will study them first and then take measures in accordance with U.S. legislation. True, there are some documents we had sent them before. By now, we’ve sent 85 boxfuls of paperwork on this case. In the near future, the Turkish justice minister, foreign minister, special envoy and a number of prosecutors and judges who were in charge of this matter will go to the United States and brief the American authorities in person.
By contrast, Erdogan went out of his way to thank his “friend Putin” and Russia for their support during the coup. What is more than a little strange about this however is that Erdogan does not really explain what that support was. Instead, he constantly refers to a telephone call he had from Putin the day after the coup, which he says gave Turkey “psychological support”. By that point, however, the coup had visibly failed, making it difficult to see why Erdogan should attach so much importance to this call.
The true reason for Erdogan’s gratitude to Putin and Russia is probably touched on in his comments to TASS about the reports of a Russian tip-off to Turkish intelligence warning of the coup:
This is the first time that I have heard such a thing. Even if it had really been so, those concerned would have been obliged to inform me first thing. I received no such information, not from intelligence, nor through any other channels. We don’t know who said what and to whom. I believe that this is a groundless rumour.
As I have said before, the Russians will never confirm that there was a tip-off, even if there was one, and for that reason neither will the Turks. Note, however, that Erdogan’s comments about the tip-off to TASS are very far from a denial. Instead, we are asked to believe that Erdogan of all people “doesn’t know who said what to whom” and that “this is the first time that I have heard of such a thing” despite the story being all over the Middle East media for weeks. As I have discussed previously, this looks very much like an agreed position reached by the Russians and the Turks not to deny the tip-off but to pretend to no knowledge of it. That makes it a virtual certainty the report of the tip-off is true.
Turk Stream and South Stream gas pipelines, nuclear cooperation, etc
As I discussed previously, these proved the least contentious issues, allowing for rapid progress. There is also talk of the Russians granting the Turks visa free access or at least simplified visa access to Russia.
Two points can be made briefly. Firstly, it is clear that it is the Turks rather than the Russians who are the main drivers behind both Turk Stream and the nuclear power agreement. Putin confirmed that the Turks continued to do preparatory work on Turk Stream even during the crisis in relations following the SU24 shoot-down in November. Secondly, it is clear that contrary to some reports, the Russians are not prepared to revive South Stream and that their opposition to the EU’s Third Energy Package remains as strong as ever. On the contrary, Putin made it clear that the Russians will not participate in any pipeline project that could be construed as their agreeing to the EU’s Third Energy Package. Moreover, Putin made it quite clear that he sees the U.S. (whom he referred to as “a third party”) as being behind the Third Energy Package and all the problems that exist in relation to Russia’s EU pipeline projects:
We have never politicised economic cooperation. In proposing the South Stream project initially, we assumed that our gas would go directly to EU consumers in southern Europe. However, at first the European Parliament made a decision that prevented the implementation of this project and then the European Commission sent a letter to the Bulgarian Government demanding that preparations for it stop, and ultimately we did not receive the permission of the Bulgarian authorities to enter Bulgarian territory.
Yes, now we see that Bulgaria would like to resume this project, but we incurred some losses due to the refusal of our European partners to carry out this project. So now we will not settle for just intentions and need absolutely rock solid legal guarantees. They have not been forthcoming. Initially, we regarded the Turkish Stream not even as an alternative to the South Stream but as an opportunity to expand our gas cooperation both with Turkey and Europe as a whole. One part of the Turkish Stream was designed exclusively for Turkey’s domestic consumers, given the growing economy of the Republic of Turkey. This is how we discussed the issue today. This part is beyond any doubt and its implementation may be launched very soon.
The second part related to routing our energy to Europe depends, of course, on a third party [emphasis added]. We should work out these issues with European countries and the European Commission in Brussels. Together with our Turkish partners and friends, we are prepared to work toward this, but again we need to have an agreement with all the participants.
In summary, the Putin – Erdogan summit went much as predicted. There is now a strong rapprochement underway between the two countries. This goes well beyond a mere detente, which is a relaxation of tensions. On the contrary, the leaders of the two countries now publicly call each other “friends”. It is not, however, a reversal of alliances. Turkey remains a member of NATO and an ally of the U.S.
In my opinion, this actually suits the Russians much better, at least for the moment. They surely know that an outright attempt to detach Turkey from NATO is for the moment impossible and might actually cause Turkey to become destabilised, which is absolutely not in their interests. However, at a time of heightened East-West tensions, they now have the leader of a key NATO state with NATO’s second biggest army calling their leader a “friend”. Sometimes it is more useful to have a friend in the enemy’s camp than a doubtful and unstable ally in one’s own. That is the situation which through a combination of skill and good luck the Russians have now manoeuvred themselves into.