2018-03-13

Hunting season in Turkish diplomacy


Russia, at the request of Turkey, accelerated the implementation of the contract for the delivery of the S-400. This media reported on Monday, March 12. This deal has repeatedly provoked criticism of Turkey by NATO partners. This, however, is about much more serious problems. Turkish diplomats today have a hard time. On the one hand, the leader of the Turkish nation raises criticism towards Turkey's western partners every day, on the other - European countries and the US are increasingly thinking about how to curb the ambitious president, while not undermining cooperation with Turkey in security matters.

The military and political importance of the country does not allow neighbors and partners of Turkey to quash the problem, simply ignoring the actions and statements of Ankara. The problem is further complicated by the fact that the Turkish authorities, while obstructing attempts to isolate the country in regional issues, are also taking radical measures that are not quite traditional for diplomacy.

In early March 2018, the court of the Turkish city of Edirne, located in the European part of Turkey, decided to arrest two Greek border guards on charges of illegally crossing the border and attempting to spy on Greece. According to the statements of the servicemen themselves, the crossing of the border was unintentional. The Greek authorities expressed the hope that the border guards would be tried in a normal legal process and asked the Turkish side to release the citizens from custody for the duration of the trial. However, on March 5, the Turkish courts rejected the Greek side in its request.

The reluctance of the Turkish authorities to judge in absentia Greek border guards, despite the official request of Athens, increased the suspicions of the Greek side regarding the true background of the incident. Outside observers note that Turkey has accumulated a lot of claims to Greece, and the fact that now Ankara is in an unannounced isolation by the West makes the Turkish authorities look for effective levers of pressure on their neighbor.

In January 2018, the Minister of Justice of Greece announced that the country's authorities would not extradite the eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after the failure of the military coup in July 2016. Arriving in Greek territory on a military Turkish helicopter, the military is accused by Ankara of taking part in the coup. However, in the course of the trial, the Supreme Court of Greece in December 2017 ruled that the military had the right to political asylum, since when extradited to the Turkish authorities they could be tortured and violated their rights and freedoms, which naturally provoked a protest from the Turkish government, usually sharply reacting to criticism of the declining standards of democracy in the country, all the more emanating from the former colony of the Ottoman Empire.

It is noteworthy that Athens denies the possibility of any exchange of captured border guards to suspected Turkish putschists. The same position was taken by the Turkish authorities. Nevertheless, suspicions of the deliberate detention of Greek servicemen remain in force, mainly because, although earlier similar cases have also occurred, the incidents were resolved by local authorities, and never the parties resorted to the arrest of border guards because of the unintentional crossing borders.

Thus, the actions of the Turkish authorities to retain Greek border guards can, therefore, be linked with Ankara's desire to exert pressure on Athens in matters related to Turkish interests. In December 2017, Greece signed an agreement with Italy, Israel and the unrecognized Turkey by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to lay the East Med gas pipeline longer than 2000 km from the deposits in the eastern Mediterranean to the shores of Greece and Italy. The cooperation of Israel and the three EU countries in the field of energy supplies could seriously threaten Turkey's plans to maintain its influence on the EU as the dominant hub of gas supplies to the European market from the Caspian and Russia.

In early February 2018, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that "Turkey is ready to take all necessary measures" to oppose the plans of neighboring countries to lay alternative pipelines along the Mediterranean Sea. The seriousness of Turkey's intentions was demonstrated on February 9, 2018, when the ships of the Turkish Navy did not allow the special ship of the Italian company ENI SpA to carry out the exploration of the bottom at the request of the authorities of Cyprus. According to the Turkish diplomatic department, the unilateral actions of the unrecognized Ankara Greek Cypriot government violate the rights of the Turkish Cypriot community.

The story of the arrested Greek border guards, like other similar cases that have occurred in Turkey over the past two years, may have another explanation. In February last year, the Turkish authorities arrested a German citizen journalist of the German newspaper Die Welt Deniz Yudzhel. The official warrant for the arrest as a reason referred to the articles of Yudzhel, devoted to the investigation of possible illegal activities of the son-in-law of Turkish President and Energy Minister Berat Albaiar.

Later the investigation accused the German journalist of supporting the Turkish terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party: the authorities regarded the publication of an earlier interview with one of the leaders of the PKK, Cemil Bayrak, as propaganda in favor of a terrorist organization. According to the statements of the Turkish president, the authorities of the country under no circumstances planned to release a German citizen due to the gravity of the crime.

The decision of the Turkish court to judge Yudzhel in absentia, which allowed him to leave Turkey in mid-February 2018, was a surprise for everyone, but not for the Turkish government. The detention of a citizen of the country put serious pressure on the German government, which by that time had conducted fruitless talks with Ankara on the modernization of Turkish tanks produced by the FRG Leopard. The German authorities have been criticizing the president for suppressing the political opposition in the country for a year now and pursuing a policy of deliberate division of society for the sake of consolidating their own power.

The military and technical cooperation between Berlin and Ankara was also complicated by the fact that the technologies and means that Germany often acquired from Germany are used by Turkey in the fight against the PKK, which has a developed network of supporters in Europe. The fate of a journalist of an influential newspaper has become the subject of bargaining around the technologies that are essential for Turkey's security.

It can be assumed that the Greek and Turkish authorities really do not plan to make military exchanges, as both sides understand what kind of criticism such a step can cause in official Brussels, almost every day declaring the fall of democratic standards in Turkey. The use of arrested border guards is also unlikely in the bidding for the pipeline, because this project is multilateral and one pressure on Athens to the Turkish side is indispensable.

Ankara's true intention can be to use the theme of the Greek "hostages" to establish an informal moratorium with Athens on provocative steps during the campaign in Turkey. The country after last year's referendum should officially go over to the presidential form of government. Erdogan's plans to consolidate power in his own hands and get political legitimacy through elections to implement his special vision of Turkey's modernization should not be violated by any foreign policy scandal in which national feelings of the Turks might be affected.

Greece's actions in Cyprus, the disputed islands, the Turkish Muslim minority in Thrace are always extremely negatively perceived by the Turkish public due to the historical dislike between the two neighbors. The inability of Turkish diplomacy in conditions of growing international isolation to effectively resist such steps of the Greek authorities force Ankara to act ahead of the clock, using non-traditional means of international pressure for diplomacy.

For Russia, in turn, it must be borne in mind that Turkey is inclined to view bilateral relations as part of a diplomatic arsenal in confronting its Western partners. The purchase of S-400 air defense systems for Turkey is a search for alternative resources of influence on the West. After all, this is one of the topics that could serve as an excellent tool in the information war, where Ankara's goal is to demonstrate its self-sufficiency and significance in world politics.

This circumstance forces Russian diplomats to seek long-term political guarantees from the Turkish authorities when discussing joint projects of strategic importance, so that they do not become victims of the conjuncture of Ankara's relations with its partners in Europe and overseas.

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