2018-03-27

NATO's Ankara is a unique asset of Moscow's diplomacy



In early April, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey to attend the next meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council (HLCC). For a number of reasons, the meeting of the Council is significant: the event is the most important mechanism for coordination and development of bilateral relations. In addition, the current meeting of the HLCC, which was established in 2010 and which has been held every year since then, is the first after a long pause that had occurred because of the crisis in bilateral relations due to the downed Russian aircraft in the sky of Syria.

The last time Putin met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the format of the HLCC was in December 2014. The talks in Ankara noted the intention of the parties to increase the volume of bilateral trade to the level of $ 100 billion by 2020, while the leaders of the countries noted the need to balance trade turnover and its structure. The Russian side indicated a firm intention to cooperate with Turkey in the construction of the first Akkuyu nuclear power plant on its territory.

Of course, in the framework of the HLCC, the events in Syria were also discussed, then the parties, despite declarations of a concurring desire to end the conflict, had to admit that they disagreed on the question of how the war should be stopped. The head of Turkey, hoping to support his partners in the West and in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, called for the speedy departure of President Bashar Assad. It is obvious that the differences over the Syrian conflict in the future also determined the trajectory of the development of relations in 2015.

On March 14, 2018, the 6th meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group (JSPG), established within the framework of the work of the HLCC and headed by the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Russia, was held. The focus of JSPG work this year was on the measures taken to overcome the consequences of the crisis. The parties noted the growth in trade turnover, the volume of which amounted to $ 21.6 billion in 2017. The plans were announced for the Cross-Year Culture and Tourism in Russia and Turkey in 2019. The foreign ministers paid special attention to the restoring stream of Russian tourists: in 2017, 4.5 million Russians visited Turkey (in the crisis year 2016 - only 866 thousand people). Initiatives were noted for the construction of the Turkish Stream and the purchase by the Turkish side of the S-400 Triumph SAM system, the deliveries of which will begin in 2020.

At the meeting of the JSPG unresolved issues were identified, many of which emerged as a result of the crisis of 2015-2016. First of all, we are talking about mutual hidden trade sanctions and restrictions. Obviously, the parties are trying to achieve certain preferences for themselves under new conditions: the Russian side wants to open the Turkish market for a number of domestic producers of agricultural products, while the Turks demand the removal of artificial restrictions on their vegetables imposed by the Russian authorities in the framework of sanctions against Ankara in 2016 year.

Another subject of negotiations is the issue of simplifying mutual trips of citizens of certain categories. For Turkey, the liberalization of the visa regime is important for the development of ties between the Turkish business community. For Russia, this issue is related to ensuring security and combating terrorism.

The April meeting of the heads of state should stimulate the transition in bilateral relations from the post-crisis recovery regime to the long-term development regime. The agenda of the meeting will include issues of cooperation in the field of construction of infrastructure facilities, attraction of investments and establishment of joint ventures. It is worth waiting for clarification of issues around two joint large-scale projects: the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.

As for the construction of nuclear power plants, first of all, the heads of state should resolve the issue of obtaining by the Russian side of all necessary permits from the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency. The most important subject of discussions, however, should be the question of the fate of 49% of the shares of nuclear power plants and investments, the volume of which is currently estimated at $ 20 billion, which are necessary for construction. In addition, the parties should discuss the progress of the construction of both branches of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline: both Turkey and Russia attach special importance to the project in realizing their geopolitical and economic plans. So, the deliveries along this route should ensure the growing needs of Turkey, whose leadership plans to enter the 10th anniversary of the republic in 2023 in the top ten developed countries of the world.

The general dynamics of bilateral relations is obvious: priority is given to cooperation in the economic sphere with a separate emphasis on large infrastructure projects.

Even with the threat of sanctions from the West, the leadership of both countries demonstrates the political will to cooperate. Moreover, steps are becoming more noticeable to expand trustful dialogue and cooperation on politically significant projects. It's not just about Turkey's acquisition of four S-400 divisions from Russia by $ 2.5 billion. As in 2014, the theme of Syria continues to determine the agenda for relations between Moscow and Ankara.

The rapprochement of the positions of the two countries on the Syrian conflict is based on the realization that Russia and Turkey need each other to provide a real political process, during which both the interests of all the Syrians and the interests of both countries could be taken into account. Examples of recent military operations in Syrian Africa and East Gut, where the situation was largely determined by a compromise between Ankara and Moscow, demonstrate that the parties are ready to listen to each other's concerns.

The importance of the Syrian track of bilateral relations lies in the fact that it was within the framework of the Astana process that the dialogue was built into multilateral diplomacy. The participation of Iran and Turkey, countries with completely different interests in Syria, in the issue of reducing violence in the country became possible thanks to the painstaking work of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The experience gained in coordinating steps between countries should also be used in the future in the reconstruction and reconstruction of Syria, where Turkey and Russia can again find areas for interaction. Probably, the leaders of the two countries will discuss this issue during the summit.

Against the backdrop of the positive dynamics of economic and political relations, the intention of the leaders of the Russian Federation and Turkey to come to an understanding that one can not be friends against a third person. After all, as history shows, in cases where Ankara or Moscow begin to quarrel with each other, going on the occasion of a third party, as a result, both states are in the broken trough. At the same time, it is necessary to resolutely resist the attempts of the third forces to disrupt the dialogue between Russia and Turkey.

It is necessary to clarify the issue of the triangle of Turkey-Russia-NATO relations. For Russia, the significance of this issue lies in the fact that it is through Turkey that the military alliance is inclined to act in the regions where Russian interests are identified, namely the Black Sea, the Caucasus and Syria. It is important to understand that since the 1990s Turkey has been trying to find a place in a world where political changes of a tectonic scale have taken place, and it is the role of a conductor of Western influence in regions that are inaccessible to the West that is the most attractive and effective direction of Ankara's foreign policy. Part of the Turkish elite still believes that it is in close alliance with the West that the country can realize its foreign policy interests.

The foregoing does not mean that Russia should seek Turkey's withdrawal from NATO. On the contrary, Turkey, which has good-neighbourly relations with Russia and wants to conduct a confidential dialogue with its northern neighbour, as a member of NATO, is a unique asset of Russian diplomacy, especially in conditions of artificial anti-Russian sentiment in Europe. Dialogue between Russia and Turkey on the Crimea, the situation in the South Caucasus, the balance of military forces in the Black Sea should stimulate NATO to communicate with Russia.

Of course, all this requires patient work to strengthen relations in all their manifestations. Confidence among countries will grow with the deepening of cooperation not only in the economic sphere, but also in the discussion of political issues, as well as joint diplomatic initiatives. The main thing in this case is the ability to listen and hear what is achieved through frequent and open dialogue. Public forces and civil initiatives can help the political leadership of the countries in this matter. Especially important are the contacts between the expert communities, which in many ways still think in terms of ideological confrontation.

2018-03-22

Operation Olive Branch in Afrin and Turkish diplomacy



With the Afrin canton in northern Syria under the control of the Turkish army and its administrative center successfully taken, Ankara’s counter-terrorist military operation, “Olive Branch”, is about to reach its objectives. Since its commencement on January 20, the Turkish border operation has been pursuing several objectives; primary among them is clearing the Afrin region of the PYD armed groups who pose a direct threat to Turkey’s national security due to their connection to the Turkey-based terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK, Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê).

Despite its efforts to explain to the international community the underlying motives behind the deployment of troops on Syrian soil, the Turkish government has not received messages of solidarity, either from its Western partners, or from regional players. On March 11, Turkish President Recep Erdogan slammed NATO over its lack of support for the military operation in Afrin, despite the fact that Turkey is a member state of the Alliance whose security is challenged by an international terrorist organization. An unnamed NATO headquarters official, in an interview with the Russian RIA news agency, responded to Erdogan’s criticism by saying that NATO acknowledges Turkey’s legitimate concerns over its national security in Afrin, but the organization cannot participate in the the ongoing operation due to the absence of legitimate reasons for its presence in Syria.

Turkey’s resentment is also directed at the European Union. On March 15, the European Parliament issued a non-binding resolution condemning the Afrin operation and calling upon Turkey to remove its troops from Syria and instead focus on the fight against “the U.N.-listed terrorist organizations”, suggesting that the PYD-affiliated armed groups in Afrin are not a legitimate target. The EP resolution was criticized by the Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik, who described the document as the most visionless decision the European Parliament has made in recent years, and the call for Turkey to withdraw its troops as “clear support for terrorist organizations”. Ankara’s official stance on the move was further elaborated by a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement saying that it is impossible for Ankara to comprehend the resolution of the European Parliament, “who has a well-known history of tolerance towards terrorist organizations”.

The reaction of the Western community and of Turkey’s most-valued long-term security and military partners reveals only a part of the reality. Even though the Turkish military operation “Olive Branch” has so far been successful in fighting the PYD-affiliated armed groups in Afrin, the inadequate support of Turkish allies and the broader international community for the operation may point to serious risks for Turkish foreign policy in the region. Turkey’s fight against the terrorist organization PKK has long been internationalized, with the political setting and conditions in both Turkey’s geographical proximity and Europe having considerable influence on the pace and track of Ankara’s anti-PKK efforts.

Analysis of Turkish diplomatic efforts reveals inadequate policy with regards to propaganda and coverage of the military operation. One major risk for Turkish national security lies in the fact that the Turkish government failed to influence international opinion on the scope of the threat posed by the PKK/PYD before the operation, failed to influence it during the operation and, it seems, will have to continue to wage its anti-terrorism efforts in highly unfavorable international conditions.

With the Afrin canton in northern Syria under the control of the Turkish army and its administrative center successfully taken, Ankara’s counter-terrorist military operation, “Olive Branch”, is about to reach its objectives. Since its commencement on January 20, the Turkish border operation has been pursuing several objectives; primary among them is clearing the Afrin region of the PYD armed groups who pose a direct threat to Turkey’s national security due to their connection to the Turkey-based terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK, Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê).

Despite its efforts to explain to the international community the underlying motives behind the deployment of troops on Syrian soil, the Turkish government has not received messages of solidarity, either from its Western partners, or from regional players. On March 11, Turkish President Recep Erdogan slammed NATO over its lack of support for the military operation in Afrin, despite the fact that Turkey is a member state of the Alliance whose security is challenged by an international terrorist organization. An unnamed NATO headquarters official, in an interview with the Russian RIA news agency, responded to Erdogan’s criticism by saying that NATO acknowledges Turkey’s legitimate concerns over its national security in Afrin, but the organization cannot participate in the the ongoing operation due to the absence of legitimate reasons for its presence in Syria.

Turkey’s resentment is also directed at the European Union. On March 15, the European Parliament issued a non-binding resolution condemning the Afrin operation and calling upon Turkey to remove its troops from Syria and instead focus on the fight against “the U.N.-listed terrorist organizations”, suggesting that the PYD-affiliated armed groups in Afrin are not a legitimate target. The EP resolution was criticized by the Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik, who described the document as the most visionless decision the European Parliament has made in recent years, and the call for Turkey to withdraw its troops as “clear support for terrorist organizations”. Ankara’s official stance on the move was further elaborated by a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement saying that it is impossible for Ankara to comprehend the resolution of the European Parliament, “who has a well-known history of tolerance towards terrorist organizations”.

The reaction of the Western community and of Turkey’s most-valued long-term security and military partners reveals only a part of the reality. Even though the Turkish military operation “Olive Branch” has so far been successful in fighting the PYD-affiliated armed groups in Afrin, the inadequate support of Turkish allies and the broader international community for the operation may point to serious risks for Turkish foreign policy in the region. Turkey’s fight against the terrorist organization PKK has long been internationalized, with the political setting and conditions in both Turkey’s geographical proximity and Europe having considerable influence on the pace and track of Ankara’s anti-PKK efforts.

Analysis of Turkish diplomatic efforts reveals inadequate policy with regards to propaganda and coverage of the military operation. One major risk for Turkish national security lies in the fact that the Turkish government failed to influence international opinion on the scope of the threat posed by the PKK/PYD before the operation, failed to influence it during the operation and, it seems, will have to continue to wage its anti-terrorism efforts in highly unfavorable international conditions.

The International Reaction to Turkey’s Military Campaign in Afrin

Despite numerous efforts by the Turkish government to explain its concerns over the threats PYD/PKK represent for Turkish national security, Ankara’s western partners and international players showed little support for the military operation in Afrin. On January 25, US President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser Tom Bossert stated that Washington would prefer Turkey to abstain from direct intrusion in Syria and instead focus on “long-term strategic goals” like ending Syria’s war. The major U.S. concern, allegedly, was that deeper Turkish involvement against Kurdish-controlled elements would spoil the power balance and risk major escalation with the participation of U.S. troops.
On January 28, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, when asked about the Alliance’s official position on the “Olive Branch” operation, responded by saying that even though Turkey has a right to self defence, it is important to pursue national security objectives in a proportionate and measured way, implying that military actions may contribute to the destabilization of Western-led efforts in Syria.

On January 29, UN General Secretary Spokesman Stephane Dujarric suggested that the Turkish military operation had led to losses among local civilians in Afrin, directly challenging Turkish official statements, particularly the claims of the Turkish General Staff about the absence of civilian casualties, despite the reports that the operation is complicated by instances when PYD fighters are spotted in civil clothes.

In early February, officials from the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), while acknowledging Turkey’s right to protect its borders, criticized a large-scale crackdown by the Turkish state authorities on anti-war campaigners and dissenters who demanded a quick end to the Turkish army’s military involvement in a foreign country. Western officials underlined that security concerns should not lead to disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms, abuse of the state’s imperfect anti-terrorism laws, and detainment of people on charges of terrorist propaganda due to social media posts.

In late February, French officials, in several separate initiatives, called on the Turkishgovernment to respect UN Security Council resolution 2401 on the Syrian ceasefire, spare civilian lives in Afrin and ensure the supply of humanitarian aid to the region. On February 26, in a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Emmanuel Macron stressed that the ceasefire covered all Syrian territory, including Afrin, and must be put into effect everywhere and by everyone without delay, implying that the PYD shouldn’t be targeted by Turkish forces.

On a regional level as well, the Turkish military operation was received negatively. On January 21, an official statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry described the operation as a serious threat to Syria’s national sovereignty, while Turkish efforts were said to hamper plans to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis and combat terrorism.

Another regional actor, Iraq, whose principal position has been historically important in Turkey’s fight against the PKK insurgency in the Qandil Mountains along the northern border regions of Iraq, linked the operation in Afrin with its own efforts to solve the problem of Turkey’s military presence in Iraq. On February 20, Baghdad issued a statement where it once again called upon Turkey to evict its Turkish base and compromise with the country, whose claims have been backed multiple times by the Arab league. Less critical voices were also heard from the Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, which Turkey has been supporting since the diplomatic crisis broke out last year.

The regional allies of the Syrian government, Iran and Russia, stated that Turkish security concerns can be understood, though the sides must exert self-restraint and avoid turning the Afrin canton into another source of instability. On February 19, Iranian minister of foreign affairs Javad Zarif stated that even though Tehran understands the threats Ankara is facing, Turkey should seek other ways to solve security issues, because intrusion into a neighboring country will not provide a tangible solution. The Russian official position emphasized the provocative actions of the US government in Syria, characterized by its building a military presence using Kurdish elements in the SDF, which ultimately provoked Turkey to undertake extreme measures against the PYD elements in Afrin.

Domestic Politics in Turkey and the Olive Branch Operation

From the very beginning of the Olive Branch operation, the Turkish government adopted a hardline approach toward its critics. By the end of January, the Turkish government had ordered the arrest of more than 300 people on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda over social media. Anti-war campaigners and civil society groups faced outright defamation from high-level officials.

The heavy-handed approach of the Turkish officials was not limited to efforts to silence anti-war critics. On February 15, Turkish former Chief of the Staff Ilker Basbug made a statement that the military campaign should not be turned into “material for domestic politics,” suggesting that both the ruling party and opposition should avoid using security matters for political gains, especially to rally the support of the population before the season of critical national elections. The general’s comments were criticized by Turkish President Erdogan.

Meanwhile, major political parties expressed their support for the military campaign in Afrin. Considerable support has also registered among broader layers of Turkish society. According to the MAK polling and survey firm, the level of public support for the operations in late January was stood at 85%.
These conditions contributed to the consolidation of the information environment in Turkey. The trend was further reinforced by the Turkish government’s efforts to tame critical media over the period before the start of the operation). Lack of security and guarantees against arbitrary arrests of journalists, both Turkish and foreign, also contributed to the lack of discussion on the necessity of the military campaign and critical self-reflection on the part of government officials in regards to the anti-PKK fight in previous years.

International Coverage and Comments on the Olive Branch Operation

From the official statements of Western, regional and local players, we can assume that there are several issues that cause criticism of the Turkish military operation in Syrian Afrin. A major problem for the Turkish government is proving the legitimacy of its military invasion of a foreign country. The Turkish government justified the move by invoking the UN Charter provisions that give states certain rights to such acts in cases when national security is under threat and other means of diplomacy fail to solve the issue.

The problems with the justification of the military campaign partly stem from the fact that the Turkish government has not been cooperating with the Syrian government, a legitimate representative of the Syrian people in the UN, to resolve the PKK issue. A further problem was presented in statements declaring that the Syrian PYD is not a terrorist organization and does not present a threat to Turkish security. These claims are supported by the fact that the Turkish government has been in contact with the PYD on several occasions, most famously during the Shah Euphrates Operations in February 2015. Another point supporting the thesis against Ankara’s justification of the military campaign deals with the cooperation between the PYD-affiliated Syrian Democratic Forces and the United States of America, a major ally of the Turkish government in security matters and the fight against the PKK in Turkey and Iraq.

Further criticism of the military operations revolves around claims that the move is directed either against the Kurdish population of Afrin or the civilian population of the canton. This thesis is supported by claims that the Turkish government uses paramilitary groups, whose background may be traced to the moderate Islamist Syrian movement. The fact that Free Syrian Army groups are not affiliated with the Turkish government via a legal framework prompted many critics to say that the military campaign could lead to war crimes in Afrin.

Finally, a considerable number of comments critical of the Turkish military operation touch upon the Turkish government’s utilization of the move for domestic political interests. The narrative of a Turkish struggle against Western-supported terrorists in Syria suits the plans of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party to consolidate the electorate around nationalist slogans and the idea of a strong ruler at the helm of Turkey.

The Constraints of Turkish diplomacy

Official Turkish diplomatic efforts since the operations began have been directed at the clarification of Turkey’s concerns to the country’s allies and partners in Syria. The meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 16 should be seen in the context of these efforts. The meeting is considered a part of the initiatives to clarify Turkish objectives in Afrin, influence public opinion in the West, and resolve the PKK/PYD issue through diplomatic means. Contacts between Turkey, Russia and Iran have also been serving to mitigate concerns over the military operation in Afrin on the official level. On the local level, the Turkish government approached foreign representatives to explain Ankara’s official position with regards to the PKK in Syria and the security concerns the Turkish government has in light of the military build-up in northern Syria.

On the level of public diplomacy, governmental efforts to clarify the official position and bring the Turkish narrative to the broader international community seem to have failed. The primary reason behind this misfortune is domestic politics, where the Turkish government, through its own actions, contributes to the main theses of the critics of the Olive Branch operation in Afrin. Of particular importance in this context is the use of Ottoman and Islamic narratives in the Turkish media. In the absence of Western journalists in Turkey, and with wide-spread biases around the world, such messages reinforced negative coverage of the military operation. Moreover, the arrests of Kurdish activists and harassment of Kurdish politicians contributed to the narrative that the operation is directed not at the PKK elements in Afrin, but at the Kurdish population per se. In a number of statements, Turkish officials resorted to anti-Western whataboutismwithout providing objective clarification on the military and defensive necessity of the operation.

The Practical dimension of the Mishandled Diplomatic Efforts

It is important to emphasize that the informational environment and coverage of the military operation in the world is tightly linked to Turkey’s efforts to support counter-terrorism and its own political interests in Syria. Failed attempts to withstand the negative reactions from its regional and global partners may negatively impact Turkey’s ongoing fight with the PKK. First of all, a failure to present the Olive Branch as an operation against the PKK, and not the Kurdish population of northern Syria, contributed to the narrative of the PKK’s sympathizers and large support network in Europe, from which the terrorist organization manages to send financial aid to its headquarters in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, thus influencing its activity against Turkish state. Moreover, as the example of Germany shows, failure to provide a credible narrative for the anti-terrorist operation in Afrin may force the European government to listen to the vocal pro-Kurdish community and impose restrictions on the Turkish government, especially with regards to arms exports.

Negative coverage of Turkish actions in Afrin may hinder Ankara’s efforts to gain a stable foothold in the region as well. With a narrative that the Turkish operation is part of an occupation by Islamists or an Ottoman-inspired Turkish voluntarist government may harm Turkish plans to build legitimate self-governance in the Kurdish-majority area in Afrin. A failure to gain credibility and trust among Kurdish civilians may prompt Turkey to tighten its grip on the territory, a step that would definitely raise concerns among Turkish partners in the Astana process and players in the region that have been allergic to Turkish ambitions in recent years.

Olive Branch revealed an ongoing trend in Turkey’s isolation from its Western partners. The trend is further reinforced by the prevalence of anti-Turkish narratives in the Western media. The speculations and narrative, however, are supported by the actions and badly managed PR campaign of the Turkish government. The resulting effect negatively impacts not only Turkey’s relations with Europe and the US, but also the Turkish image in the region, especially among the Arab countries, where the media has been directed by political regimes opposing Turkish activism in the Middle East. A lack of critical debates in Turkey has been a contributing factor to the shift in Turkish foreign policy from diplomatic to military means for resolving national security issues.

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.