Turkey hopes to use an Idlib model against PYD in northern Syria

Every day it becomes even more harder for Turkish diplomats to determine who is their genuine ally. The conflict that has dragged on for several years in neighbouring Syria has thoroughly tainted Ankara’s relations with its main military-political ally, the United States. The reason is that the tow nations are trying to maintain their influence in Syria, but they seemed to fail to find a common denominator, as it was the case at the very beginning of the conflict. The United States works closely with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey considers this organization to be part of a terrorist network that has been threatening the country's territorial integrity for more than 30 years. To exert pressure on the US decision-makers, Turkey is ready to use any opportunity, including developing cooperation on Idlib with Russia.

In general terms, Turkey’s position on US cooperation with Syrian Kurds is influenced by two interrelated factors. Most important of them is that the United States did not provide Turkey, despite numerous attempts to achieve clarity, a clear explanation of how long the cooperation with the Syrian Kurds will continue. At the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, the American authorities insisted on a rather forced, rather than voluntary coordination of the international coalition in the fight against ISIS (IS, Islamic State - a terrorist organization prohibited in Russia) with the only effective force on the ground - the Syrian Kurds united under the PYD’s military wing, YPG.

Today, when the threat from terrorists in the military-political sphere is largely neutralized, the US authorities declare  the need to cooperate with the Syrian Kurds to counter Iranian military forces in Syria. At the same time, while the Americans are moving away from specifics in a dialogue with their Turkish partners, the Syrian Kurds are building a real "garrison state" in the territory under their control. According to Turkish data , for the entire period of cooperation, the Americans transferred to the Kurds over 5000 trucks and 2 thousand aircraft full of lethal ammunition that may be used in future clashes with Turkish security and military personnel, this time on the Turkish soil.

A number of observers are convinced that the level of aid supplied by Western countries does not match the nature and degree of threat posed by ISIS terrorists still operating in the desert regions of eastern Syria.  Turkish leadership is even more worried about the construction of US military bases, some of which also include the military of several European countries. Fortification of Western positions in the PYD-dominated territories complicates any military operation for the risk of collateral damage inflicted on Turkey’s NATO allies.

The fears of the Turkish authorities are justified. And the point here is not in the military cooperation of its allies with political forces that threaten the very national security of Turkey alone. Ankara's particular attention is focused on attempts by the PYD to use current situation to legitimize its political model of an autonomous federation, which Kurdish separatists intend to implement in Turkey, where more than 50% of all Kurds in the Middle East live today.

In these rather painful conditions for Ankara, the US military not only refuses to recognize the connection of the PYD with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, despite multiple Turkish protests, but also supports the negotiations of Syrian Kurds with Damascus, including talks on granting autonomy to the northern territories of the country, dominated by the Syrian Kurdish factions.

For these reasons, Ankara continues to put pressure on the US administration in close conjunction with diplomatic initiatives to resolve the problem of Syrian Kurds in a conflict-free manner. The operation in Afrin in the beginning of this year, as well as a series of limited air strikes in the area bordering with Syria Sinjar mountain range in Iraq in April 2017 indicates the presence of a clear plan for Ankara to purge the entire Syrian border from all anti-Turkish organizations.

News about the concentration of Turkish army units near the Syrian Tel-Abyad area, one of the administrative centres of political entity under the control of the PYD, also indicates Ankara’s determination to undertake such operations in the presence of the American troops. But do not think that a military invasion in Syria is the only thing that Turkey can offer. Ankara's diplomatic initiatives include negotiations with the United States on the peaceful and gradual liberation of city of Menbij from the pro-PYD elements and its transfer to the local forces that are neutral towards Turkey.

Turkey wants to use the model of cooperation with the United States on the evacuation of armed detachments of the PYD supporters from Menbij and in other cities on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. Nevertheless, the pace of implementation of the Menbij road map does not suit Ankara’s plans because of the unwillingness of some US allies on the ground to risk relations with the Kurds, so Turkey hopes to strengthen its diplomatic front with successful cooperation with Russia in other areas.

It is noteworthy that after the Sochi summit Putin and Erdogan agreed on Idlib and that heads of diplomatic offices sharply criticized US actions in northern Syria. Russia's support (albeit in words) of Turkey’s position, which unequivocally regards Syrian Kurds under the leadership of the PYD as terrorists, gave enough reasons to the Turkish leadership to hope for Russian support in the event of a conflict, once it evolves in the military phase. But at the same time, it is important to note that there is no evidence of whether Moscow is really ready for this at this stage of the Syrian conflict. However, it is obvious that the Russian leadership does not miss the opportunity to keep the conflict between Turkey and the United States over Syrian Kurds in a heated state.

Moreover, Russia now can not afford to refuse to work with the Syrian Kurds, and it hardly considers it necessary. The Russian leadership has repeatedly stated its intention to consider the Syrian Kurdish issue in the framework of an inter-Syrian settlement. As part of this position, Moscow does not share the position of Ankara that the issue has a regional dimension and directly affects the national security of Turkey. In addition, Kurds have established themselves as a rational political force capable of negotiation, whose interests largely coincide with the interests of the Syrian government on principle issues.

It is important to note that the Russian position on the Syrian Kurds is much more dependent on the actions of the United States than on the political course of the Turkish government. Russia's desire to see Syrian Kurds as full participants in the Syrian negotiations, including in the framework of the dialogue on the rights of autonomy, indicates the fundamental desire of Russian diplomats to maintain an independent position on the Syrian-Kurdish problem.

But at the same time, Turkey hopes to use the groundwork of cooperation with Russia in the fight against terrorists in Idlib against Syrian-Kurdish armed groups. Ankara is trying to work out a model of conflict-free elimination of the terrorist threat by dissociating radical groups from moderate opposition, disbanding terrorist gangs with the subsequent integration of their members into local structures and, finally, the physical destruction of irreconcilable radical representatives. In addition, the “idlib model”, if successful, can be applied in the eastern Euphrates: Turkey can potentially eliminate the terrorist threat without significantly destabilizing the territory in northern Syria.

Yet there is still the possibility of conflict. The Menbij map is unlikely to lead to satisfying results in Ankara’s eyes, the negotiations are most likely caused by the need to formally have at least some positive agenda in bilateral relations between two NATO allies. In Idlib, however, terrorist elements retain considerable military and political influence on the ground, despite all attempts by the Turkish side to influence the situation in favour of moderate opposition.

At the same time, the American leadership made it clear that it would linger in Syria, hinting at the continuation of cooperation with the Syrian Kurds. Within this perspective, it is worth expecting that Turkey will strive to use its cooperation with Russia in Syria for the sake of its interests in the issue of fighting the PKK. For Russia, this circumstance carries certain risks - at a minimum, Ankara may require breaking off relations with the Syrian Kurds. But on the other hand, Moscow can get the opportunity to achieve significant concessions from Turkey in the framework of the Syrian talks.


What Erdogan's fight against bureaucratic oligarchy really means

At the height of debates in Turkey on the country's transition to the presidential system, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was noted to have said: “My biggest enemy in the bureaucracy is bureaucratic oligarchy. Politicians can be as successful as they are in fighting the oligarchy in the bureaucracy. ” Erdogan's words at that time could have been taken as a declaration of war against one of the alternative circles of government that had been taking care of the Turkish nation for so long, without letting the institutions of democracy grow stronger.

Due to the particular path of the country's political development, which began at the beginning of the century to catch up with Western countries in building a national state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, such institutions as the army, bureaucracy and courts served for a long time the interests of the Kemalist elites. By the end of the twentieth century, although the influence of the Kemalist party had weakened, important state institutions still remained in their hands.

Under these conditions, Erdogan’s party, which came to power in 2002, was forced to lead the country. The then-announced program of the new leadership of the country to democratize the political system under the auspices of the reforms, on the recommendations of the European Union, first of all tried to dismantle the exaggerated influence of the army and courts on political processes. The rich experience of military coups and subsequent emergency legislation prompted Erdogan and his associates that the attack on the autonomy of undemocratic centers of power should be conducted in conditions of high legitimacy and international support.

It is only by 2010 when Erdogan was able to secure necessary support inside and outside the country: in a constitutional referendum, the fate of the Kemalist establishment was actually decided in the courts and in the army. In 2009-2011, the country was shaken by the trials of current and former high-ranking officers of the Turkish army, accused of planning to overthrow a democratically elected government.

The first 10 years of his time in power, the Justice and Development Party was in close cooperation with the religious movement of Fethullah Gülen. The point here was not even in the common ideological views of Erdogan and Gülen, but in the desire of both by joint efforts to put the entire bureaucratic apparatus under control. The initial backlog of democratic reforms of state bodies, aimed at increasing the transparency of their activities, personnel appointments and expenses, was eventually replaced by a trend towards even greater centralization and politicization.

Politicization of the bureaucracy was a conscious step of the ruling circles. On the one hand, this process increased the control of political power over state resources and the repressive apparatus. For the ambitions of individual Turkish politicians, it was extremely important to have such a significant resource that could be used to suppress former ideological comrades in the fight against the Kemalist establishment.

On the other hand, politicization was part of the government’s strategy for the economic development of the country. In Turkey, an unofficial majority and government contract continues to operate: an increase in the level of welfare of the population in exchange for condescension to the authorities' attempts to establish political hegemony by resorting to semi-legal, not entirely democratic measures. Subordinated to the political will of power, the bureaucracy, forced to act under the pressure of opportunistic interests of the government, must be a good executor of decisions of political power endowed with a democratic mandate.

Today, the rhetoric of the authorities to combat the so-called bureaucratic oligarchy, which is trying to protect itself from the encroachments of the democratically elected government on its interests, is aimed at legitimizing radical measures to clean up the bureaucracy from any source of opposition.

The official propaganda of the authorities about the existence of a threat to the state in the face of individual bureaucratic circles does not correspond to the realities of the processes of the past 16 years. For more than 10 years of being in power, the ruling Justice and Development Party has managed to put its appointees on the ground. The degree of influence of loyal cadres in the bureaucracy on the political processes in the country was demonstrated in July 2016 during a coup attempt organized by supporters of the former ally of the ruling party, Gulen. Finally, with the transition of Turkey in June 2018 to the new political system, the bureaucracy, like the parliament, lost the ability to effectively influence the president.

There is a paradoxical picture. For a long time Erdogan’s popularity was based on his image of a fighter with the remnants of the regime, who for more than half a century tried to force the Turkish nation on an authoritarian model of social development. The collapse of the Kemalist influence in the army, the courts and the bureaucracy was accompanied by promises of the authorities to carry out radical democratic transformations, as a result of which the right to control the government was returned to the people.

Today, Turkey is ruled by an extremely centralized, non-transparent government, which does not shy away from resorting to the suppression of opposition votes. It turns out that Turkey of the beginning of the XXI century has not gone far from Turkey of the past era: the power elites of today are still ambitious in building an ideal society without attention to the interests of the entire population, and not just supporters.

The result of such a policy of the authorities is seen primarily in the context of the quality and worldviews of officials. In the ranks of the bureaucracy, there are noticeably fewer supporters of Turkey’s intensive relations with Western countries. At the same time, people with conservative and strongly pronounced religious views gained considerable weight, which is explained by the intensive recruitment of people from religious tarikats into state structures. Politicization of the bureaucracy with the spread of the idea of ​​electing supporters of the government closed access to people of other worldviews and political preferences. In the actions of the state there has been a shift in the implementation of state policy through domination and suppression, rather than through consultation and consensus.

It is difficult to say how these processes will affect the future of the country, especially the quality of government. However, the symptoms of an increasing crisis are already visible. Recently, the Turkish government entered into an agreement with the international anti-crisis company McKinsey. The agency will provide consulting services to stabilize the economic policy of Turkey. It is alarming that Western companies, branded by Erdogan in the past as part of a global conspiracy against the independence of Turkey, are taking the whole state apparatus of the country under their patronage.

Originally published in Russian: http://www.ng.ru/vision/2018-10-03/5_7324_erdogan.html


Gazprom leaves Turkey for the sake of TurkStream and Akkuyu

By Maxim But

The sale of shares of the Turkish Bosphorus Gaz by Gazprom was a predictable step, decision has been going on the agenda for the last several years. The leading expert of the National Energy Security Fund, a lecturer of the Financial University of the Russian Federation Government, Stanislav Mitrokhovich, reveals details.

"For many years Gazprom Company has been present on the domestic market of Turkey, earning gas for end consumers by selling gas - as is known, this is a much more marginal type of business than wholesale trade, which it conducted through the presence in Turkish companies-traders, for which it bought up weighty shares in these companies, but Ankara did not like it, because of this Turkish government did everything to squeeze the Russian company from the domestic market.

Turkish leadership cleared the place for its own business, limiting the incomes of the Russian partner by introducing tariff regulation - not the most friendly action on the part of Ankara. And the fact that Gazprom intends to leave the Turkish gas market was clear for a couple of years ago - immediately after the warming of relations between the two countries against the background of the Russian plane shot down by the Turkish military. That is, it is part of the agreements between Moscow and Ankara," the analyst said.

"Gazprom" announced the completion of sale of its Turkish asset Bosphorus Gaz. The Russian holding acquired 71% of this company in 2009, but in September 2018 Bosphorus Gaz was excluded from the list of affiliated legal entities with the Russian company. A few weeks ago, Gazprom's deputy chairman of the board, Alexander Medvedev, said that the events on the Turkish market are complex, including in connection with the economic situation. This he announced the sale of a stake in Bosphorus Gaz.

"There is nothing critical in the sale of shares of the Turkish company by Gazprom - most likely, the Russian holding will leave the domestic market of this country in the near future." Turkey left profitable retail sales of resources to its businessmen, Gazprom received wholesale trade - on interstate contracts.As part of the general energy relations between Turkey and Russia, this will eventually become a positive factor.

Now Moscow and Ankara realize two large energy projects at once: two threads of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant are in progress. The departure of Gazprom from the domestic market of Turkey is part of the agreements that allowed the establishment of comfortable and mutually beneficial relations between Moscow and Ankara, providing support for major projects. Although the Turkish side is trying to get a price - if it built its ground part of the gas pipeline on time, the gas from the first thread would already have been pumped from Russia to Turkey bypassing Ukraine, "the expert points out.

Previously, Gazprom had already sold its assets to the trader Akfel Holding, nationalized at the end of 2016. Considering the sale of Bosphorus Gaz, the Russian holding already this year can completely leave the Turkish market. The official representative of Gazprom, Sergei Kupriyanov, said earlier that the holding would adapt a specific model of work in the Turkish gas market for a long-term perspective under the changing conjuncture of the country's energy market. The buyer of the share of Gazprom was the local Sen Group, which now owns the remaining 29% in Bosphorus.

In Turkey, Russian gas is supplied to the state-owned oil and gas company Botas and private companies, which, under the decision of the country's leadership, are granted the right to import fuel from Russia. Within the contracts concluded in 2013 with Gazprom, they receive about 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year and sell it on the domestic market.

"It is not profitable for Turkey to seek an alternative to Russian gas - Ankara will not find such an advantageous environment anywhere else." On the other hand, Moscow does not need the Middle East partner to follow principles and actively work on other directions of deliveries, while the Russian and Turkish sides are interested in implementation of large energy projects.

Therefore, in 2016 bilateral agreements were concluded, beneficial to both parties, and Gazprom's departure from the domestic Turkish market became a part of them. In the long term, the Turkish Stream is a much more important project, and Ankara guarantees that the project will be implemented. Sticks in the wheel "Akkuyu", too, no one will put.

Interstate relations between Russia and Turkey are rather complicated. They include not only energy projects, but also many other economic spheres. In particular, the return of Turkish goods to the Russian market, the return of our tourists to the resorts of the Middle Eastern partner, the permission of the Turks to work in Russia. Both Ankara and Moscow pursue their own goals in the development of relations, therefore each time to achieve the goal it is necessary to make compromises , this is normal in international diplomacy," concludes Stanislav Mitrokhovich.