THE KREMLIN AND THE PORTE REVOLUTIONIZE THE CENTRE OF THE OLD WORLD
On August 9, in St. Petersburg, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will meet Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The moment is revolutionary. There has not been a comparable political turning-point in the 67 years since the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); not in the century since the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany against Russia in World War I; nor in the two centuries since Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II and the Russian Tsar Alexander I aligned against Napoleon and the British.
Russian sources say they are sure the Russian secret services did not warn Erdogan or help his forces prevail in the July 15-16 coup against him. After Erdogan began his counter-coup, and in the fight still continuing between Erdogan’s Islamic forces and the regular Turkish military, the sources add, there has been, and there will be, Russian help. It is more for the future, they explain, than for last week’s outcome that Turkish deputy prime minister Mehmet Şimşek told his counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich in Moscow on Tuesday: “I would like to thank you for support regarding recent events in Turkey, for supporting democracy and the Turkish government.”
The Russian sources say it is already agreed the two sides will pay a soon-to-be settled price in two-way trade; gas, nuclear and other energy projects; plus tourism. Much more is at stake, though, one of the sources adds. “Putin and his advisors believe Erdogan is still in danger. They support him now for the opportunity to reorganize the relationship with Turkey. They mean to secure Russia from encirclement on the southern frontier and the Black Sea, dismemberment of the Caucasus, and attack on the Kremlin by its enemies. Right now, as Europe collapses, the enemy is the US with NATO in support. If Turkey breaks with the US, NATO is a paraplegic. We shall see how Putin and Erdogan choose to portray the new Rome*, the new Byzantium* next Tuesday.”
The new alliance agenda was formalized at a Security Council meeting on Monday afternoon. The Kremlin announced: “The President briefed the permanent members of the Security Council on his recent telephone conversations with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in the context of preparations for the visit by the President of Turkey to Russia scheduled for early August.”
Omitted were the military and intelligence briefings Putin received from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief, Mikhail Fradkov; the deputy director of the council, Rashid Nurgaliyev; and the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov.
Russian sources dismiss the foreign press narrative of last week’s military coup attempt suggesting Arab and Israeli foreknowledge of the coup. “Plotting, bribing, and wishful thinking there were,” one of the sources comments. “But knowing and participating – that’s not what happened.”
In an analysis of the military operations in Istanbul and Ankara, Yevgeny Krutikov, correspondent of Vzglyad in Moscow, has reported there was no coordination between the Turkish Army, Navy and Air Force; poor command and control within each of the services; and inadequate troops and firepower on the streets to combat the turnout in Erdogan’s favour.
“There were simply not enough rebels. There was no chain of command. The ‘capture units’ for important facilities consisted of a maximum of 10 people under the command of officers from captain’s rank to lieutenant colonel. Among the insurgency leadership there wasn’t anyone above the rank of colonel. The entire ‘[rebel] company’ has done what it could. To try to seize power in a highly militarized country’s forces [you need] more than a tank battalion and a pair of helicopters. For bigger divisions they [rebels] just could not give any orders — without bumping into the requirement they answer a reasonable question: who are you anyway?”
Did the Russian intelligence services help Erdogan? “That’s unreal,”according to Krutikov. “There was no agreement at all between the Russian and Turkish intelligence services. Besides, all contacts were frozen after the downing of the Russian aircraft [SU-24]. Radio signals of the manoeuvres of the coup’s armed forces were monitored by our military troops. There is a little likelihood this information was transmitted to the Turkish special services.”
Russian sources are non-committal on what role US military and intelligence agencies played during the July 15 events at the Incirlik airbase and elsewhere to encourage, or not to discourage, the attempt at overthrowing Erdogan. What is certain now, as Erdogan tries to mop up, according to Greek and Cypriot analysts, is that Turkey has turned against the US and the NATO alliance. “Turkey is now moving away from western dependence,” says a well-informed region source who asks not to be identified. “This makes sense geopolitically because the west has lost control in the Middle East. Other close western allies in the region, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, are becoming autonomous, in the sense that they don’t obey the US. This is because the US can no longer act as a hegemon. Washington can’t dictate, or even recommend solutions to conflicts or rivalries, like Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Palestine. Now, with or without direct US involvement in the Turkish coup, Erdogan sees his chance to make Turkey more autonomous, so he is taking it.”
Russian sources agree. Referring to Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (right), whose plan of attack against Russia in Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, and Cyprus have been reported here and here, a Moscow source concludes: “The Nuland plots have all failed. The US can no longer talk to the Turks. Losing Turkey to Erdogan and his Islamists also means the US can dictate no longer in the region. You can’t expect the Americans will take it lying down. There’s no government in Washington right now. But if Clinton wins, there will be a US fight-back. It will be too late.”
As French princesses and Nuland have publicly suggested, revolutions require cakes, or at least cookies. The short-term payoffs to Erdogan’s business constituents, and Putin’s, were tabled swiftly at the July 26 meeting between Dvorkovich and Simsek (below,left, right); and at the following meeting between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Turkish Economic and Energy Ministers, Nihat Zeybekci and Berat Albayrak. Details of their talks can be read here.
Military sources believe Erdogan’s position is still far from assured. “The numbers and the spread of the purges tell you this is a continuous coup, which could turn into ethnic or communal revolts at any time, or civil war. Russia is positioning itself, as it did in the past, in favour of the stability of the Turkish state – right now this means Erdogan. The Kremlin is against breakup. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a weak Turkey meant to Moscow that Russia’s enemies gained control of the vital Russian interests of the time, such as the Straits.”
Greek, Cypriot and Russian sources questioned about the current course of events say the principal Russian objectives are obvious. Erdogan should stop the export of jihadis, ISIS, and sedition towards the Russian Caucasus in the form of the Chechens. He must also stop his regime-changing tactics in Syria, and not less in the Balkans and in Central Asia. The sources believe that in his current predicament Erogan is a better bet for the Kremlin than the Turkish military, or the so-called Kemalist or Gulenist political groups, encouraged by the US. If the pro-American or NATO elements can be uprooted and destroyed, Russia is bound to feel more secure — so long as Erdogan’s Sunni Islamic orientation will make its peace with Russia, as the Shiites of Iran and Iraq are doing.
According to a Russian military historian, “Putin today can’t be different from the Tsar [Nicholas II] in 1914. Unpredictability and instability in Turkey are threats to Russia, because they let more powerful enemies in.” For a western historian’s conclusion on the same point, read this.
Political economists in Moscow see the reciprocal benefit for Moscow and Ankara if the South Stream (aka Turkish Stream) gas pipeline project can be revived. Gazprom will assure the sale of larger volumes of gas south and westwards; Turkey can benefit from becoming an energy hub, not only for Russian gas, but also for new flows from Israel, perhaps Lebanon, potentially even Cyprus.
A well-known Cypriot analyst observes: “Yes, Cyprus is better off, though the situation around us is tragic. At least, hegemony, western hegemony, is finished. This is good because a large part of the [Cyprus] problem came from that [Anglo-American] hegemony and its efforts to maintain itself. Their subversion of Arab modernization has been the greatest crime of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.”
“Back to Cyprus — with multiple guarantees, not only from the west, and with Turkey more autonomous, and no longer the pawn of anybody, the guarantees for [reunified] Cyprus will be more realistic. They will reflect the real balance of power geographically, and also of the future.”
There is regional support for Putin’s rapprochement with Erdogan, even among the bitterest historical enemies of the Turks. They view the Kremlin as a more reliable curb on Turkish military adventures and expansion than the Americans, British or NATO have proved to be. Says the Cypriot analyst: “Natural gas is the future of Cyprus for all political wings. But moving the economy right now are tourism, and the increasing role of Russian capital, and also the small but growing Russian community. Russia has multiple roles to play in Cyprus. It is probably the force that appeals to the broadest cross-section of the people — to the masses on the left; lately to the centre, and to a section of the religious right, after almost a century, though they aren’t an autonomous force themselves yet. If now Russia becomes friends with Turkey, then we may even have Turkish Cypriot friends.”
[*] Footnote: The doctrine of the new or third Rome refers to the Russian Orthodox idea that Moscow has succeeded, or will in God’s due course, succeed ancient Rome and Byzantine Constantinople as the centre of true Christianity and its empire.
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