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Kurds defending autonomous ‘Rojava’ enclave in Syria

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The situation in Syria may appear after two and a half years to have turned into a static and bewildering slaughter. Neither victory nor defeat seem imminent for any of the sides.

But this picture is not entirely accurate. On one front, at least, there is movement in a clear direction. The Kurds of north eastern Syria are consolidating their autonomous enclave bordering Iraq. The Kurds call this area ‘Rojava’, or western Kurdistan. They have in the last two weeks inflicted a series of telling defeats on Al-Qaeda linked rebels on its borders .

The absence of clarity in the direction of the war in Syria derives partly from the fact that there is no longer a single conflict in the country. Rather, the Syrian civil war has in the last year turned from a straight fight between a regime and a rebellion against it into three inter-locking wars involving a variety of participating elements.

The regime and its allies are still engaged against a mainly Sunni rebellion. An internecine civil war has also broken out in the rebellion itself, pitting the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its hardcore Islamist allies against more locally focused rebel groups.

The third contest is taking place between ISIS and its allies and the Kurdish fighters of the YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units) in the north and east of the country.

The first two wars remain at bloody stalemate. The Kurds, whose goal is survival rather than conquest, are winning the third.

The current Kurdish ‘surge’ began on October 26th with the capture by the YPG of the Yarubiya border crossing in Hasakeh province, between Syria and Iraq. The crossing, known by the Kurds as Tal Kojar, had been held by ISIS since March. The YPG captured it after three days of fighting.

The rebel Syrian National Coalition issued a strange claim following the battle that Iraqi regular fighters had participated alongside the Kurds. In truth, however, the superior organization of the YPG when compared to their Islamist rivals appears to have been the telling factor.

The taking of al-Yarubiya gives the Syrian Kurds full control of an entry and exit point into Iraq for the first time. But its significance goes beyond this.

Hasakeh Province, with a 70% Kurdish majority, is home to the greater part of Syria’s oil reserves. Syria has, according to a 2009 study, 69 billion barrels’ worth of proven oil reserves and probably about 315 billion barrels’ worth of not yet discovered reserves. The great majority of this is in the north east of the country. In March this year, the YPG took over three oil producing towns, most importantly the town of Rumeilan.

Control of Yarubiya gives the Kurds the ability to engage in the export of oil. This fact is not lost both on the jihadis of ISIS, who hope to run their own private oil export operations, and on the Syrian National Coalition, who reminded the Kurds in their statement that the oil belongs to ‘all Syrians.’

Following the Yarubiyeh victory, the Kurds pushed on, capturing 20 villages from ISIS and its allies over the last week. ISIS was joined by additional forces in these battles, including Islamist but non al-Qaeda linked groups.

The YPG’s drive forward concluded in the last days with the complete capture of the strategically important and long-contested Ras al-Ain (Sere Kaniyeh) area, on the border with Turkey. The expulsion of ISIS from the al-Manageer area of the town left the YPG in full control of Ras al-Ain and the road to neighboring Tal Tamer.

These gains mean that the Kurds have now consolidated a clear western ‘borderline’ for their area of control in north east Syria. Their intention, according to Kurdish sources, is now to push further west, towards Tel Abyad.

There the outcome is much less certain, however. Outside of Hasakeh Province, in the areas of sparser outlying Kurdish population in Raqqa and Aleppo provinces, the YPG has enjoyed less success. Many Kurds from these areas have fled to a Kurdish-held enclave in Afrin, further west and not linked to the main area of Kurdish control.

The YPG victories ultimately derive from the greater discipline and organization of this group, in comparison with its jihadi rivals. This reporter has spent time both with the YPG and with the Syrian Arab rebels. The YPG, who were trained by the PKK, exhibit a far superior tactical knowledge and awareness of basic soldiering. Ammunition is carefully conserved. Units move in a coordinated and controlled way.

The rebels, by contrast, are certainly brave, but are often poorly trained and undisciplined.

What the recent fighting means is that the PYD and the YPG are now in firm control of around 10% of the territory of Syria.

‘Rojava’ forms part of a contiguous area of Kurdish control which stretches from Ras al Ain at its western point, through northern Iraq and all the way to the Iranian border. Sharp political divisions remain, however, between the PKK-oriented forces controlling the Syrian enclave, and the Kurdish Regional Government of Massoud Barzani in Northern Iraq.

Hopes of unity remain elusive. A planned and much discussed Kurdish ‘national congress’ bringing together all forces in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil later this month may now not take place. The rivalry between the two key pan-Kurdish forces of the PKK and its associated groups and Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party appears to be for the moment insurmountable.

Still, the YPG’s performance in the fighting over the last two weeks confirms that as the de facto partition of Syria takes shape, ‘Rojava’ is becoming an indelible part of the political landscape.

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Middle East

Abraham’s peace agreements and the Chinese and Russian coordination towards JCPOA

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The Egyptian researcher, as a well-known expert in the Middle East region on Chinese Political Affairs, called for an international interview with the well-known (Bloomberg International News Agency), which is published on Friday, November 26, 2021, regarding (the role of China and Russia in the developments of the Iranian nuclear file within the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”), and its relationship with the “New AUKUS Defense Agreement”, sponsored by Washington to confront the Chinese influence, and its impact on the overall upcoming interactions.

  Considering that my mentioned interview with “Bloomberg News Agency” was going done as well with the current permanent official representatives of China and Russia in the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, namely: the Chinese Ambassador “Wang Qun”, as (the current permanent Chinese envoy to “IAEA”), and Russian Ambassador “Mikhail Ulyanov”, as (the Russian permanent envoy to “IAEA”

   But, despite the mentioned interview was being shortened to a very large extent on the “Bloomberg News Agency Website”, due to the available limited space that has been permitted. So, the Egyptian researcher, as an expert in Chinese Politics has decided to present to all those interested around the world this comprehensive analytical file on the Iranian nuclear issue, from my own perspective and experience to understand the Chinese side in the first place and their direct thinking towards the mechanisms of response towards the (American policy of encirclement / scaling/ restriction/ containment against China). Whatever those names or terminologies are, they are all pouring into American tactical plans and strategies against China.

  Therefore, it has become imperative for all my fellows and researchers around the world who are concerned with the matter, and with the current international interactions, to try to understand and analyze these new data and developments, and bring them into the heart of the current “international equation” and the (policy of American-Russian-Chinese polarization), and then, all of us should try, as well-known international academics and scholars in our regions, to convey the point of view of all its parties. Concerning the impact of these new interactions on the future of the Middle East region and the other places and areas, and the most dangerous to me is that: “The extent of the impact of peace agreements or Israeli normalization with the Arab Gulf states on the future of Sino-American competition and influence in the Middle East”, which is leading to a comprehensive analysis, regarding:

  “The impact of the policy of American alliances directed against Beijing, especially the “New AUKUS Defense Nuclear Agreement”, and before that the “Quad Quartet Agreement” or what is known as “Asian NATO” on the developments of the Iranian nuclear file, within the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”

    Here, we find that China’s support for Tehran is one of the most important current global problems, especially in the face of US policies and the constant pressure on Beijing.  And through my careful reading of the scene in the region, especially in light of these new changes and the reassessment of international relations on new foundations, and the United States of America’s “politics of alliances” to put pressure on the Chinese side in its areas of influence, especially Washington’s signing of the new “Aukus Defense and Security Agreements” with Australia  Britain, and the Quad Quartet Agreement with Japan, India, and Australia.  In addition to my meticulous follow-up of all secret American moves and their attempt to include (Australia and Japan) in the membership of the “Nato Military Alliance”, despite this violation of the “NATO constitution” of itself, given their extreme distance from the two shores of the Atlantic and North Atlantic as one of the basic conditions for “NATO’S membership”. Then the provocative American attempt to open a (permanent branch of the NATO’S military office in the “Indo-Pacific” region – in the American sense – which includes the Indian and Pacific regions), with the aim of restricting Chinese influence in its regional and Asian areas of influence themselves.

From here, the Egyptian researcher reached a number of profound changes in the entire global scene, represented in:

    China’s intensification of its support for Tehran in confronting the United States of America in alliance with Russia to unify their decisions within the corridors of the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, especially after the summit of the American challenge to China in its regional and border surroundings, with the signing of the “New AUKUS Defense Agreement of a nuclear nature, in violation of the terms of membership of the International Agency  for atomic energy in the first place”, and for Beijing to resort to an official complaint to the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”  against the United States of America, alleging a violation and Washington’s violation of the foundations of its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA” by sponsoring the AUKUS nuclear agreement, and the completion of the Australian nuclear submarine deal. This represents a nuclear threat to China, near its neighboring areas of influence in (the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Pacific Ocean region).

    Hence, the new connection came to my mind as an expert in the Chinese political file for many years, with profound changes in the mechanism of making and directing political decisions within Beijing after (AUKUS Defense Alliance sponsored by the United States of America and directed directly to China), then studying and analyzing the extent of its impact on the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency  “IAEA”, and even more dangerous to me is raising the following serious inquiry, on:

  (Can the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA” verify the Chinese complaint against the United States of America for its sponsorship of a nuclear agreement of “Aukus” and the nuclear submarine deal, and pass its decision to impose sanctions on the USA itself)?

   In my personal opinion, there are many changes that have occurred in the global scene as a whole, and the division of the whole world and its adoption of the policy of international alliances and polarization, including certainly China and its ally Russia, which is trying to respond to the network of American alliances to surround it with the work of new counter alliances, especially after the “New AUKUS Defense Agreement”. The Chinese side is also supporting building a network of new regional alliances related to the Middle East, throughout forming an alliance, which includes: (Turkish-Iranian-Pakistani) parties, as an attempt by  China to pressure the “State of India” by threatening its interests in the region, and thus forcing it not to cooperate and withdraw from the the “Quad Quartet Agreement”, which is sponsored by Washington to contain China, which is also called, as an “Asian NATO”.

    Therefore, China has already started planning to respond to “the policy of American alliances against it in Asia in the heart of the Middle East”, by following China’s policy of alliances and polarization of the actors in the region and hostile to Washington, especially in the Middle East, and the Chinese attempt to attract Turkey in particular.  Specifically, given its only membership in the Middle East in the (NATO’S Military Alliance), which is an opportunity for Beijing to form an alliance of countries close to the same American spheres of influence, as Washington does. Therefore, an alliance of Chinese banks, known as the “Consortiums”, expressing its willingness to lend Turkey three billion dollars, in order to finance several stalled projects in Istanbul, which can be considered analytically as (the largest financial support provided by China to the Turkish side in the modern history).

    Accordingly, we can present this new analysis on the impact of the policy of American and Chinese alliances on the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA” in the Iranian nuclear file, or the extent of its ability to exert pressures on the United States of America and its sponsorship of the Aukus nuclear defense agreement, or to impose sanctions on it, according to the official request submitted by the  China.

   Here, we can analyze that the Sino-Iranian strategic cooperation agreement for 25 years, which was concluded in March 2021, and China’s use of Iran’s card in its growing conflict with the United States of America, represents a challenge and a future problem for many countries in the region. Whatever the outcome of future developments and facts in the course of the intertwined relations between China and the United States and Iran in the future, this basically supports the reality of (the foundations of the inauguration of an era in which the United States of America does not have the keys to the main control over the Middle East, with the entry of major and pivotal players such as China and Russia). Therefore, the (multi-polarity) that China advocates is gaining tangible and realistic dimensions, and may develop to a degree that may increase the intensity of the regional competition between the two superpowers, which may exacerbate the instability that the Middle East is constantly witnessing.

    With the growing international role and influence of China and Russia in many files, whichever is (China sharing with Russia the desire to break the American hegemony over the shipping lines in the Middle East), and its most prominent indicators are (China’s pursuit of a military base in Djibouti, and its interest in conducting international shipping operations through waterways).

   China is proceeding here, according to long-term plans to challenge the US military hegemony in the region.  In addition to the Chinese ambition to maximize its role in ensuring security related to the safety of its trade, products and investments with all countries of the world within the framework of the “Chinese Belt and Road Initiative”, with China’s attempt to build new military bases both in the Arab Gulf and the United Arab Emirates to challenge the American influence as it has been circulated since a period in the Middle East, or China’s pursuit of a presence in the Arabian Sea and others, which means the importance of the Middle East in the strategy of the Cold War between the two parties.

   It is worth noting here that recent regional variables may lead to some changes, the most important of which are the “Abraham agreements for political normalization between Israel and the Gulf states, which are signed between several Arab countries with Israel, as they may have strengthened Washington’s position in the region in the face of China”, as an opposing force against the USA. Here, the United States seeks to follow (politics of mobilization and bringing together its partners to confront hostile parties, such as Iran), and then Washington benefits from the political normalization agreements with Israel to consolidate its position and ease the burden of maintaining security against the conflicting partners in the region, especially between the Arabs and Israel.

  But, the United States of America, through its current administration of President “Joe Biden” and during the period of the two previous administrations, has sent turbulent signals about (its inability to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East). Former President “Obama” hesitated at the time to intervene in Syria, and was succeeded by President “Donald Trump” that has suddenly withdrawn and reduced the American presence from it, which raised the fears and suspicions of the leading elites in the region, especially the Arab Gulf, regarding the American commitment (to ensure the security of maritime navigation and the protection of waterways in the region).

    In light of this current situation and growing doubts about the American position, especially the “Joe Biden administration’s focus on the human rights situation in the various countries of the region”, and the American administration’s invitation to the Iraqi side alone from all the countries of the region to participate in the conference of democratic countries in the world, and the current accusations by the administration of “Joe Biden” to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its involvement in the events of September 11, 2001, and demanding of huge amounts of compensations from the Saudi side. So, most of the countries in the region turned towards the other two superpowers, namely: (Russia and China), by activating the official visits with them at the highest levels, and establishing partnership rules in various fields, with  Russia’s desire and ambitions to restore its former global power during the Soviet era, and Russia intensified its military presence in Syria and Libya, as well as the interdependence of the Russian economy with many countries in the Middle East, such as: Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia (through the OPEC Plus system), and then Russia succeeded in restoring its bilateral relations with the countries of the region, and to highlight itself as a neutral mediator in the region’s conflicts. Also, China’s assistance to President “Bashar Al-Assad” against all of the Western pressures, that enabled him to continue and achieve several goals.

  The most important point for the countries of the Middle East region was that the “emergence superpowers of China and Russia in the region are peaceful and respect for the national sovereignty, and seek to maintain the status quo, compared to the USA”. In addition to the increasing interest of some countries in the region in the Russian weapons, besides, the desire of both Russia and China to push “Turkey”, as the most important member of the “NATO alliance” in the Middle East region, to play a pivotal role against the interests of the United States and the NATO’s military alliance itself.

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UAE and the opportunity for an India-Pakistan “sporting war”

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The Dubai Cricket Council chief, Abdul Rahman Falaknaz recently said that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was willing to host a bilateral India-Pakistan cricket series, provided both countries agreed. Said Falaknaz:

 ‘The best thing would be to get India-Pakistan matches here. When Sharjah used to host India and Pakistan all those years ago, it was like a war. But it was a good war, it was a sporting war and it was fantastic’

UAE along with Oman had hosted the recent ICC (International Cricket Council) Men’s T20 World cup (won by Australia). The second half of the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 2021 was also played in UAE (both the World cup and the second half of the IPL had to be shifted from India, because of the Covid19 pandemic). One of the most exciting matches in the Men’s T20 World Cup was the India-Pakistan clash on October 26, 2021 played at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. In spite of political relations between both countries being strained, the match was played in a cordial atmosphere. Pakistan one the contest by 10 wickets, and it was for the first time that it had beaten India in a World Cup match.

While scores and statistics relating to the match will remain only on paper, the image of Indian Captain Virat Kohli hugging Pakistani batsman Mohammad Rizwan after the match, in a wonderful display of sportsmanship, will be etched in the minds not just of cricket fans, but countless Indians and Pakistanis who yearn for normalisation of ties between both countries. The Indian captain did draw criticism on social media from trolls, but his gesture was also lauded by many cricketing fans in India.

India and Pakistan have not played any bilateral series, since 2013 ever since bilateral tensions have risen but have been playing each other in international tournaments. Significantly, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Sharjah was an important cricketing venue, which was witness to many gripping ODI cricket contests between India and Pakistan. After match fixing controversies in 2000, India stopped playing in Sharjah and as a result for some time, UAE’s importance as a cricketing venue declined significantly.

Ever since 2009 Abu Dhabi and Dubai have emerged as important cricketing centres, since Pakistan has been playing most of its home series (Tests and One Day Internationals) in UAE (after a terrorist attack on a Sri Lankan team bus in 2009, most countries have been reluctant to play cricket in Pakistan, though Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and West Indies have visited Pakistan)

Possibility of a cricket series in UAE

While it is always tough to hazard a guess with regard to India-Pakistan relations, there have been some positive developments in recent weeks; the re-opening of the Kartarpur Religious Corridor after 20 months, and Pakistan’s decision to allow a consignment of 50,000 tonnes of wheat and life saving drugs  from India for Afghanistan, to transit through its territory (the Pakistan government stated that it had made this exception, because this consignment was for humanitarian purposes). While there have been calls to revive people to people and trade linkages between both countries, especially between both Punjabs, playing a cricket series either in India and Pakistan seems unlikely at least in the imminent future.

The UAE as a neutral venue, for a bilateral series, has a number of advantages, which include not just the fact, that it is home to a large South Asian expat population (a large percentage of which consists of cricket enthusiasts), but also that matches would be played in a more relaxed atmosphere, with lesser pressure on players from both countries. UAE, an economic hub which has become increasingly cosmopolitan in recent years, has also been trying to promote local cricket and generate interest in the game amongst locals (other GCC countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have also been trying to do the same, but UAE possesses a number of advantages vis-à-vis these countries). Hosting an India-Pakistan series will benefit the country immensely. Apart from this, if the UAE is able to convince both countries to play a cricketing series, it will also enhance not its diplomatic stock (it would be pertinent to point out, that UAE is supposed to have been one of the countries which played a part in the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan — across the Line of Control/LOC earlier this year).

  In conclusion, the revival of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan is no mean task, but it would be easier on a neutral territory like UAE, which also has a substantial South Asian expat population interested in cricket. Not only will hosting a bilateral series between India and Pakistan, help the UAE in achieving its objective of emerging as an important cricketing hub for South Asia, and enhance the country’s soft power considerably, but it will also be a big achievement in diplomatic terms. Soft power, including cricket has been one of the important components in the links between UAE and South Asia in the past, it remains to be seen if in the future, the role of soft power, via cricket, becomes more crucial in linkages between UAE-South Asia.

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Turkey’s Foreign Policy Balancing Act

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It is often claimed that Turkey made a definitive break with the West in the 2000s after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. The argument is that by changing direction internally, Ankara turned away from what the West was hoping to achieve in terms of its relations with Turkey.

Since 2003, Turkey has indeed increased its influence in all the geopolitically important regions on its borders: the Black Sea, the South Caucasus, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and Syria-Iraq. A general concept explaining this development can be found by looking at the map. There is no single great power in Turkey’s neighborhood which opens the door for greater Turkish economic and military engagement along its borders. Even Russia, arguably the biggest power near Turkey, could not prevent Ankara from giving its decisive support to Azerbaijan during the recent Second Karabakh War. Turkish troops, albeit a limited number, are now stationed on Azerbaijani soil alongside Russian.

The real reason for Turkey’s increasing engagement remains the Soviet collapse, though that engagement occurred over a longer period than many analysts expected. It took decades for Turkey to build its regional position. In 2021, it can safely be argued that Ankara has made a success of this venture. It is close to having a direct land corridor to the Caspian Sea (through Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan) and increases its military posture in the Mediterranean, and views northern Syria and Iraq as territories that can potentially provide strategic depth for an Anatolian defense.

A revealing element in Ankara’s foreign policy is that geography still commands the country’s perception of itself and its place in the world, perhaps more so than for any other large country. Rather than being attached solely to the Western axis, over the past two decades, Turkey has pursued a multi-vector approach to foreign affairs.

The country is on the European periphery. Its experience is similar to Russia’s in that both have absorbed extensive western influence, whether in institutions, foreign policy, or culture. Both have been anchored for centuries on the geopolitics of the European continent. Because a multi-vector foreign policy model provides more room for maneuver, economic gains, and growth of geopolitical power, both countries wanted to break free of their single-axis approach to foreign policy.

But neither Turkey nor Russia has had an opportunity to break its dependence on the West entirely. The West has simply been too powerful. The world economy revolved solely around the European continent and the US.

Turkey and Russia have significant territories deep in Asia and the Middle East, as well as geopolitical schools of thought that consider Europe-oriented geopolitical thinking contrary to state interests, particularly as the collective West has never considered either Turkey or Russia to be fully European. The two states have always pursued alternate geopolitical anchors, but had difficulty implementing them. No Asian, African, or any other geopolitical pole has proven sufficient to enable either Turkey or Russia to balance their ties with the West.

No wonder, then, that over the past two decades Turkey has been actively searching for new geopolitical axes. For Ankara, close relations with Russia is a means to balance its historical dependence on European geopolitics. The same foreign policy model can explain Moscow’s geopolitical thinking since the late 2000s, when its ties with Asian states developed quickly as an alternative to a dependence on, and attachment to, Western geopolitics.

Thus we come to the first misconception of Turkish foreign policy: that Ankara is distancing itself from the West with the aim of eventually breaking those ties entirely. Breaking off relations with NATO is not an option for Turkey. Its goal is to balance its deep ties with the West, which for various reasons were no longer producing the benefits it was hoping for, with a more active policy in other regions. Hence Turkey’s resurgence in the Middle East.

Turkey’s Middle East pivot (championed by former FM Ahmet Davutoglu) is not an exceptional development in the country’s foreign policy. During the Cold War, when Turkey’s focus on the Western axis was strong, leftist PM Bulent Ecevit promoted the idea of a “region-centric” foreign policy. The main takeaway was that Ankara should pursue diversification of external affairs beyond its traditional Western fixation, meaning deeper involvement in the Middle East and the Balkans. In 1974-1975, then Turkish deputy PM Necmettin Erbakan tried to pivot Ankara toward the Arab world. There were even attempts to build closer ties with the Soviets.

But throughout this period of reorientation, no move was ever made to sever relations with the West. Turkish politicians at the time believed diversification of foreign ties would benefit the country’s position at the periphery of Europe overlooking the volatile Middle East. The diversification would not hurt the country’s Western axis but would in fact complement it.

Contrary to the belief that Atatürk was solely interested in Turkey’s Western axis, the country under his leadership had close ties with nearby Middle Eastern states, as was necessary considering the geopolitical weight of those states at the time. Thus he hosted Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1934, and in 1937 signed a non-aggression pact with Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The pursuit of a multi-vector foreign policy has been a hallmark of Turkish political thinking. Even during Ottoman times, when a Europe-centered foreign policy was inescapable, the sultans sought alternatives to their dependence on Great Britain and France. Following the disastrous 1877-1878 war with Russia, Sultan Abdul Hamid began a cautious balancing effort by building closer ties with Imperial Germany, a trend that contributed to the German-Turkish alliance forged during WWI.

Returning to the present day, the Chinese factor is causing a reconfiguration in Turkey-West relations. The Asian pivot brings economic promise and increases Ankara’s maneuverability vis-à-vis larger powers like Russia and the EU. This fits into the rise of Turkish “Eurasianism,” the aspirations of which are similar to those that have motivated Russia for the past decade or so.

Turkey’s policies toward the West and the ongoing troubles in bilateral ties can best be described as intra-alliance opposition. It is true that in recent years, Turkey’s opposition to the West within the alliance has intensified markedly, but it has not passed the point of no return. Ankara is well aware that it remains a valuable ally to the collective West.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia today

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