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New dynamism in Russia-Turkey relations?

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Until a few days ago there were no hopes that Turkey and Russia would see eye to eye for years as many critics wrote obituary to Russo-Turkish relations thanks to which the NATO got a shot in its terror arms. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the shooting of Russian plane angering the Kremlin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued sanctions against Turkey following the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by the Turkish air force on Nov. 24. The document, signed on Nov. 28, envisages restrictions on the import of certain types of products from Turkey. Russia suspended the visa-free travel regime for Turkish citizens, Russian employers will not be allowed to hire Turkish nationals, and charter flights will be banned.

The collapse in relations between Turkey and Russia, as well as between Erdogan and Putin has been dramatic. Not only did Putin branded Erdogan’s forces accomplices of terror after they shot down a Russian military jet due to repeated airspace violations on Russia’s behalf, Erdogan fired insults back. Both leaders accused one another of trading oil with Islamists and Russia introduced trade and travel sanctions on Turkey.

Russo-Turkish relations have always been stained. From the late 16th to the early 20th centuries, relations between the Ottoman and Russian empires were often strained, as the two powers were engaged in a number of Russo-Turkish wars. However, in the 1920s, as a result of the Bolshevik Soviet assistance to Turkish revolutionaries during the Turkish War of Independence, the governments of Moscow and Ankara developed warm relations. In 1932 the Turkish Republic took its first foreign loans from the Soviet Union, and the first 5-year economic and industrial development plan of Turkey (1934–1938) was largely modeled after the 5-year plans of the Soviet Union, which seemed to perform well during the Great Depression; despite setbacks such as the Soviet famine of 1932–33, which was largely hidden from the outside world. The good relations between Moscow and Ankara lasted until Joseph Stalin demanded Soviet bases on the Turkish Straits after the Montreux Convention in 1936, most notably at the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and placed itself within the Western alliance against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, when relations between the two countries were at their lowest level.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between Turkey and Russia quickly improved and the two countries eventually started to rank among each other’s largest trade partners. Russia became Turkey’s largest provider of energy, while many Turkish companies began to operate in Russia. In this period, Turkey became the top foreign destination for Russian tourists. However, the warm bilateral relations of the past two decades have been severely strained after the November 2015 jet shoot down incident, when a Turkish F-16 combat aircraft shot down a Russian Su-24 during an airspace dispute close to the Turkish-Syrian border.

Turkish President Erdogan eventually apologized on Nov. 24, 2015 for downing a Russian jet in November and triggered a seven-month-long crisis in bilateral relations. However, majority of Russians do not think their government should hurry to accept Erdogan’s apology. The results of the opinion poll indicate how the negative coverage in the Russian media concerning Turkey, has affected the Russian people.

A process of normalization of relations was launched following the apology: Putin and Erdogan had their first telephone conversation since the November incident, the parties agreed to meet in person in the near future, and restrictions on travel to Turkey for Russian tourists were lifted.

Late in the evening of July 15, a military coup was attempted in Turkey. The attempt to seize power was organized by a group of officers from the country’s military police and air force. According to the latest reports, the death toll in Turkey has climbed to 265 and about 1,440 more were injured as a result of the coup attempt.

The military coup in Turkey is considered by many as a colossal blow has been dealt to the authority and influence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party. After the failed military coup in Turkey views are divided on the significance of the failure to overthrow the Turkish government by members of the country’s armed forces for Russia-Turkey relations.

It has been 36 years since the last military coup in Turkey, which took place in 1980. Now President Erdogan has provoked another putsch, having plunged the country into chaos and undermined its prestige on the international arena. The plotters have put the nation in danger.

There could be many reasons for the revolt against the Turkish leadership. Turkey has many anti-Islamic elements that want to destabilize Turkey in the hope that USA and Europe would support their cause. Erdogan has in effect provoked a resumption of a civil war in Turkish Kurdistan. In the opinion of many Turkish politicians and Kurds themselves, it was his actions that triggered a flare-up in hostilities and wiped out years of efforts to establish a peace dialogue.

There is a serious ideological conflict between the army, which has been traditionally considered a guarantor of the secular nature of the Turkish state, and the elected Islamist authorities. For a long time it seemed that Erdogan, who is pursuing a policy of Islamization, had the upper hand, after suppressing the resistance of the generals for more powers and, having “purged” the officer corps through a series of large-scale court trials for their anti-Turkey activities. Society is split, as was testified by the mass protests in 2013.

As relations with the EU are ruined, Turkey has practically no chances of joining the EU in the foreseeable future, whereas it is this goal that the country’s leadership has been proclaiming for several decades. The Kurdish issue has caused serious tensions with the United States, while the downed Russian bomber has provoked an unprecedented crisis in relations with Moscow, which only recently was considered to be Turkey’s key partner.

It would appear that all these circumstances have prompted the Turkish president’s opponents into decisive action. Erdogan is pushing for realignment with Russia and Israel. The military plotters may have come to the conclusion that time has come to act. The military coup was untimely as Turkey has already mended ties with Russia and Israel. It was also suggested that the coup had deep-lying causes and reflected the pressing issues of Turkish society.

Russian and Turkish presidents share authoritarianism attitudes. May be, the concentration of all power in the hands of the Turkish president increases the risk of ill-judged decisions, and the Russian authorities will be taking this into account.

While the international community condemned the attempt to seize power in Turkey, Moscow was more restrained in its reaction, with no outright condemnation of the coup bid. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged Ankara to restore the constitutional order as soon as possible. “What happened shows that there are strong and deep divisions inside Turkish society and the armed forces, which were manifested in these events,” he said. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov expressed concern at the developments in Turkey, saying that Russia was keen to see the events unfolding in Turkey end “in a legitimate way as soon as possible” and hoped that the country would “return to the path of stability, predictability, and law and order.”

The developments in Turkey will not have a negative effect on relations with Moscow.“The attempted coup failed. The plotters have been arrested. Democracy has triumphed. The country’s leadership will start to pursue a more independent policy aimed at strengthening security in the country. The downside will be a drop in the number of Russian tourists and a delay in the lifting of Russia’s economic sanctions

Two flights of Turkish Airlines from Antalya resort town landed in Moscow, according to online data of Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. A flight from Istanbul airport to Moscow also landed this morning. These are the first flights from Turkey that landed in Moscow after the coup attempt. Russia has currently restricted flights to Turkey. However, Russian and Turkish air carriers may continue performing flights from Turkey, the Russian aviation authority said earlier. Russian flag carrier Airport will start delivering Russians trapped in Istanbul and Antalya today. SU2134 Moscow – Istanbul flight will take passengers in Istanbul and return back to Moscow on July 18, Aeroflot spokesperson told TASS earlier. SU2142 flight will depart from Moscow to Antalya on July 18.

Russia was neutral in Israeli attack on Turkish aidship bound for Gaza strip to breach the Zionist terror blockades, leaving many Turkish and an American dead. Putin refused to condemn the Israeli military attack on sea because of the fact that most of illegal settlers n the illegal colonies inside Palestine are of Russian origin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy consultant Alexander Dugin visited Ankara after being invited to a meeting held by the nongovernmental organization Eurasian Union of Local Governments a day before the coup. Dugin said that a new era is about to dawn in relations between Russia and Turkey that might even surpass the previous state of ties. At the meeting, which former Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies and ministers Dugin said he expected fundamental changes for the better. The timing of the recent attack at Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport was meaningful, as it happened right after Turkey and Russia started to mend their relations. He praised President Erdoğan, saying that “his courageous initiative had a significant role in the normalization.” Dugin affirmed that Erdoğan offering his condolences to the killed Russian pilot’s family minimized Russia’s concerns. “The most important thing was to normalize relations,” Dugin said. “Both Erdoğan and Putin understood this fact while the relations were strained.”

Dugin said he foresees a significant change in the policies of both Russia and Turkey. He said that the USA is advocating the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in the region, which contradicts Russia’s strategies and beliefs. “If Russia and Turkey can reach consensus on Syria, I believe we can also resolve the issues regarding a Kurdish state in the region,” Dugin said. Meanwhile, a Turkish delegation led by Ministry Deputy Secretary Ali Kemal Aydın also held a meeting separately with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov, talking about the normalization of relations along with gradual revitalization of Turkish-Russian cooperation in economy and trade.

The developments in Turkey will give an impetus to normalizing relations with Moscow. The negative public opinion in Russia surrounding Turkey will gradually become history if relations stay good. Many experts opine the bilateral ties are likely to grow further. The failed coup has the potential to uplift the Russo-Turkish relations to a higher level than ever before.

Putin and Erdogan are reportedly seeking to deepening the ties on all domains.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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