With the very recent meeting held in St. Petersburg on August 8 last between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the only high-level meeting after the attempted coup in Turkey and the attempted murder of the Turkish leader, a coup which Russia first reported to Turkey and then strongly condemned – a new phase of post-Soviet geopolitics has begun.
A new phase has begun also for Turkey, which is ever less visibly linked to NATO, of which it has been a member since 1952, but ever more neo-Ottoman and anti-American, considering that initially the United States have probably supported the coup and still host Fethullah Gulen, the Sunni Imam accused by President Erdogan of having organized the military insurgency.
Nevertheless, nothing is yet certain in the rapprochement between Turkey and the Russian Federation. Certainly the Russian statements are possibilistic and basically deprived of long-term strategic guidelines and indications, but the results reached by Russia are already greatly significant: the weakening of the Southern and Eastern Flank of the Atlantic Alliance and the probable redesign and splitting up of Syria in agreement with Turkey.
In President Erdogan’s mind, this is the right time to define his traditional Panturanic plan, which does not coincide with the Russian plan, but which has certainly nothing to do with the Atlantic Alliance’s prospects in Central Asia.
Shortly before becoming Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2009, Ahmet Davutoglu had explicitly stated: “We are the new Ottomans. We will reconquer what we lost in 1911 and in 1923 and we will find again our brothers between 2011 and 2023”.
Aleppo and Mosul, the Uygurs of Xingkiang to be “moved” to Syria, the Asian Turkmens and part of Iraq are all the pieces of the dominoes that President Erdogan’s AKP wants to build to become a great Turkish, Sunni and neo-Ottoman empire between Anatolia and Central Asia.
Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib will be the 82nd province of Turkey, but this is obviously not convergent with the interest of Russia which, however, accepts the de facto breaking off between Turkey, the United States and NATO, while President Erdogan urges the Americans to choose between him and Fethullah Gulen.
Paradoxically, however, President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman approach has still much to do with the arch-enemy Fethullah Gulen.
They both want to restore the traditional links between the Turkish populations, the use of the Turkish language, the Sunni Islam and the Ottoman Caliphate.
Indeed, this would also explain the ambiguous attitude shown so far by Turkey vis-à-vis the pan-Sunni, though not Turkish, Caliphate of Daesh/Isis.
For many years Gulen and his cemaat (community) of about 3 million members have been an apparently secular missionary movement which, however, wants to re-establish Islam throughout the pan-Turkish region having Sufi roots, as has often happened in Turkish nationalism. It also wants to ultimately superpose the plan of a new Sunni Caliphate on the plan for an expansion of the Turkish national power.
On the contrary, President Erdogan comes from the National Outlook Movement, which is part of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood, from which he departed after the military coup of 1997 in order to found the AKP with Gulen’s militants.
In essence, President Erdogan wants to recreate a great Panturanic umma from China (the Turkish leader defined China’s behaviour in Xingkiang as a “sort of genocide”) up to Eastern Europe.
Nevertheless President Erdogan mainly wants to “Turkify” the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still one of his tools, and not the quietist mystic Islam of Gulen’s movement, which also fanned the flames of the Ghezi Park rebellion and supported the allegations of corruption regarding the AKP regime.
Turkey spent much to support the folly of the “Arab Springs” and President Erdogan spent very much to keep the Brotherhood in power both in Egypt and the Maghreb region.
Everything becomes clear if we think about the way in which President Erdogan is operating in Syria: using those that the silly West calls “moderates” in public, while de facto supporting the jihadists, who are the current extreme fruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is President Putin’s bet: if Russia proposes an agreement on Syria, will President Erdogan temporarily stop implementing his neo-Ottoman project, thus putting aside his Wahhabi soldiers of the jihad?
Hence if Turkey has a new system available to be connected with its Panturanic world, surrounded by Russia and China, will it cease to invoke the imperial myth, put in place by the bloody ranks of the jihad? No one can yet say so.
Russia (and China), however, have the power to manage and greatly influence this new great game, while certainly the United States, NATO and the now useless European Union have not this power.
It is worth noting that another player of the new link between Turkey and Russia is Iran.
If, in exchange for peace with Russia, Turkey leaves the Sunni jihadist factions to their fate, Iran will tacitly support the Turkish ambitions in Iraq and Syria, through the Russian Federation’s protection.
Peace with Russia and the agreement with Iran mean Turkey’s future participation in the recent “triple alliance” reached in Baku on August 8 last between Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan for the new economic corridor between India and Russia.
And this is promised to Turkey in addition to the opening of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, having a capacity of 30 million cubic meters, and the building of the nuclear power station in Akkuyu, Turkey, with Russian technology.
Russia must absolutely have an energy line avoiding transiting through Ukraine. Turkey cannot survive without Russian gas, which accounts for 50% of its consumption. Furthermore the issue of migrants, with whom President Erdogan blackmails the naïve EU, is now in the hands of Russia, which can provide alternative areas and ways.
President Erdogan also needs a new area of economic, geopolitical (and identity) expansion in Central Asia, provided that it does not officially annex the Turkmen communities that are numerous, but very divided in that region.
In addition, President Putin can cool down and ease the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani area with an Armenian majority.
Certainly Armenians do not talk with Turkey. Armenia has also called for Russia’s protection to recognize its independence internationally, but Turkey has not yet many relations with the pro-Turkish Azerbaijan.
Russia does not want to unleash the struggle between the Azeri-Turkish and Armenian peoples, which would probably trigger off a new destabilizing jihad in the Caucasus, while Turkey equally needs to quell tensions but has no relations with Armenia.
Once again, in this case, both the United States and the EU play the second fiddle.
As is well-known, in Syria Russia supports Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites, but Russia will not be in a position to afford the material and political costs of this commitment much longer.
The Russian commitment in Syria costs at least 3-4 million dollars a day, which we have to multiply by all the days from September 30, 2015 – when the Russian air raids started – to date.
Russia, which has a military budget of 50 billion dollars a year, can certainly afford it, but not with the prospect of low oil prices and the danger of a new hotbed of tensions in addition to the Syrian one.
Furthermore if Russia does not reduce military spending by 5% – as President Putin has decided to do for 2016 – the prospects for Russian economic growth become grimmer.
Moreover, since the beginning of the Inherent Resolve operation in August 2015, the United States have spent in Syria 11.5 millions per day.
Obviously Russia cannot afford this cost for a long period of time, considering that the real strategic gain is only the protection of Latakia and the other Russian bases in the Mediterranean.
Furthermore Turkey, which is de facto allied with Daesh/Isis and the other groups of the Syrian jihad, does not succeed in annexing Aleppo and the other Turkmen areas in the South, which is the real target of the Syrian war for Turkey.
On top of it, President Erdogan can do nothing against the Kurds, who are supported by the United States.
And the Turkish leader can swallow the bitter pill of a Kurdish quasi-State only if there is the annexation of the Syrian Turkmen territories and the creation of a strategic buffer between Turkey and the new Kurdistan, which President Putin might possibly guarantee to him.
In the meeting held on August 9 with the Turkish leader, President Putting hinted at the fact that he wanted Assad to quickly take Aleppo by storm so as to unilaterally declare a cease-fire and call a conference to define the new borders and the new areas of influence in Syria.
Today no one wages and fights the war in Syria thinking about a united country, not even Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites.
The old plan of the Franciscan tertiary and Shiite mystic Louis Massignon, after the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, is really over. That plan envisaged to hold Syria together by ceding it to the small coastal Alawite sect so as to avoid the Sunni dominance which, sooner or later, was bound to incorporate the “French” Syria into the British system (Iraq) or into Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi system.
It is also worth recalling that Turkey wants the Turkmen area around Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo so that it can act as a counterbalance to the Kurdish area.
On the other hand, also in view of its internal peace, Turkey must also recover the level of trade with Russia which, after the sanctions imposed as a result of the shooting down of the Sukhoi24M aircraft in November 2015, fell to 6 million US dollars between January and May 2016, while the flow of Russian tourists in Turkey has plunged by as much as 93%.
Therefore the agreement between Russia and Turkey is designed to a division of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Turkey will have the opportunity of managing the new relations with the various Turkmen and Ottoman communities, while Russia (and Iran) will have the possibility of creating a large Asian economic community, which is designed to replace the symbiotic relationship between Europe and the United States.
Furthermore, in Syria, the United States and Europe will be completely wiped out by this new agreement, which envisages that the design of this new “Eurasian entente” be started right from the Syrian territory.
In the meeting held with President Putin in St. Petersburg, following up an idea already proposed in 2013, President Erdogan reiterated that Turkey could be ready to drop its request to join the EU if he were given the opportunity to adhere to the Eurasian institutions and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in particular.
Nothing, however, prevents Turkey from also walking out of NATO in the future, if the appeal of the Eurasian system were to become irresistible.
We must not even forget, however, that currently 44% of Turkish exports is still to the EU – a ridiculous strategic dwarf – and that, also as a result of sanctions, a mere 4% is to Russia.
Moreover, it is not even likely for Turkey to have access to the most advanced technologies through Russia, apart from the military ones, or that opening to Russia may be the only means for Turkey to access world markets.
Nevertheless we cannot rule out that the establishment of a real, solid Eurasian unity may definitely attract Turkey to the Russian and Chinese project of the economic and strategic autonomy of a new and united Central Asia. And in this case Turkey would be very useful, because it would provide the necessary connection with the Mediterranean.
As already noted, Russia mainly wants to destabilize NATO eastwards and certainly the rift between Turkey and the Atlantic Alliance is certainly an opportunity not to be missed.
Furthermore Turkey does no longer trust the United States which host and help Fethullah Gulen. It wants to create its specific, neo-Ottoman and nationalistic political Islam, thus closing the door both to the EU, which has not yet realized it, and to NATO itself, which is now a useless alliance for the Turkish Panturanic and Eurasian project.
NATO, however, is still necessary to maintain the geoeconomic relationship with the EU and the United States, which is valid as long as Turkey does not replace it with the one with Russia, China and Central Asia.
Hence if Donald Trump wins the US presidential elections, the Russian project of Turkish integration into its geopolitical system will continue, while if the winner is Hillary Clinton, who is obsessed by the future US contrast with Russia, NATO will resume its action in the Middle East. This is the reason why it is extremely useful for President Putin to allure Turkey.
At geoeconomic level, Russia can no longer afford a system of low oil prices – and, in the future, levelling off at around 40 US dollars per barrel – unless a major increase is recorded at the end of 2016, as some analysts predict.
This is the reason why it wants to sell a lot of gas to Europe through Turkey and it is opposed to the military and jihadist designs of Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States.
Hence currently the jihad is a substitute for the oil economic war which can be no longer waged and fought.
In fact, the energy world has changed: the United States are no longer the largest oil importer; the euro price of the oil barrel is higher than the one denominated in US dollars and the 40 US dollars per barrel are the tentative scenario for the Russian decision-makers.
Hence, Russia shall come to terms with this tight budget in the Middle East and Syria.
Moreover the cheap oil of the new Iranian exports – all directed to the East, would favour the Russian aims and designs in Central Asia also at geopolitical level.
And it would also favour its potential for selling the Turkish Stream gas in Europe.
Hence, if the Russian Federation opens to Turkey, it will be in a position to reach both the goal of the expansion of its oil market in the West and the goal of the maximum separation of Turkey from NATO.
It is a “win-win” game for Russia, which could ultimately quell tensions in Syria, which also block Turkey’s plans.
Therefore it is a “win-win” game also for Turkey.
For Israel, which has recently renewed its relations with Turkey and can no longer fully trust Russia, which must support Iran and the Hezb’ollah in Syria and the Lebanon, the new Putin’s and Erdogan’s Syrian plan can be useful to mitigate tensions on the Golan Heights and use the Turkish Panturanism for the anti-jihadist stabilization of the Middle East.
But even this is a project to be checked and verified in the future.
After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians
The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.
According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.
The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.
“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”
Scandal of Al Hol’s children
Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.
“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”
Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
Blockades and bombardment
The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.
“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.
In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.
Living in fear
In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.
At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.
Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.
Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.
The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”
Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants
The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.
“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”
IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking
A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?
The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.
Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.
When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.
Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible. Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.
Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.
The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.
It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.
“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.
I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.
Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.
Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya
With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday.
Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December.
They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year.
At the crossroads
“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš. “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.”
He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.
Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation.
Foreign fighter threat
The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline.
“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.
“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.”
Young voters eager
The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results.
He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country.
So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women. Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots.
“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš.
He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.
“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned. “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”
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