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The new great Middle East game between Russia and Turkey

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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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.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Middle East

Why no global outcry over Saudi war in Yemen?

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On Sunday, the US intelligence agency confirmed that the brazen killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was ordered by the Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, which must have finally given some comfort to his restless soul. The truth was not hidden from the world, as it was already established by the Turkish authorities, but now we have the word straight from the horse’s mouth.

Khashoggi’s killing led to unprecedented global outcry against the Saudi regime because of its wanton disregard for human rights. It dominated newspaper headlines and primetime TV discussions for weeks as the mystery surrounding the dissident journalist’s killing grew.

To their credit, Turkish government authorities left no stone unturned to unravel the murder mystery and expose the masterminds of the most diabolical crime. The whole world waited with bated breath because suddenly something had stirred people’s conscience.

Today everyone knows about Khashoggi and everyone knows his murderer. Everyone is talking about it and tweeting about it. But, hold on, this is not the only crime his murderer has committed. His murderer has the blood of thousands of Yemenis on his hands and he is directly responsible for the starvation of millions of people in Yemen. Does the world know about it? Does it care?

A much-anticipated UN Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of Saudi-led war in Yemen and for the humanitarian aid to be allowed to reach millions of starving people was reportedly “stalled” this week after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had moved the resolution, met the Saudi crown prince in Riyadh.

The prince, reports say, ‘threw a fit’ about the resolution. He didn’t like the idea of food reaching the starving Yemenis because he wishes to see them killed either through bombardment or with starvation. Hunt surrendered tamely because UK happens to have arms trade with the Saudi regime.

Saudi-led war in Yemen has stretched into its third year now, killing more than 10,000 people and leaving the country completely devastated. The humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged country has been termed ‘catastrophic’ by aid groups. And the world has chosen to be a mute spectator.

The blockade of the country means around 18 million people don’t have access to food, which could eventually and inevitably lead to the worst famine in more than a century. Already 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished and fighting for their lives. The World Food Program warned this week that the country was “marching to the brink of starvation”.

Why has the world chosen to be silent even as warnings of famine have assumed alarming proportions? Akshaya Kumar, a senior Human Rights Watch official, says it’s because of the “sway” Saudi has over some members of the UN Security Council, which has prevented the UN in naming and shaming the regime in Riyadh. “At this point, vague appeals to ‘all parties’ to improve their behavior won’t work; Any resolution that doesn’t specifically mention the Saudi-led coalition by name and call it out for its role in the carnage in Yemen won’t have the required effect in Riyadh,” he said in an interview.

The patronage of world powers like the United States and United Kingdom has ensured that Saudi rulers escape culpability for their war crimes in Yemen. Their support for the Saudi-led coalition in the form of arms, training, intelligence, and refueling of bombers has compounded the misery of Yemenis. The two countries continue to sell billions of dollars in arms to the Saudi regime, thus are directly complicit in the war crimes being committed against the Yemenis.

While bombings by the Saudi-led coalition have devastated the country, US drones have also been flying in the air. A new report by AP documenting civilian deaths in Yemen reveals that the US drones have contributed to several civilian killings this year, while pretending to be fighting Al-Qaeda’s local franchise. What Americans did in Iraq and Afghanistan previously, they are now doing that in Yemen, directly and indirectly.

Today millions of children in Yemen weigh less than an average American’s weekend lunch. One of them dies every ten minutes due to acute malnutrition and various diseases. United Nations has already estimated that 10 million people may starve to death, majority of them children, due to the Saudi-led war and blockade. Yet, there is no anger, no outrage, no vigils, no street demonstrations, no primetime TV debates, no editorials. It is a forgotten war.

Human rights have been reduced to a joke by the Saudi-led coalition and its international sponsors involved in Yemen war. The only way to end this war is to stop arms sale to the Saudi regime and to hold all parties – which includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Sudan, Egypt, Jordon, Morocco, US and UK – accountable for their war crimes.

First published in our partner MNA

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Gulf countries pivot towards Israel: Can Arab recognition be foresighted?

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The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman surprised the entire world and delivered a message of smoothening of relations between Oman and Israel. This event has marked the first ever visit by any Israeli leader to Oman in 22 years. The Israeli Prime Minister and the Sultan discussed ‘Ways to enhance the peace process in the Middle East’ as well as other issues of ‘joint interest’. For Netanyahu, a milestone was achieved in the form of Oman recognition of Israel as normalizing relations with fellow regional states is one of the important clause of Netanyahu’s policy. Moreover, an Israeli Minister Yisrael Katz attended an International Transport Conference in Oman and proposed a railway link to connect Persian Gulf with the Mediterranean Sea. However, the railway link isn’t confirmed yet, it was just proposed in the conference. In parallel, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev attended Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018 in United Arab Emirates, where for the first time in history the national anthem of Israel was played. Similar approach was adopted by Israel towards Qatar. These changing dynamics can foresight the future of Gulf politics, that is, gulf countries can align with Israel to counter the influence of Iran in the region and for this purpose gulf countries may recognize Israel.

An important thing to notice is that the countries smoothening their relations with Israel are members of GCC, where Saudi Arabia is at the top of hierarchy- the major decision maker in Middle East- which means without Saudi Arabia’s willingness and its interests, GCC countries cannot take such a big decision. Now here a question arises, why would Saudi Arabia allow this approach?

The main reasons are; firstly, the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman have cordial relations with Israel’s top leadership and he(MBS) is seen as a potential ally by Israel in Middle East, the major reason why Israel demanded US to side by Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi murder case. Second, it would be very difficult for Saudi Arabia- the self-proclaimed leader of the Sunni Muslim world- to recognize Israel while other states in the region still oppose the existence of a Jewish state in Middle East. Recognition of Israel by other GCC countries would make it far easier for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel or at least to melt ice. Lastly, the Khashoggi murder case have already deteriorated the international image of Saudi Arabia, at this point of time the country cannot afford to bear another blame as Muslim countries think it would be injustice to Palestinians if Israel is recognized.

So will Saudi Arabia follow the suit and recognize Israel? The question still remains ambiguous, but since Saudi Arabia haven’t opposed these action of GCC countries and a continuous diplomatic support from Israel to Saudi Arabia have been visible although both countries do not have diplomatic relations, it can be predicted that something is going on, between both of these states which they have chosen  not to disclose now. Coming to Qatar, since Qatar is also involved in this process of developing diplomatic relations with Israel, it can prove to be a catalyst in the troubled Saudi/Qatar relations as helping Saudi Arabia to develop relations with Israel while other Arab states are doing the same can lift up the entire blame from Saudi Arabia. Maybe the sanctions over Qatar will be lifted or just become less intensified. Qatar sees it as an opportunity to regain the similar status in the region as well as to reconstruct relations with the other Arab countries.

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Turkish Newspaper Implicates UAE’s Crown Prince in Covering Up Murder of Khashoggi

Eric Zuesse

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, are close friends and allies, who jointly lead the war against Houthi-led Yemen. On Sunday afternoon, November 18th, a leading Turkish newspaper, Yeni Şafak, reported the two leaders to have also collaborated in hiding the murder on October 2nd in Istanbul of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yeni Şafak headlined “Dahlan ‘cover-up team’ from Lebanon helps hide traces of Khashoggi murder” and reported that on October 2nd, “A second team that arrived in Istanbul to help cover-up the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was dispatched by Muhammed Dahlan, UAE Crown Prince Muhammed bin Zayed’s chief hitman in the region, … according to an informed source who spoke to Yeni Şafak daily on the condition of anonymity.”

On November 16th, the Washington Post had headlined “CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination”.

Bin Salman and bin Zayed are U.S. President Donald Trump’s closest foreign allies other than, possibly, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. All four men are determined that there be regime-change in Shiite Iran. This anti-Shia position bonds them also against the Houthis, who are Shiites, in Yemen, where bin Salman and bin Zayed lead the war, and the United States provides the training, logistics, and weapons. Both bin Salman and bin Zayed are fundamentalist Sunnis who are against Shia Muslims. Israel and the United States are allied with these two princes. Saudi Arabia’s royal family have been committed against Shia Muslims ever since 1744 when the Saud family made a pact with the fundamentalist Sunni preacher Mohammed ibn Wahhab, who hated Shia Muslims. Thus, Saudi Arabia is actually Saudi-Wahhabi Arabia, with Sauds running the aristocracy, and Wahhabists running the clergy.

In 2017, in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh, Trump sold, to the Saudi Crown Prince, initially, $350 billion of U.S.-made weapons over a ten-year period (the largest weapons-sale in world history), and $110 billion in just the first year. That deal was soon increased to $404 billion. For Trump publicly to acknowledge that Salman had “ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination” would jeopardize this entire deal, and, perhaps, jeopardize the consequent boom in America’s economy. It also would jeopardize the U.S. alliance’s war against Shiites in Yemen.

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