The breakthrough in trade and other economic relations between Russia and Turkey has quite naturally spread to the realm of politics, best reflected in the two countries’ coordinated actions in Syria. This is all the more surprising, since only recently military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Ankara was absolutely unthinkable. Wary of this trend, members of the Western antiterrorist coalition fighting ISIL (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) have been working hard to “tear off” Turkey from Russia, with mass media spearheading this effort.
According to the authors of one such publication recently carried by The Financial Times, and aptly titled “Idlib: Russia and Turkey are preparing for the final battle in Syria, such “battles” have already happened recently, and what is coming up now is a “Russian-Turkish Armageddon.”
“What happens in Idlib could determine the fate of [Putin’s and Erdogan’s] marriage of convenience, one that has muddled its way through the war, but is now stretched to breaking point.”
The article claims that in Idlib the Russian-Turkish alliance is now breaking down as Ankara is trying to figure out if it could be better off cooperating with Washington, rather than with Moscow. The whole tonality of the article leaves no doubt as to which of the two options is the best way to go.
Indeed, Moscow and Ankara do not see entirely eye to eye on what Syria should look like after the war is over, with the main sticking point being the situation in Idlib and in the northeastern regions of the country controlled by the Kurdish militia.
While Russia is holding out for the earliest possible rout of the terrorists, mainly from the Hayat Tahrir-al-Sham group, massed inside the Idlib Demilitarized Zone (IDZ), Turkey is generally happy about the existing status quo.
Firstly, even though mainly squeezed out by Hayat Tahrir-al-Sham to Turkish-controlled areas in Syria, some of Ankara’s proxies still remain in the IDZ. Secondly, Ankara fears that active hostilities could set off a new wave of refugees in addition to what Turkey has already taken in, that could fuel social unrest in the country. And, finally, practice shows that no police filters can reveal all the radicals among the incoming refugees, who could blame Ankara for “failing to protect them,” with dire consequences for both.
After negotiating with his Russian and Iranian colleagues in September 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to ensure the creation of a buffer zone around the perimeter of the IDZ, to achieve the withdrawal of heavy armament from it before October 10, and of terrorist units – before October 15. Moreover, the Aleppo-Damascus road was to open before the end of 2018. Many Turkish experts still argued that these commitments were obviously impossible to meet. Time has proved them right.
After meeting with President Erdogan in January, President Putin was fully understanding about Ankara’s failure.
”Our Turkish colleagues are doing everything possible to implement the agreement. Of course, there are problems there, but we have agreed with our Turkish colleagues on what needs to be done in the near future,” Putin said. He also told a news conference that he had discussed with the Turkish leader “what additional steps Russia and Turkey could take to ensure stability in the Idlib region.”
A month later, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a military operation against terrorists was necessary, but it was not yet clear whether “Turkey or some other countries” would carry it out. Does this mean that Ankara has at least given a nod to such an operation? Well, this is quite possible, since Idlib is almost completely “lost” for Turkey’s proxy, and, by extension, for Turkey itself. It also looks like the issue of creating “security zones” for potential refugees is now getting off the ground.
All this gave the well-known Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin a reason to believe that Russia wants to “resolve the Idlib problem” not in spite of Turkey, but with it.
On March 9, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, announced the start of joint patrols of the Idlib Demilitarized Zone with the Russian military. Moscow did not confirm the information, nor did it deny it either. On March 13, Russian warplanes pounded terrorist arsenals in a series of airstrikes, which Moscow said had been coordinated with the Turkish military. Turkey denied that any such coordination had actually taken place, apparently to avoid the terrorists’ wrath. A couple of weeks later, the very same Hulusi Akar said that Turkish and Russian military were setting up a “single coordination center in Idlib.”
Overall, stuttering as it may be, Russian-Turkish cooperation in Idlib remains on track, and no signs of a close “battle” are anywhere in sight.
Another loose end waiting to be tied up is the “Kurdish issue.” Russia believes that territories currently under the control of Kurdish units should be part of a unified Syria, while Ankara’s main concern is the possible emergence of a Kurdish state on its border (here the interests of Moscow and Ankara coincide). Turkey also wants to eliminate the likelihood of any threat coming from the Syrian Kurds’ main political party – the Democratic Union – which in Turkey is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, i.e. a terrorist organization. Here, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted, “We [Russia and Turkey] do not have a shared view on exactly who among the Kurds are to be considered as terrorists. Turkey has a special position. We understand their concern, but we still need to sift out ashes from cinders and see which of the Kurdish units are extremists and pose a security threat to the Turkish Republic.”
President Erdogan dismissed this statement as “incorrect.”
It hasn’t been long since Ankara planned to bring the Kurdish-populated regions of Syria under its control. “Times they are a-changing” though, and Turkey is changing with them. It is now speaking about the need to create a buffer zone (a “security zone” where refugees can stay) along its entire border with Syria, and, of course, on the Syrian side of that border.
Russia is ready to discuss the creation of temporary buffer zones, but, according to Sergei Lavrov, “taking into account the position of Damascus,” while simultaneously showing “maximum possible consideration for Turkey’s interests.”
During the trilateral Russian-Turkish-Iranian summit, President Vladimir Putin suggested that in its relations with Syria Ankara be governed by the terms of the 1988 Adana Agreement, whereby Syria recognized the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist organization and banned its activities on its territory. This allowed the Turkish security forces, in their pursuit of PKK units, to stray into Syrian territory to a depth of 5 kilometers. The problem, however, is that Ankara does not officially recognize the Assad government, even though it maintains “low level” contacts with Damascus. Still, President Erdogan’s admission that “we view our future within the framework of the 1998 Adana Agreement,” speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, more and more people in Turkey now realize the need to restore ties with Syria. According to Mehmet Ali Güller, the respected columnist for the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, “the sooner the Ankara-Damascus dialogue … reaches the highest level, the closer the achievement of a political settlement will be.”
That being said, relations between Russia and Turkey are still short of being ideal, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Turkey having twice been postponed by Ankara. The discussion of the Syrian issue was initially scheduled for March 12, then for March 18. Moreover, almost each time President Erdogan is due to meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts, he invariably mentions his close, partnership relations with Washington. This can be regarded as an attempt to “play both sides of the fence,” and a reflection of Ankara’s much-declared multi-vector foreign policy.
The ideology of Pan-Turkism, which was so popular during the 1990s, has since been put on the back burner as the Turkish political establishment is pursuing a three-pronged foreign policy combining the Islamic, Atlantic and Eurasian tracks. Turkey’s geopolitical position at the junction of different civilizations inevitably determines the country’s final choice as being existential, rather than political.
As for the Islamic vector, it leads nowhere, since neither Iran nor the Arab countries will ever recognize Turkey’s leadership, and Ankara will not agree to anything less.
A move towards embracing “Western democracies” would negate all previous activities of the Turkish leadership and the entire ideology of the Justice and Development Party, which has been governing the country for almost 17 years now. Moreover, Europe has already made it clear that the EU’s doors are closed for Turkey, and President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton recently failed to give a direct answer when asked whether Turkey is a friend or enemy of the United States.
“Well, you know they’re still a NATO ally; we’re trying to work with them, but they’ve got a very bad relationship with our close friends in Israel. That’s something we need to look out on,” Bolton said, adding that disagreements “with respect to the conflict in Syria” were another issue.
This certainly does not sit well with Turkey’s political elite, which makes rumors about the “death” of the Russian-Turkish alliance look greatly exaggerated. Just as Fehim Taştekinput it, “the Astana project lives on, because Turkish-Russian interaction continues on the ground.”
First published in our partner International Affairs
The Iran Question
Will there be war with Iran? Will there not be war with Iran? The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there. The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered. Imagine the mess if it was blown up.
There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive. The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber. If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense. It is what Iran has done. Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided.
As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force: some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target. Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses. In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system. It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400. Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s. The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally. The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.
Iran has friends in Europe also. Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal. She is mustering the major European powers. Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome. President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture. In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job. In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.
So there we have it. Nobody wants war with Iran. Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.
Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war. Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission. It won’t. The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton. He wants war. A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off.
In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans. The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran’s game just started
By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran.
At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.
As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to
partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision
could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms.
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.
At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”.
All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.
Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme.
At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.
In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”.
It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Why the Algerian popular movement has succeeded until now?
Authors: Sadek Hadjal and Samar Sahki
Ten factors and mechanisms adopted by both Algerian people and its army have made popular movement remain in its proper peaceful path
Since February 22, 2019, the Algerian popular movement has calmed anger on the streets every Friday demanding the departure of Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his regime. The last decade of the 20 years of his mandate was characterized by a high-level of corruption and mismanagement, especially, after his illness. Although after the resigned of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, people have continued to march demanding the complete change of the old regime.
Until now, after nearly 11 weeks, the Algerian popular movement has succeeded in achieving several goals without violence, giving a good image for Arab region witnessed the same events after a huge popular movement in 2011, called “the Arab spring”. but unlike what is happening today in Algeria, the so-called “Arab spring” led to a bloody and dangerous consequences for the Arab countries – civil wars, military interventions, displacement, illegal immigration, proxy wars in the context of international and regional rivalry-.
The success of the Algerian Popular Movement reflects a great deal of intelligence and awareness between the Algerian demonstrators on one hand, satisfaction, wisdom and professionalism of the Algerian military in dealing with the situation on the other hand. Certainly, the two parties in Algeria -the demonstrators and the military command- have benefited from the events of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, which unfortunately led to disastrous results in most Arab countries. As well as what was known by “black decade” that Algeria witnessed in the 1990s.
In order to learn lessons from these events, the Algerian elites organized many international and national academic seminars, discussed several doctoral dissertations at universities, and produced many television programs to analyze the causes of these bloody events and to discover the best ways to avoid similar events, based on the reject of all kinds of external intervention as a main idea in any discussion.
There is a method both the Army and the demonstrators have relied on to success until now, which is characterized by:
From the side of protestors, they have focused on:
1 Avoiding the confrontation with military and police officers, unlike what happened in “Arab spring” countries.
2.Trying to coax the military and police officers to be with their side through the slogans.
2.Avoiding acts of violence and vandalism by keeping protests pacific.
3. Reject any religious, ethnic, or political group or party or symbols to represent them.
4.Focusing on pragmatic demands that have nothing to do with ideological discourses.
5.Refuse any external intervention whatsoever, whether there was supporting the movement or against it.
From the other side military command has focused on:
1.Not aligning against the popular movement. Otherwise, we would face a disaster situation may be more than what happened in some Arab countries.
2.The Army interference to align with the popular movement, but after confirming that there is no political solution on the horizons and that the situation could get worst.
3.The commitment of Military command by the constitution; which means passing a message that there is no intention to a military coup.
4.Not taking any step unless the popular movement demands it strongly and forcefully through the slogans carried every Friday. So that the steps taken by the Army won’t be in doubt, critic, or exploitation.
5.Provide guarantees to judges to do their work against corrupt people.
By these ten factors, the Algerian popular movement succeeded to achieve fifty percent of Goals (isolated Bouteflika and arrested the most famous symbols of the old regime on corruption charge). Now, the rest of the Goals are more difficult to achieve than the first one. The next step will focus on how to achieve a democratic system that results in accountability and empowers people to control the ruler. Whatever; until now the Algerian popular movement presents a Successful model can the rest of Arab societies benefit from.
To realize the rest of the goals, the Algerian popular movement and the Army must keep these ten mechanisms but also avoid any confrontation between them. Today there is a controversy between the two sides about the next stage; the Military command wants to hold quick presidential elections as soon as possible under Article 102 of the constitution because according to its view, any political solutions out of the constitution can lead to chaos. But the question here is who ensure that elections will be democratic under the same faces of the old regime and rules (election law for example). in return, there are a lot of citizens insist on carrying out a transition period to get rid of all old regime symbols in order to ensure presidential elections based on international standards, rather than the elections under the old regime symbols (the interim president Ahmed ben salah, and the current government of Noureddine Bedoui). But the question here is who leads this transition period? If the answer was through elect representatives, so who organize and ensure the transparency of these elections! The transition period will create a constitutional vacuum that possibly leads to chaos and that’s why Military command don’t wanted .
Algeria now is in front of a big constitutional and political dilemma, there are solutions but to maintain all possible solutions, we must avoid any confrontation between citizens and the military command. Of course, the popular movement has all the right to pressure and demand what it looks appropriate as a solution but without entering in confrontation with the military, because, in the end, the military has played a positive major role until now.
Algeria has the ability to overcome the current state crisis and emerge from the events of the popular movement as a regional force because it has a new generation of educated and ambitious youth, a well-equipped military force with experience in the field of counter-terrorism, and large energy reserves of oil and gas.
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