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Middle East

Recep Erdogan in a Russian Minefield

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Analysts, journalists and bloggers love to compare the Russian and Turkish leaders. And to be fair, there are a number of obvious parallels between the two. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, like Vladimir Putin, is not exactly enamoured with Western liberal principles and has become disillusioned with his country’s experience of cooperation with Europe. Both preach “traditional values,” rely on the so-called “Deep People” and call for a “religious revival.” Both staunchly defend their positions on the international stage and have no qualms about challenging their many external critics and, where necessary, going against the dominant global attitudes and trends.

The fact that the two have almost identical ideologies, carry themselves in a similar fashion and quite obviously share the same view of the modern world and where it is heading should in itself contribute to a rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. What is more, Russia and Turkey objectively have many common or converging interests. The two countries complement each other quite successfully in a variety of areas — from energy to tourism, from transport and logistics to military-technical advancements, etc.

That said, bilateral relations remain fragile and inconsistent. Russia and Turkey are at the same time companions and competitors. In some cases, they are even direct opponents. Putin and Erdogan do not exactly trust each other, although, in general, they do not tend to trust any of their foreign partners. Periodic frictions, disputes and misunderstandings between Moscow and Ankara are actively exploited by third countries, many of which have no interest in the on-off interaction between Russia and Turkey turning into a strategic partnership.

The fragility of this interaction was laid bare for all to see five years ago following the downing of the Russian Su-24 on the Turkey–Syria border. For a moment, it looked like Russia and Turkey were about to go to war, and it was roughly six months before the sides were more or less on the same page again. A similar situation arose on the ground in Syria early this year, when Ankara accused Moscow of being directly involved in the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers in the Idlib Governorate.

In both cases, the sides found the political will to stop before the line in the sand had been crossed, preventing the situation from spiralling out of control and bringing all manner of unwanted consequences. Unfortunately, Turkey–Russia relations could easily veer off course at any time. The logic and dynamics of Turkey’s current foreign policy continue to place Erdogan in the middle of a minefield, where any step could prove fatal for his relations with Vladimir Putin. And the mines on this particular field vary greatly — in terms of their design, their charge and the way they have been camouflaged — but any of them could lead to an unintended escalation and permanently damage relations between Ankara and Moscow. Let us look at some of the foreign policy steps the Turkish leadership could take that would most likely open up a giant rift in Ankara’s relations with Moscow.

Intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It should come as no surprise that Ankara has firmly and unequivocally supported Baku throughout the three decades of the Armenia–Azerbaijan confrontation. But it is one thing to offer political and diplomatic support to an ally in a frozen conflict, and it is another thing entirely to provide large-scale military assistance at the height of armed hostilities. This kind of assistance shifts the balance of power of the warring parties dramatically, gives Azerbaijan false hope that the Nagorno-Karabakh can be resolved quickly through military means and, as a result, makes the signing of any peace agreement that much more difficult.

Escalation in Libya. Turkey has been one of the main foreign actors in the Libyan Civil War from the very beginning. It was Turkish intervention that prevented Marshal Khalifa Haftar from capturing Tripoli. But if Ankara continues to internationalize the Libyan conflict by building up its own military presence in the country, helping Fayez al-Sarraj’s forces achieve a decisive victory over his many opponents in the eastern and southern regions, then it will face increasingly serious problems. And not only with Russia, but also with a number of other countries that are involved in the Libyan crisis in one way or another, from Egypt to France.

Pandering to terrorists in Idlib. Turkey’s obligations under the Sochi agreements on Idlib were to ensure the withdrawal of terrorist groups and heavy arms from the buffer zone. Two years later, and Ankara has failed to keep its end of the deal. Any hopes that Turkey would be able to somehow “rehabilitate” or at least “restrain” the Islamic fundamentalists in Idlib soon dissipated. If the terrorists, buffered by the Turkish presence in Idlib, use this territory as a base for launching active operations against Bashar Assad’s forces and the Russian military infrastructure in Syria, then it is only a matter of time until a new crisis between Russia and Turkey breaks out.

Operations against the Kurds in Northern Syria. Unsurprisingly, Russia and Turkey have different attitudes towards the Syrian Kurds and the role they would like to see them play in the country’s future. Thus far, Ankara and Moscow have managed to avoid problems on this issue by “agreeing to disagree.” However, if Turkey launches a new large-scale operation against the Kurds in Northern Syria, this will inevitably lead to the Kurds forming an alliance with the Syrian government, which Moscow would no doubt support (and perhaps even encourage). This could result in a direct clash between Damascus and Ankara in Northern Syria, with all the negative consequences this would entail for Russia–Turkey relations.

An aggravation of the confrontation with Greece. Relations between Russia and Greece are somewhat troubled at the moment. Despite this, it is extremely unlikely that Moscow would take Ankara’s side in Turkey’s current territorial dispute with Greece. All the more so because, in the present situation regarding the delimitation of economic zones in the Mediterranean, Turkey is pitted not only against Greece but also against virtually all of Russia’s partners and friends in the Eastern Mediterranean. The “Greek issue,” compounded by Turkey’s activity in Libya (which makes Moscow uneasy), could trigger a new crisis in Russia–Turkey relations.

Expansion of military-technical cooperation with Ukraine. Russia and Turkey have always had fundamentally different views on Ukraine and Crimea, especially since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. One way or another, Moscow has had to come to terms with the fact that Ankara does not recognize Crimea as a part of Russia and will not give up its claims to the role of “protector” of the Crimean Tatars. However, the ongoing expansion of military and political cooperation between Ankara and Kiev — particularly the supply of cutting-edge Turkish drones that Kiev can use in the East of the country — could be a thorn in the side of Moscow. Turkey’s attempts to lobby Ukrainian interests within NATO will be an equally sore point.

The aggressive promotion of Pan-Turkism in Russia. Fears about the possibility of Turkism “penetrating” into the predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking regions of the North Caucasus and the Volga Region have never completely disappeared among the Russian leadership. However, these fears have been compounded by the noticeable increase in the role of Islam in Erdogan’s domestic policies (one illustration of this is the recent change of status of the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul). Many in Russia believe that Turkey is moving further and further away from Kemal Atatürk’s principles of a secular state, meaning that Ankara’s promotion of Pan-Turkism will be increasingly intertwined with the promotion of political Islam. This will pose a direct challenge to Russia’s national security and even its territorial unity

The above points do not mean that Recep Erdogan is the only one treading a minefield. Vladimir Putin is himself standing in the middle of a foreign policy minefield with regard to Turkey. There is little doubt that any Turkish politician or international relations expert worth their salt could respond to Moscow’s list of grievances against Ankara with an even longer list of Turkish grievances against Russia. And these are claims that cannot simply be swept under the carpet. Russia, it must be said, has not always approached Turkey’s basic interests on the international stage with due understanding, delicacy and tact.

It is true that there are influential anti-Russian forces within the Turkish elites who are intent on turning public opinion against Moscow. But at the same time, there is no shortage of groups in Russia that do not want to see a rapprochement with Ankara and thus try to fan the flames of the traditional anti-Turkish sentiments and prejudices, which have never gone away. Overly simplified and negative perceptions of the other side as the embodiment of social anarchy, failed economic modernization and political regression dominate in liberal circles in Russia and Turkey.

There is something for diplomats, military leaders, independent analysts and civil activists alike to think about here. Whatever the case may be, the stakes in the Russia–Turkey game are extremely high — not only for Russia and Turkey, but also for a number of nearby regions where Moscow and Ankara promote their often-opposing interests, particularly Central Asia and Northern Africa.

From our partner RIAC

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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Middle East

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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