Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Russia is Dead Wrong on Turkey

The question of Turkey as a reliable international partner has swum around my mind for some time now. There was the infamous case of the Israeli commandos landing on an aid ship destined for Gaza, in which several people were killed. Turkish President Erdogan immediately broke a long standing relationship with Israel, and even threatened to have future such convoys escorted by the Turkish navy. Presumably, he was prepared to go to war with Israel over the issue of the Palestinians in Gaza. Considering the ramifications of that action on Turkey, Israel and the world community, it must be said that Erdogan operates on the slippery end of sanity and/or judgement. In other words, he is a hot head with an ego the size of his country, and judgement normally associated with school children fighting in the playground. It may also be adduced that he is a war monger waiting for the chance for that one big war that will give him glory in the history books of Turkey.

Little has happened to change my assessment of  either Erdogan or Turkey from that time til now. Erdogan has lashed out at its largest trading partner Germany, and now has a very chilly relationship there. Turkey itself is on the cusp of being forever banned from entry into the European Union. However, the real eye opener has come in the form of the Syrian War. The first major incident, other than all the shouting from the sidelines, was the shooting down of a Russian bomber in Northern Syria. It was clearly an ambush by two Turkish fighters on a Russian fighter bomber which was not designed to really defend itself against such an attack, because it is primarily a bomber and not a fighter. The pilot was killed parachuting to the ground by Turkish supported militants in Syria.

Then there was the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria under the pretext of ridding its border of Syrian terrorists. Of course it just happened to be coincidental that the Kurds were taking over Northern Syria, and the Kurds want to establish their own country which is to include a bite size piece of South Eastern Turkey. Erdogan said at the time, fresh from surviving a coup against him, that Turkey was only securing its border and was not attempting to cause Syria's president to lose power. All well and good Russia likely thought. We have a "partner" to help us get rid of all these terrorists and rebels in Syria. However, just a few weeks ago, Erdogan was caught on camera at a relatively private event, stating that Turkey was in Syria to get rid of its President Assad, and that it had no other purpose but that.

Well that was no doubt a bit of a shock to Russia who was in the process of renewing relations with Turkey. There were hurried assurances from the Russian foreign ministry that they would seek clarification from Erdogan, and public statements saying the Russian government would "rely on the previous official  position of the Turkish government. Perhaps not surprisingly, Erdogan never came out and publicly qualified his remarks. Instead the whole matter was left to quietly go away so to speak. Yet, a comment such as that can never go away. It rests, now quietly, at the heart of Turkish involvement in Syria. The Russian government seemed to want to paper over the issue and carry on with its primary focus of defeating the militants/terrorists. But can it be papered over, or is it a snake in the grass waiting to strike at the right moment?

Yesterday the world witnessed the very public execution of Russia's Ambassador to Turkey on live TV. It struck me that the occasion was almost set up for such a purpose. The most obvious question of course is why was there no security for the Ambassador? That is the responsibility of the country in which an ambassador is located. There was none. The Turkish police officer was able to simply walk up behind the Ambassador, directly in the TV cameras eye, and wait like the executioner for his moment. It had all the callings of one of those grotesque ISIS execution videos. After he killed the Ambassador the assassin pounced around in front of the TV uttering calls to remember Aleppo and Syria. Bottom line is it was all too easy, and all too public to be anything other than state arranged. The Turkish government even began immediately blaming the Gulen movement - their sworn enemies outed in that Turkish coup. All too convenient. All to staged.

That brings us to the press conference today between the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Minister's condolences to the Russian people for the killing of its ambassador was so "business-like" that it chilled the blood. But that was just the beginning. After the obligatory comments of how they all agree on the need to defeat this, that, and the other thing, the press were allowed one question of each foreign minister. The Iranian journalist asked what the three countries had agreed to as measures to stop third parties supporting the militants/terrorists in Syria. It was all going fine until the Turkish Foreign Minister indignantly piped in that the freezing of support for militants/terrorists had to include Hezbollah. Of course Hezbollah is supported by Iran, and that may have been Turkey's way of defending itself for supporting Turkmen militants/terrorists in Northern Syria. Whatever the case, it became quickly crystal clear that the Turks were prepared to throw aside their "team work" at the very smallest of challenges.

In other words the Turks cannot be trusted. The Americans can't trust them and the Russians can't trust them. That's the way they want it. The strong defender of their neighborhood. Beholding to no body, and loyal to nobody. A regional super power that must be dealt with in the region as if it was militarily equal to the US or Russia. In a strange way though, Turkey may be right. Both Russia and the US are entangled all over the map and stretched thin combatting each other's various moves. With Turkey focusing its strength solely in the "neighborhood" perhaps they have achieved that goal of regional super power. Of course, if things go hot, and either Russia or the US decide to move into the area in force, Turkey will quickly find out its true position, but in the mean time there it is.

The question for Russia is how long does it plan to dance the dance of a thousand veils with Turkey? Is Turkey causing more problems than it is solving? Or perhaps more importantly, how long will you let Turkey embarrass you internationally? It's not many countries that could shoot down a super power's military aircraft, and kill its pilot, and then have their ambassador publicly executed on international television, and get away with it. The press conference today was quite clear, working with Turkey is like herding alley cats. Unfortunately for Russia, such behaviour by the Turks does nothing to enhance Russia's international reputation. Actually the reverse is true. Russia's image is being tarnished by its association, for whatever reasons, with Turkey. Is that purposeful on Turkey's part? Hard to say. One thing is true though, there are only so many coincidences in international politics, and Turkey is not immune from that rule. The Kremlin has made a grave mistake in throwing an arm of brotherhood over Turkey's shoulder. It is not a brother, but rather a poison chalice. It becomes clearer every day. If Russia is wise it will let that cup pass from its lip.