US plays neo-Ottoman card

Veronika Krasheninnikova

Nothing, as they say, foreshadowed – and here again: Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a special opinion in relations with the West, this time on the topic of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The Turkish president is the most rebellious member of the US-controlled military alliance. It has partnered with Russia and even purchased Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft system in 2019, an unheard-of audacity for the disciplined Transatlantic Alliance. And now, the only member of NATO, it refuses to impose sanctions and facilitates negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow when there is no demand for peace.
The West allows Erdogan a lot. Surprisingly, both the European Union and Washington, after demonstrative punishments in the form of sanctions over the S-400 — and even the attempted military coup in July 2016, which almost cost Erdogan power and possibly his life — are building even closer cooperation with wayward “sultan”. Although, again, with democracy in the American sense of the word, and with human rights in Ankara, everything is not as it should be.
What is President Erdo-gan’s secret? How does he manage to pursue an offensive policy on all fronts and directions in the interests of strengthening Turkey, pan-Turkism and the neo-Otto-man empire – and do it in such a way that even Was-hington is forced to agree?
The list of Ankara’s successes in recent years is long. But since the start of Russia ‘s special military operation in Ukraine, Erdogan has only multiplied his activity, removed the contradictions, with whom they were, and launched new mechanisms of interaction. Let’s go through the world centers of power with which Erdogan successfully cooperates and competes.
In relations with Washington, Erdogan won concessions on his most painful issue – the Kurds. In Ankara, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are recognized as terrorist. I must say that the Kurdish fighters for independence are a specific people: how many times Washington used them for its own purposes in the Middle East, so many times it was abandoned, but each time they invariably again believe America and die because of their illusions. In October 2019, Trump stopped supporting the Kurds in Syria : the US withdrew its contingents from Kurdish areas in northern Syria and transferred the territory to Ankara’s control.
Now, according to media reports, in the bidding for Finland and Sweden to join NATO, which actively welcomed the Kurds as political refugees and even adopted sanctions on the supply of weapons to Turkey, Erdogan put forward a manifesto of ten conditions to future allies. The document instructs how NATO candidate members should now treat the Kurds: extradite “terrorists”, cut off contacts and stop supporting “any action against Turkey’s security.” Let us emphasize that the entry of the Scandinavians into NATO is necessary not so much for them, but for Washington.
The US is also the ultimate arbiter in Turkey’s home region of the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey has a historical rivalry with Greece, which is traditionally backed by the European Union. Washington is faking competition between Ankara and Athens, using Greece more actively during periods of trouble with Turkey and forcing sworn partners to work together when global US interests demand it.
Now it looks like Greece will have to step in and give the Turks a place in the military and energy alliance recently built without Ankara. This is a partnership formalized by the US law “On Security and Energy Partnership in the Eastern Mediterranean” in December 2019 (Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019). This partnership brought the United States together with Greece, Israel, and Cyprus to pursue two goals: energy – to develop new sources of gas off the coast of Israel and Egypt, and the construction of a gas pipeline (EastMed) to deliver it to southern force out Russian gas, and military – to strengthen the US position in the Eastern Mediterranean on the basis of a regional alliance and new arms supplies. In the text of the law, Russia is designated as a threat in the region 25 times. The gas pipeline, very expensive and technically complex, was off the agenda, but now that Europe has committed itself to getting rid of Russian gas, it has regained relevance.
According to rumors, another demand from Erdogan to Washington is to lift sanctions on the S-400 systems and on the supply of F-16 fighters to Lockheed Martin. Last October, Turkey asked the White House to purchase 40 F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 upgrade kits for existing but obsolete models – a $6 billion purchase. The deal must be approved by the US Congress, which imposed sanctions. There was no news for months, but on March 17 the State Departmentsent a letter to Congress with arguments in favor of Ankara, because Turkey’s military ties with Ukraine are “an important factor in deterring malicious influence in the region” and “will serve the long-term unity of NATO.” Also on the list of Turkish purchases in the US market are more than 100 F-35 fighters of the same Lockheed Martin. This gigantic air fleet is required to catch up and far outstrip Greece, which has taken advantage of Turkish arms purchase sanctions and successfully purchased Rafale fighters from France, is already waiting for F-35s from the US and currently dominates the air.
As if bilateral relations weren’t active enough, Washington and Ankara set up a joint ” Strategic Mechanism ” on April 4. A short announcement about the new format lists topics of mutual interest: economic and military cooperation, the fight against terrorism, and the promotion of common regional and global interests. And in a separate phrase – the two countries “confirmed their common commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” From Washington’s side, our old friend, the curator of the radicalization of Ukraine, Victoria Nuland, who is also the former US ambassador to NATO, is responsible for the “Strategic Mechanism”. The first meeting under the new mechanism, headed by Secretary of State Blinken, took place during the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogluto Washington May 16-19.
Now briefly about Turkey’s success in relations with Europe. Friction with the European Union is permanent. Over the entire continent – and especially over Germany – Erdogan holds the sword of Damocles to the flood of refugees from Syria and the Middle East. As soon as Brussels or Berlin become intractable on any issue, Erdogan opens the border and releases a certain number of refugees. Every year the European Union tries to buy off Ankara, and keeping refugees on Turkish territory costs Brussels several billion euros.
Turkey did not become a member of the European Union: Ankara applied for full membership back in 1987, for several decades Brussels led Ankara by the nose, until Erdogan himself turned around and went his own imperial path. Erdogan does not notice the water borders of its European neighbors, Greece and Cyprus, and in 2019 went to drill gas fields in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. France, as well as Italy and the entire European Union, traditionally came to the defense of Greece. In that tense atmosphere, it almost came to a direct clash between NATO members. Remember the bright wordsPresident Macron in June 2020 about the “brain death” of NATO? They concerned the coordination of actions within the alliance at the time of the military incident with Turkey, when three of its warships aimed their sights at a French frigate, which decided to check another Turkish ship off the coast of Libya for arms smuggling.
More of the latest news in other areas. In March, Erdogan supported Kosovo ‘s accession to NATO. It must be said that the Balkans have already become Turkey’s home region. Hundreds of Turkish imams preaching in Muslim Kosovo and Albania, as well as active arms supplies, made Erdogan the “father” of these peoples.
In mid-March, Erdogan restored relations with Israel: he received Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog for the first time since 2007 and called the visit “historic.” The normalization of relations with Israel will simplify the decisions of the US Congress, where the Israeli lobby has a strong influence, and will provide a basis for Turkey’s entry into the military and energy partnership in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the meeting, the parties also discussed the export of Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey.
At the end of April, Erdogan also made peace with another difficult neighbor, Saudi Arabia, and specifically with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Rivals for leadership in the region embraced and ushered in a new era in relations.
The airport in Kabul, by the way, is managed by the Turkish military after the disastrous withdrawal of the United States. And over the past decade, President Erdogan has made it a point of honor to strengthen the national military-industrial complex in order to be less dependent on the will of the West. Now Turkish drones are participating (and helping to win, as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh ) in regional conflicts.
But Erdogan has problems with China. The Turkish leader, as a Muslim and a Turk, has long advocated for the rights of the Uyghur people – and the issue of the Uyghurs is as acute for China as the issue of the Kurds is for Turkey. In 2019, Ankara accused Beijing of creating concentration camps for Uighurs. And back in 1995, Erd-ogan, being the mayor of Istanbul, said: “East Turk-estan is the birthplace of the Turks, the cradle of Turkic history, civilization and c-ulture.” What East Turke-stan is for Pan-Turkist Er-dogan is Xinjiang Uygur A-utonomous Region for Chi-na. But at the same time, Turkey is ready to match its “Middle Corridor” strategy with the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative.
Finally, the most important thing for us: how and in whose favor are relations between Russia and Turkey developing? Recall that Russia played a crucial role in saving President Erdogan from a coup attempt in 2016. Yes, he decided in the interests of his country’s security to acquire S-400 systems and suffered a lot from the United States for this. In January 2020, Erdogan launched the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, which brings Russian gas to southern Europe. Yes, he consistently refuses to impose sanctions against Russia and, in today’s conflict in Ukraine, is making efforts to organize negotiations. Erdogan’s independence on many issues sets an example for others. Russia may benefit from Turkey’s buffoonery both within NATO and in relation to the European Union.
However, all these decisions primarily implement the interests of Turkey itself. And on many difficult issues, Erdogan found himself on the other side of the front. In Syria, Turkey has captured the north of the country, while Russia defends state integrity on the side of the Syrian government. In Libya, Turkish proxies fought on the opposite side of Russia. Ankara’s active support for Azerbaijan in the dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh contributed to the transition in September 2020 to war and casualties. Erdogan’s relations with Ukraine deepened to the point of joint production of Bayraktar drones. It must be said that Turkish drones have participated in every military conflict where Russia is on the other side. In Kazakhstan and Central AsiaErdogan is actively promoting Turkic unification, competing not only with Russia, but also with China. Striking at the modern holiest – our Crimea – Erdogan supports provocateurs among the Crimean Tatars, such as the leader of the organization “Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people”, Mustafa Dzhemilev. Refugees are not well liked by Erdogan, but the 20,000 Ukrainians have been treated very hospitably in recent months.
In terms of economic relations, Turkey’s cooperation with Russia has always been very beneficial for Ankara. The Turkish construction business has mastered Russia well, agricultural products fill Russian supermarkets. At all times, even in a pandemic, several million of our tourists annually replenish the Turkish treasury.
Moreover, the current redistribution of the world caused by Russia’s special operation in Ukraine could make Turkey the main beneficiary on the Eurasian continent. Ankara is likely to become the main hub for a variety of sub-sanctions activities – financial, trade and investment. Turkey has declared its readiness to become an alternative source of gas for Europe – gas from fields in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean – and to be the main energy hub in the region. Turkish airlines have been experiencing what is probably the biggest boom ever in recent months, and they will carry two-thirds of all tourist traffic in the summer. The real estate market is growingon the influx of Russians: 1,152 transactions were made this April, twice as many as in April last year. Russian millionaires are transferring their assets and ferrying yachts to friendly Turkish waters, while also investing in Turkish assets, such as football clubs.
The unexpected economic boost is the most important thing that the Turkish economy can get now, the main weak point of Erdogan’s policy. At the same time, he greatly values economic ties with the West and treats Turkish capital working in the western direction with great care.
Thus, President Erdogan, like no one else in the world, manages to assertively balance his own interests with the interests of the United States, which forgives him many attacks and does not seem to oppose his large-scale ambitions. But maybe the fact is that Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions just suit the United States? After all, Turkey’s imperial expansion is directed against Europe, which Washington is always happy to weaken, against China, the main American competitor.
For NATO, Turkey is the second after the American army, the only major Muslim country (the second is Albania) and the only member whose territory extends simultaneously in Europe and Asia. And Erdogan himself tirelessly emphasizes his crucial role in NATO. The alliance has become for him an excellent mechanism for obtaining benefits and advantages, as, for example, now with Finland and Sweden.
As for Turkey and Russia, the common history includes 12 wars, on average, one Russian-Turkish war was separated from another by only 25 years. From the US perspective, this is a great story, and let it speed up. The US arranges for Erdogan, in his neo-Ottoman and pan-Turkist aspirations, to dominate the region: his imperial project plays to “contain” and “roll back” Russia, according to Washington and, accordingly, to NATO. If you need to have a proxy in Eurasia, then let it be Erdogan. And if he cannot control everything he has taken, then destabilization, chaos is also an option.
President Erdogan understands the American calculations very well and uses every opportunity to his advantage to push the horizons of the possible. And it is useful for Russia to keep such a partner closer than even a friend, as the great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu taught.

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