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Turkey Pivots to the Center of the New Great Game
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When it comes to sowing – and profiting – from division, Erdogan’s Turkey is quite the superstar.

Under the delightfully named Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the Trump administration duly slapped sanctions on Ankara for daring to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems. The sanctions focused on Turkey’s defence procurement agency, the SSB.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s response was swift: Ankara won’t back down – and it is in fact mulling how to respond.

The European poodles inevitably had to provide the follow-up. So after the proverbial, interminable debate in Brussels, they settled for “limited” sanctions – adding a further list for a summit in March 2021. Yet these sanctions actually focus on as-yet unidentified individuals involved in offshore drilling in Cyprus and Greece. They have nothing to do with S-400s.

What the EU has come up with is in fact a very ambitious, global human-rights sanctions regime modeled after the US’s Magnitsky Act. That implies travel bans and asset freezes of people unilaterally considered responsible for genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity.

Turkey, in this case, is just a guinea pig. The EU always hesitates mightily when it comes to sanctioning a NATO member. What the Eurocrats in Brussels really want is an extra, powerful tool to harass mostly China and Russia.

Our jihadis, sorry, “moderate rebels”

What’s fascinating is that Ankara under Erdogan always seems to be exhibiting a sort of “devil may care” attitude.

Take the seemingly insoluble situation in the Idlib cauldron in northwest Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra – a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria – honchos are now involved in “secret” negotiations with Turkish-backed armed gangs, such as Ahrar al-Sharqiya, right in front of Turkish officials. The objective: to boost the number of jihadis concentrated in certain key areas. The bottom line: a large number of these will come from Jabhat al-Nusra.

So Ankara for all practical purposes remains fully behind hardcore jihadis in northwest Syria – disguised under the “innocent” brand Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Ankara has absolutely no interest in letting these people disappear. Moscow, of course, is fully aware of these shenanigans, but wily Kremlin and Defence Ministry strategists prefer to let it roll for the time being, assuming the Astana process shared by Russia, Iran and Turkey can be somewhat fruitful.

Erdogan, at the same time, masterfully plays the impression that he’s totally involved in pivoting towards Moscow. He’s effusive that “his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin” supports the idea – initially tabled by Azerbaijan – of a regional security platform uniting Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Erdogan even said that if Yerevan is part of this mechanism, “a new page may be opened” in so far intractable Turkey-Armenia relations.

It will help, of course, that even under Putin pre-eminence, Erdogan will have a very important seat at the table of this putative security organization.

The Big Picture is even more fascinating – because it lays out various aspects of Putin’s Eurasia balancing strategy, which involves as main players Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the assassination of Gen Soleimani, Tehran is far from cowed and “isolated”. For all practical purposes, it is slowly but surely forcing the US out of Iraq. Iran’s diplomatic and military links to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon remain solid.

And with less US troops in Afghanistan, the fact is Iran for the first time since the “axis of evil” era will be less surrounded by the Pentagon. Both Russia and China – the key nodes of Eurasia integration – fully approve it.

Of course the Iranian rial has collapsed against the US dollar, and oil income has fallen from over \$100 billion a year to something like \$7 billion. But non-oil exports are going well over \$30 billion a year.

All is about to change for the better. Iran is building an ultra-strategic pipeline from the eastern part of the Persian Gulf to the port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman – bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, and ready to export up to 1 million barrels of oil a day. China will be the top customer.

President Rouhani said the pipeline will be ready by the summer of 2021, adding that Iran plans to be selling over 2.3 million barrels of oil a day next year – with or without US sanctions alleviated by Biden-Harris.

Watch the Golden Ring

Iran is well linked to Turkey to the west and Central Asia to the east. An extra important element in the chessboard is the entrance of freight trains directly linking Turkey to China via Central Asia -bypassing Russia.

Earlier this month, the first freight train left Istanbul for a 8,693 km, 12-day trip, crossing below the Bosphorus via the brand new Marmary tunnel, inaugurated a year ago, then along the East-West Middle Corridor via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, across Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

In Turkey this is known as the Silk Railway. It was the BTK that reduced freight transport from Turkey to China from one month to only 12 days. The whole route from East Asia to Western Europe can now be travelled in only 18 days. BTK is the key node of the so-called Middle Corridor from Beijing to London and the Iron Silk Road from Kazakhstan to Turkey.

All of the above totally fits the EU’s agenda – especially Germany’s: implementing a strategic trade corridor linking the EU to China, bypassing Russia.

This would eventually lead to one of the key alliances to be consolidated in the Raging Twenties: Berlin-Beijing.

To speed up this putative alliance, the talk in Brussels is that Eurocrats would profit from Turkmen nationalism, pan-Turkism and the recent entente cordiale between Erdogan and Xi when it comes to the Uighurs. But there’s a problem: many a turcophone tribe prefers an alliance with Russia.

Moreover, Russia is inescapable when it comes to other corridors. Take, for instance, a flow of Japanese goods going to Vladivostok and then via the Trans-Siberian to Moscow and onwards to the EU.

The bypass-Russia EU strategy was not exactly a hit in Armenia-Azerbaijan: what we had was a relative Turkey retreat and a de facto Russian victory, with Moscow reinforcing its military position in the Caucasus.

Enter an even more interesting gambit: the Azerbaijan-Pakistan strategic partnership, now on overdrive in trade, defence, energy, science and technology, and agriculture. Islamabad, incidentally, supported Baku on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Both Azerbaijan and Pakistan have very good relations with Turkey: a matter of very complex, interlocking Turk-Persian cultural heritage.

And they may get even closer, with the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INTSC) increasingly connecting not only Islamabad to Baku but also both to Moscow.

Thus the extra dimension of the new security mechanism proposed by Baku uniting Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia: all the Top Four here want closer ties with Pakistan.

Analyst Andrew Korybko has neatly dubbed it the “Golden Ring” – a new dimension to Central Eurasian integration featuring Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and the central Asian “stans”. So this all goes way beyond a possible Triple Entente: Berlin-Ankara-Beijing.

What’s certain as it stands is that the all-important Berlin-Moscow relationship is bound to remain as cold as ice. Norwegian analyst Glenn Diesen summed it all up: “The German-Russian partnership for Greater Europe was replaced with the Chinese-Russian partnership for Greater Eurasia”.

What’s also certain is that Erdogan, a master of pivoting, will find ways to simultaneously profit from both Germany and Russia.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iran, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. Wielgus says:

    I might have agreed with this (reluctantly as I don’t care for Erdoğan) but this is the same writer who is into the Age of Aquarius.
    So… nah.

    • LOL: Fallingwater
  2. Erdogan sequentially overplays his hand. Libya, Syria, Cypress, Greece, S400 and so on. Each time the afterburn is worse than whatever gains.

    There is no “great game”. For there to be a great game would require great players. So far no evidence of any.

    The Iranians seem to enjoy pain as they go to great lengths to seek it out. Perhaps it would be better for them to cut out all the middlemen and pay the Americans directly to punish them. A real win win.

  3. @Leander Starr

    “The Iranians seem to enjoy pain as they go to great lengths to seek it out.”
    This really is quite a silly comment….

    • Replies: @J
  4. Wielgus says:
    @Leander Starr

    So far at least Nagornyy Karabakh seems to have been successful for him but everything else dubious. It looks like Turkey withdrew many troops from Syria, concealed by Karabakh being higher up in the news feed.

  5. J says:

    No, it is not silly. The Shi’a religion glorifies self torture and suffering. They have horrible bloody public spectacles where they cut their heads with sables and stroke each other with iron chains.

  6. Blade says:
    @Leander Starr

    Is that so? But it is actually Greece that overplayed its hands and now begging Europe for sanctions and crying that Germany isn’t stopping sale of submarines to Turkey. Libya is no loss either, Turkey had no influence there. Thanks to Greece’s greed, Turkey now will get a naval base in Libya; completely encircling Greece from North, Northwest, East and South. In Cyprus you will soon see an independent Turkich Republic being accepted. Now that NK is out of equation, there is no barrier for Turkey to push for it. S400 is still contentious. There are serious doubts about F35 being a colossal failure (the US army actually has its own separate jet development now, I suspect they don’t believe F35 either) and there are serious concerns regarding maintenance and flight readiness of these jets. I have heard rumors about the US army having hard time maintaining F35s. Not to mention that F35 is actually a platform, and they can be grounded remotely. Moreover, it is still not clear how it will end. There are some thoughts that I will not share, but it is unlikely S400s is a loss for Turks.

    That leaves Syria. It is still unclear how it will end. Turkey may end with short end of stick in Syria, but at least it is a valuable lesson on not trusting some countries, and not working with others. As you can see, you are too soon to say Turkey lost in all these problems, your judgment is probably affected by GOCDT (Greek obsessive compulsive disorder with Turks, a disease of mind that afflicts Greeks). Turkey will continue rising. You should be more concerned about your own shrinking country.

  7. @Leander Starr

    The S-400 seems to be the exception to what you said about Erdogan. They were not only willing to face sanctions to get it – but they were willing to lose the F-35. That was very calculated.

  8. @Blade

    I agree to an extent – but Erdogan should have stayed out of Libya. Even if their side wins they would be seen as imperialists by everyone else

    • Replies: @Blade
  9. @Blade

    I recall seeing a rumor that the F-35 has to check into a database before the digital engine control will allow the thing to take off. This is obivously not only a hacking target, but also a strategic threat, so Lockheed Martin apparently came up with a solution involving the setting up of server racks in the hangars. So the commander will input mission parameters to the servers, which will then communicate with the plane and allow it to take off, in addition to keeping track of maintenance schedules and spare parts inventory.

    It seems so dumb, but then again what do we know, armchair generals something something…

    A minor correction: the US Army does not operate any variant of the F-35. The F-35A, which is a conventional plane, is operated by the Air Force. The F-35B, which is VTOL, is the preserve of the Marine Corps. And the F-35C, the carrier-based version, belongs to the Navy (with a few also going to the Marine Corps for use on Navy carriers). If they do have a jet program, it would be to develop a purpose-built replacement for the A-10, which Washington think tank types insist can be safely replaced by the ’35. But the A-10 itself is operated by the Air Force, so I think you have your data wrong.

    • Replies: @Blade
  10. Blade says:

    Nah. First of all, Libya has a considerable Turkish minority, anywhere from 15% to 25%; with many of them being Turks expelled from Crete who were majority when Greeks took over the island (hey ethnic cleansing lovers, bet you haven’t heard that have you?). Secondly, Libyans have always fought alongside Turks unlike Saudis, so there is that debt. Thirdly, Turkey has over 10 billion dollars tied in contracts and unpaid debt from Gaddafi era. Fourth, Turkey has a maritime demarcation agreement with Libyan government that it wants to enforce. Fifth, having a naval base in Misrata will mean Greece will be completely encircled from all directions. Regarding the last point; it is not that important to encircle Greece; they are no match for Turkey anyway. However, it is always a good idea to build more advantages especially since they tend to think they don’t have to follow agreements they signed. Also, Turkey plans to involve more in Africa and it is crucial for both Turkey’s and Europe’s security that Africa is stable and gets some development. That is part the reason why Italy supports Turkey, they don’t want more migrants coming from Libya. Incompetent French cannot even handle some ragtag militias in Sahel, so it is up to Turkey to provide security, stability and reap some benefits that come with it.

    French don’t like this because they want to keep exploiting Africa and continue importing more Africans to Europe. A stable Libya with Turkey behind prevents that. They also want all those contracts and oil riches in Libya. Greeks, I mean, if they think something harms Turkey they don’t care they also get harmed so they are against as well. UAE and Egypt are against Turkey because they don’t want another democratic Arab country. Russia is also playing along these countries but not fully committing, Libya is not that important for them. If Turkey fails in Libya, there will be lots of migrants going to Greece, Italy and Malta. However, it is unlikely that Turkey will fail considering in just a couple weeks it reversed years long gains of Hifter and his allies. Libyans also don’t want another Gaddafi. Hifter guy already committed mass murders, that are strangely not focused on in Western media outlets.

    • Replies: @showmethereal
  11. Blade says:

    I don’t think F35s are all that important. Particularly for countries like Turkey or similar. I am not a military expert but I think their tactical value is that because they are supposedly stealth they will allow operating a country to strike strategic targets deep in the hostile country/countries. In another word, your enemy needs to have that kind of strategic depth. Who would Turkey use this against? Terrorists that can be hunted down with drones? Small Greece that is fully within missile range and in the same alliance? Iran? Russia, for a lose-lose war?

    I can see its importance for the US in a hypothetical war against China or Russia. But even that requires too much assumptions. Considering, there appears to be a massive hack and secrets stolen, I highly doubt that Chinese haven’t already shared the data with Russians. Moreover, even if F35 could be used; wouldn’t these countries just respond with ballistic missiles? Overall, I think it is the biggest white elephant project of the military history. A plane that is jack of all trades and master of none. I also doubt any of the recipient countries would achieve maintaining the stealth of these planes, making them easy targets for fighters. Then again I am not an expert, maybe there are some things I am missing.

  12. @Blade

    NATO action was the problem in Libya in the first place…. Everything else is just mopping up a spilled mixing bowl

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