By Steven MacMillan/The Analyst Report: 19 August, 2016
At the end of June, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sent a letter to Vladimir Putin in which he apologized for the death of a Russian pilot after Turkey shot down a Russian plane in November, 2015. In the letter, the Turkish President referred to Russia as a “friend and strategic partner,” demonstrating Erdoğan’s desire to repair ties with Moscow.
This apology marked a positive shift in Turkish-Russian relations after a period of severe strain. Gazprom immediately announced that they would be ready to reopen talks on the proposed Turkish Stream project – a natural gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Turkey via the Black Sea, and potentially be extended into southeast Europe – after Russia suspended talks following the downing of the Russian plane at the end of last year.
At the start of July, Russia and Turkey also announced that they would work more closely in relation to fighting terrorist forces in Syria. Turkey has always been a key player in resolving the Syrian crisis, with the Syrian-Turkish border being an important entry point for rebel fighters. It has been well documented that Turkey has played a pivotal role in the failed attempt to oust Bashar al-Assad from power through arming an array of extremist legions, and allowing operation centres used by the powers supporting the Syrian opposition, to be hosted on their territory. But with a renewed relationship with Russia, a Turkey that is truly serious about fighting the rebel invasion of Syria would be a significant step towards ending the Syrian conflict.
As if by magic, only a matter of weeks after Erdoğan’s apology and the improved relations with Russia, a faction of the Turkish military attempted to seize power in the country. Although it is possible that Erdoğan staged the coup himself in order to further solidify power in his hands, it increasingly looks as though the failed military coup was orchestrated by the CIA asset, Fethullah Gulen, who is currently living in self-imposed exile in the US.
The rapprochement between Turkey and Russia at the end of June, and the potential of Turkey moving closer to Moscow’s position on Syria, triggered the US to organize a coup through using forces loyal to Gulen within the Turkish military. It has always been clear that many factions in the US are opposed to strong Turkish-Russian relations, and these factions would try to oust Erdoğan in order to break a partnership between Ankara and Moscow. As I wrote in a December 2014 article: “If Turkey is truly moving closer to Moscow, the CIA will attempt to topple the government in Ankara and install a more subservient regime.”
A Russian Warning?
In an article that appeared in the Iranian-based Fars News on the 20th of July titled: Erdoğan Warned of Incoming Coup by Russian Alert, reported that Turkish intelligence was warned by Russian intelligence of a coup shortly before it was launched:
“Several Arab media outlets, including Rai Alyoum, quoted diplomatic sources in Ankara as saying that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known locally as the MIT, received intel from its Russian counterpart that warned of an impending coup in the Muslim state. The unnamed diplomats said the Russian army in the region had intercepted highly sensitive army exchanges and encoded radio messages showing that the Turkish army was readying to stage a coup against the administration in Ankara.”
The article continued:
“Reports also suggest the coup plotters had orders to kidnap or kill President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as helicopters headed toward the hotel he was staying in at the holiday resort of Marmaris. But Erdoğan had left 44 minutes before they arrived, according to Al-Jazeera’s report.”
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in response to the claim that Russia had warned Turkey that he had “no such information” on the matter, playing down the report. Perhaps Russia did not warn Erdoğan, or perhaps Russia is just holding its cards close to its chest.
The failed military coup in Turkey has caused a seismic rift between Turkey and the US, the two largest armed forces in NATO. This deterioration in relations, especially if prolonged, will be a major blow to NATO’s attempt to project unity after the Brexit vote shook the alliance. Allegations and criticisms have been flying back and forth between Ankara and Washington, with the question over whether the US will extradite Gulen being a central issue.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated in the middle of July that Turkey had not formally requested the extradition of Gulen, but the US would be willing to assist Ankara if they could provide “legitimate evidence,” however this seems hard to believe as Erdoğan has been at war with Gulen for years now. In response to Kerry’s comments, Erdoğan publicly demanded that the US extradite the cleric.
On the same day as Kerry made his comments, the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, indirectly criticized US support for Gulen, stating that: “The country that would stand behind this man is no friend to Turkey; it would even be a hostile act against Turkey.” It is clear that Turkey will keep pressuring the US in relation to this issue in the coming months, but at 75, Gulen may not have too many years left in him. Whether the US will extradite Gulen remains to be seen, but judging by Kerry’s comments, the US will employ delaying tactics at every turn.
Kerry also hinted in July that Turkey could be expelled from NATO due to the crackdown by Erdoğan on suspected coup sympathisers. A NATO member since 1952, even the fact that Kerry would hint at such a move is illustrative of how serious the rift is.
Turkey’s Geopolitical Shift to the East
Since the failed coup, the reaction of Turkey has been to move closer to the major powers to its east. The Turkish President reportedly proposed a Turkish-Iranian-Russian alliance just a week after the incident. As Sputnik noted:
“In a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his willingness to cooperate closely with Iran and Russia ‘to settle regional crises and restore peace and stability to the region.’”
If this is a genuine and sincere proposal from Turkey, it signals a tectonic shift in the geopolitical landscape of Eurasia. A Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance would be (among other things) a major step towards ending the Syrian conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and displaced millions.
Steven MacMillan is a freelance writer and editor of The Analyst Report blog.