John Helmer: The New Byzantine Alliance – Will Russia and Turkey Revolutionize the Center of the Old World?

Yves here. I hope you don’t mind the double helping on Russia-related topics today, but that’s how the news broke.

One has to infer that Erdogan is furious that the US has not turned over the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Erdogan has depicted as the mastermind of the failed coup, and is giving us the biggest poke in the eye he can come up with. This one is awfully big if Erdogan follows through with more cooperation with Russia. And this may tie into the increased demonization of Putin of late. I’ve only been following the various theorizing as to whether the US was behind the coup. I doubt it, and the Russians appear to doubt it. Per Helmer by an earlier e-mail:

This is the best Russian account so far, and it shows evidence of Russian military monitoring of communications during the coup: The gist is important – if the coup plotters and participants were confused about what they wanted to achieve, except for removing Erdogan, why wasn’t his aircraft shot down? Answer from the Russian side: there was no command and control of the various ground and air units engaged – they couldn’t talk to one another, and couldn’t coordinate. By failing to strike Erdogan first, they allowed him time to mobilize his party apparatus and the mosques. Once they moved people into the streets, the soldiers inside the tanks couldn’t act.

You can see from SecState Kerry’s hesitant, non-committal statement from Moscow on Friday evening, Moscow time, in favour of “security and stability” that he and Washington weren’t sure how many of their “assets” were engaged, and on whose side. It took hours for Obama to come out in favour of “democracy” – that’s to say, the winning side. By then Erdogan had decided some of the plotters were on the US side. It is clear this is so from the attempt by General Van to seek asylum from the US at Incirlik; imagine how many hours it took for Washington to say no, and hand him over.

That this was a CIA plot is not how the Russian intell is reading, for the moment. That there may have been CIA assets engaged in the plot as it unfolded looks likely – and Erdogan is going to exploit that.

So far, the Greek intell version, based on what the asylum seeking officers are saying and other methods, isn’t out in the open, and I’m waiting for my friends to let me know.

The Israeli versions are also contradictory and confused because that’s how it’s been.

If one must keep score, it’s essential to know which goalposts you consider yours. From this perspective, the outcome is the best possible one for those who consider Turkey to be an irredentist enemy to Europe, to Greece and Cyprus in particular. The outcome is a score against the Nuland schemes; against the Merkel refugee scheme; against US schemes to overthrow Assad.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

On August 9, in St. Petersburg, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will meet Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The moment is revolutionary. There has not been a comparable political turning-point in the 67 years since the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); not in the century since the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany against Russia in World War I; nor in the two centuries since Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II and the Russian Tsar Alexander I aligned against Napoleon and the British.

Russian sources say they are sure the Russian secret services did not warn Erdogan or help his forces prevail in the July 15-16 coup against him. After Erdogan began his counter-coup, and in the fight still continuing between Erdogan’s Islamic forces and the regular Turkish military, the sources add, there has been, and there will be, Russian help. It is more for the future, they explain, than for last week’s outcome that Turkish deputy prime minister Mehmet Şimşek told his counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich in Moscow on Tuesday: “I would like to thank you for support regarding recent events in Turkey, for supporting democracy and the Turkish government.”

The Russian sources say it is already agreed the two sides will pay a soon-to-be settled price in two-way trade; gas, nuclear and other energy projects; plus tourism. Much more is at stake, though, one of the sources adds. “Putin and his advisors believe Erdogan is still in danger. They support him now for the opportunity to reorganize the relationship with Turkey. They mean to secure Russia from encirclement on the southern frontier and the Black Sea, dismemberment of the Caucasus, and attack on the Kremlin by its enemies. Right now, as Europe collapses, the enemy is the US with NATO in support. If Turkey breaks with the US, NATO is a paraplegic. We shall see how Putin and Erdogan choose to portray the new Rome*, the new Byzantium* next Tuesday.”

The new alliance agenda was formalized at a Security Council meeting on Monday afternoon. The Kremlin announced: “The President briefed the permanent members of the Security Council on his recent telephone conversations with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in the context of preparations for the visit by the President of Turkey to Russia scheduled for early August.”

Omitted were the military and intelligence briefings Putin received from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief, Mikhail Fradkov; the deputy director of the council, Rashid Nurgaliyev; and the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov.

image007 Left to right: Shoigu, Fradkov, Nurgaliyev, and Bortnikov.

Russian sources dismiss the foreign press narrative of last week’s military coup attempt suggesting Arab and Israeli foreknowledge of the coup. “Plotting, bribing, and wishful thinking there were,” one of the sources comments. “But knowing and participating – that’s not what happened.”

In an analysis of the military operations in Istanbul and Ankara, Yevgeny Krutikov, correspondent of Vzglyad in Moscow, has reported there was no coordination between the Turkish Army, Navy and Air Force; poor command and control within each of the services; and inadequate troops and firepower on the streets to combat the turnout in Erdogan’s favour.

“There were simply not enough rebels. There was no chain of command. The ‘capture units’ for important facilities consisted of a maximum of 10 people under the command of officers from captain’s rank to lieutenant colonel. Among the insurgency leadership there wasn’t anyone above the rank of colonel. The entire ‘[rebel] company’ has done what it could. To try to seize power in a highly militarized country’s forces [you need] more than a tank battalion and a pair of helicopters. For bigger divisions they [rebels] just could not give any orders — without bumping into the requirement they answer a reasonable question: who are you anyway?”

Did the Russian intelligence services help Erdogan? “That’s unreal,”according to Krutikov. “There was no agreement at all between the Russian and Turkish intelligence services. Besides, all contacts were frozen after the downing of the Russian aircraft [SU-24]. Radio signals of the manoeuvres of the coup’s armed forces were monitored by our military troops. There is a little likelihood this information was transmitted to the Turkish special services.”

Russian sources are non-committal on what role US military and intelligence agencies played during the July 15 events at the Incirlik airbase and elsewhere to encourage, or not to discourage, the attempt at overthrowing Erdogan. What is certain now, as Erdogan tries to mop up, according to Greek and Cypriot analysts, is that Turkey has turned against the US and the NATO alliance. “Turkey is now moving away from western dependence,” says a well-informed region source who asks not to be identified. “This makes sense geopolitically because the west has lost control in the Middle East. Other close western allies in the region, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, are becoming autonomous, in the sense that they don’t obey the US. This is because the US can no longer act as a hegemon. Washington can’t dictate, or even recommend solutions to conflicts or rivalries, like Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Palestine. Now, with or without direct US involvement in the Turkish coup, Erdogan sees his chance to make Turkey more autonomous, so he is taking it.”

image0123Russian sources agree. Referring to Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (right), whose plan of attack against Russia in Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, and Cyprus have been reported here and here, a Moscow source concludes: “The Nuland plots have all failed. The US can no longer talk to the Turks. Losing Turkey to Erdogan and his Islamists also means the US can dictate no longer in the region. You can’t expect the Americans will take it lying down. There’s no government in Washington right now. But if Clinton wins, there will be a US fight-back. It will be too late.”

As French princesses and Nuland have publicly suggested, revolutions require cakes, or at least cookies. The short-term payoffs to Erdogan’s business constituents, and Putin’s, were tabled swiftly at the July 26 meeting between Dvorkovich and Simsek (below,left, right); and at the following meeting between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Turkish Economic and Energy Ministers, Nihat Zeybekci and Berat Albayrak. Details of their talks can be read here.

Dvorkovich at extreme left; Simsek at right. Source:

Military sources believe Erdogan’s position is still far from assured. “The numbers and the spread of the purges tell you this is a continuous coup, which could turn into ethnic or communal revolts at any time, or civil war. Russia is positioning itself, as it did in the past, in favour of the stability of the Turkish state – right now this means Erdogan. The Kremlin is against breakup. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a weak Turkey meant to Moscow that Russia’s enemies gained control of the vital Russian interests of the time, such as the Straits.”

Greek, Cypriot and Russian sources questioned about the current course of events say the principal Russian objectives are obvious. Erdogan should stop the export of jihadis, ISIS, and sedition towards the Russian Caucasus in the form of the Chechens. He must also stop his regime-changing tactics in Syria, and not less in the Balkans and in Central Asia. The sources believe that in his current predicament Erogan is a better bet for the Kremlin than the Turkish military, or the so-called Kemalist or Gulenist political groups, encouraged by the US. If the pro-American or NATO elements can be uprooted and destroyed, Russia is bound to feel more secure — so long as Erdogan’s Sunni Islamic orientation will make its peace with Russia, as the Shiites of Iran and Iraq are doing.

According to a Russian military historian, “Putin today can’t be different from the Tsar [Nicholas II] in 1914. Unpredictability and instability in Turkey are threats to Russia, because they let more powerful enemies in.” For a western historian’s conclusion on the same point, read this.

Political economists in Moscow see the reciprocal benefit for Moscow and Ankara if the South Stream (aka Turkish Stream) gas pipeline project can be revived. Gazprom will assure the sale of larger volumes of gas south and westwards; Turkey can benefit from becoming an energy hub, not only for Russian gas, but also for new flows from Israel, perhaps Lebanon, potentially even Cyprus.

A well-known Cypriot analyst observes: “Yes, Cyprus is better off, though the situation around us is tragic. At least, hegemony, western hegemony, is finished. This is good because a large part of the [Cyprus] problem came from that [Anglo-American] hegemony and its efforts to maintain itself. Their subversion of Arab modernization has been the greatest crime of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.”

“Back to Cyprus — with multiple guarantees, not only from the west, and with Turkey more autonomous, and no longer the pawn of anybody, the guarantees for [reunified] Cyprus will be more realistic. They will reflect the real balance of power geographically, and also of the future.”

There is regional support for Putin’s rapprochement with Erdogan, even among the bitterest historical enemies of the Turks. They view the Kremlin as a more reliable curb on Turkish military adventures and expansion than the Americans, British or NATO have proved to be. Says the Cypriot analyst: “Natural gas is the future of Cyprus for all political wings. But moving the economy right now are tourism, and the increasing role of Russian capital, and also the small but growing Russian community. Russia has multiple roles to play in Cyprus. It is probably the force that appeals to the broadest cross-section of the people — to the masses on the left; lately to the centre, and to a section of the religious right, after almost a century, though they aren’t an autonomous force themselves yet. If now Russia becomes friends with Turkey, then we may even have Turkish Cypriot friends.”

[*] Footnote: The doctrine of the new or third Rome refers to the Russian Orthodox idea that Moscow has succeeded, or will in God’s due course, succeed ancient Rome and Byzantine Constantinople as the centre of true Christianity and its empire.

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  1. NotTimothyGeithner

    Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and junior and symbolic partners in Iraq and Syria. That’s an impressive alignment, and more importantly make China a more palatable partner for a smaller country with a real counter to appeal to.

    The largest obstacle is Russians. Without Turkish help, six or seven soldiers would be alive.

  2. Michael Z Archangel

    There is a scripture(yes,i’m a minister) that say’s that if you see a potential for danger or loss to others and do not say anything in warning to them then that makes you an accessory to the crime. However, if you do make them aware and they refuse to listen, then you are absolved of responsibility. That said. What difference does it make who is in charge? Russia shows much potential last decade or so. China as well. U.S.NATO on other hand has had ample time to show what it can and will accomplish. Biased, one sided, War mongering, Extreme loss of property and LIVES. Definitely time for someone else to take a “crack” at it. They certainly could not do any worse.

  3. timbers

    It’s a wonderful day because there is rare GOOD news! —– “The Nuland plots have all failed. The US can no longer talk to the Turks. Losing Turkey to Erdogan and his Islamists also means the US can dictate no longer in the region. You can’t expect the Americans will take it lying down. There’s no government in Washington right now. But if Clinton wins, there will be a US fight-back. It will be too late.”

  4. PlutoniumKun

    All very interesting. I think its clear that a profound and long lasting realignment is occurring from the eastern Mediterranean through the Middle East and Central Asia. I thought Erdogan had signed his (political) death warrant when he downed that Sukhoi, but he has been lucky in his enemies. The one thing is clear is that Putin is both lucky and a masterful strategist, head and shoulders above any of his equivalents in the West or in Asia. With very weak cards (most notably a wrecked economy) he has managed to realign almost all Russias borders in his favour. Plucking Turkey from the West would be the jewel in the crown and would fatally weaken Nato and stymie US policy in the Middle East/Central Asia.

    The bigger picture though is how the Middle Eastern alignment will shake up – without the US as a hegemon there are half a dozen or so very powerful and very brittle powers (state and non-state) in play. The result could go anyway – although my money would be on increasing bloodshed – this is almost always the short term result of a loss of hegemonic control.

    1. timbers

      “The result could go anyway – although my money would be on increasing bloodshed – this is almost always the short term result of a loss of hegemonic control.” IMO one way to sharply reduce the bloodshed in the context the “loss of hegemonic control” by the US would be to do what we once did a long long time ago – arms embargoes. US arms sales are out of control and surely flowing to those doing the bloodshed because regime change, donations to Clinton Foundation, etc. If we slap economic sanctions willy nilly on the US enemy of the month, we can stop selling arms to state terror sponsors like Saudi Arabia to name just one.

  5. washunate

    What is certain now, as Erdogan tries to mop up, according to Greek and Cypriot analysts, is that Turkey has turned against the US and the NATO alliance.

    As they say, the proof is in the eating of the pudding. Turkey has long been a potential flashpoint for the Anglo-Americans to be involuntarily transitioned to a multipolar world. But the Turks have to actually do it, leave NATO and stop supporting American foreign policy.

    Until then, it’s all talk and speculation, especially coming from “Greek and Cypriot analysts”. The Greeks, after all, listened to their American overlords in accepting fraudulent debt and protecting oligarchs rather than renouncing debt and taxing oligarchs.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t see any reason why Turkey has to formally leave Nato, even if it turns towards Russia. Nato is largely a military structure based on co-operation, it has no formal structure for disciplining wayward members. There is nothing to stop Turkey developing a more independent pro-Russian foreign policy while maintaining those military structures, at least in name. In any event, Erdogan will be seeking to weaken the military as much as possible to prevent further coups so any attempt by other Nato efforts to exclude Turkey from partnership meetings would actually help him.

    2. Steve H.

      – it’s all talk and speculation

      Yup. A whole lot of coupled relationships in flux right now.

  6. GF

    Great post. Paul Craig Roberts is finally validated. He has been posting about US hegemony for years.

  7. Fendov015

    It is also interesting that terror, whether economic or explosive – that dreaded outcome of trying to counter Western policy (see Iraq, Iran) – may be used to punish and teach Erdogan a lesson, as it has started already in Ankara. Did you ever notice how American/NATO/”coalition” troop pullout leads to increased “terror”, so that the ole U.S is “asked” to return to save the oligarch’s bacon? I do not see such weakening of the Western alliance to such a degree that it cannot resort to this, among other, responses.

  8. Synoia

    Please welcome a new letter in the BRICS, T.

    The community formally known as the BRICS will now be called the BRITCS.

    Please look at the map of Asia, especially the termini of the historic Silk Road, and tell us what you see.

  9. jim

    It’s pretty clear Erdogan staged the coup to consolidate power. He is using this to purge the military of dissenters who weren’t going along with supporting ISIS rebels in destroying Syria. Today he shut down 130 media outlets and arrested journalists en masse.

    NATO is happy to have Turkey flood Europe with millions of migrants to take more rights away and launch more wars.

    The deal in the article is just economic. The Nato Turkey alliance is still as a strong as ever. After all, he’s always been a puppet.

  10. EoinW

    What an awful photo of Clinton and Nuland. It looks like their consciences on display. The Picture of Dorian Grey?

  11. Ld Elon

    Thanking you for the pressure relief in redirecting Europeans growing pains…
    Carry on~#

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