Jerri-Lynn here: Erdogan met Putin in Moscow last week but as Helmer explains, failed to achieve any rapprochement in its relations with Russia, despite widespread media claims to the contrary. Both countries remain completely at odds on Syria policy. Turkey continues to turn a deaf ear to wider Russian security concerns: e.g., guaranteeing free sea passage through the so-called Turkish straits, between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean, and blocking any expansion of NATO or enemy operations that could hinder such access.
John Helmer is 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. He served in Jimmy Carter’s White House and then with the Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in Athens. Originally published at The Real News Network.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. On Tuesday, August 9, President Putin of Russia, and President Erdogan of Turkey met in Saint Petersburg to repair relations that had become frayed after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last November. Following this incident, Russia had imposed sanctions on Turkey, and trade and tourism were seriously affected. Erdogan later apologized to the families of the military men involved in the crash.
The meeting was set also after July 15 coup attempt against President Erdogan. President Putin was the first international leader to express support for Erdogan and Erdogan seemed to suspect the US of having a hand against him in this coup de e’tat. Speculation was rife that perhaps Erdogan was ready to switch sides from his alliance to the West, to a closer relationship with Russia.
However, a major stumbling block remains, which is the two countries dramatically opposed positions in regard to Syria. Now joining me to discuss all of this is John Helmer. John is the longest continuously foreign corresponder in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of national and commercial ties. Thank you so much for joining us John.
HELMER: Thank you Sharmini.
PERIES: So John, give us a bit of a take on what exactly happened at this meeting. I know you are opposed to what the western press has been reporting.
HELMER: I wouldn’t say I oppose, I simply know what happened and the western press is completely misleading itself as to what happened. A three letter word, it was a dud. It was a failure, total failure on the part of the Turkish side to achieve any sign of a rapprochement or an improvement in relations with Russia.
To give you an idea of just how bad it was, the Russia Foreign Ministry has yet to put on its website any acknowledgement that during Tuesday, the foreign minister of Russia met a Turk. Instead, the only things indicated of importance by the Foreign Ministry of Russia that occurred on Tuesday was a telephone call between Foreign Minister Lavrov and the German Foreign Minister, Mister Steinmeier.
So, what happened was, let me try and say it quickly for you, a lot of expectations built up by the Turks for Washington and Berlin to take care and to be more supportive of Mr. Erdogan as he tries to continue fighting his coup in Turkey, with hundreds if not thousands, if not a hundred thousands of arrests, purges of the military, the state bureaucracy and so forth, and a total reconstruction of political power in that country.
The coup in Turkey did not end on July the 16. It is continuing, and Erdogan needs to reinforce his power domestically, he needs to begin to promise to deliver economic payoffs to his policies, when the major economic constituencies of the country, the farmers, the exporters, the energy distributers and so forth, can only see weakness in their currency, weakness in their financial balance sheets, and so on.
So Erdogan promises big, he’s also trying to achieve more bribery from the European Union to stop refugee flows, he tries to attract bribes from the United States by making a conspiracy theory of US intervention in his country, et cetera, et cetera. And this idea that there would be a complete change in Turkish strategic alliance is nonsense, it was a Turkish bluff and the rug dealer’s had the rug pulled from underneath him by himself.
He showed up in Moscow–sorry, go on.
PERIES: Ok. And, John, give us a sense of what Russia’s interests are in this meeting. I mean, although it was downplayed, they did have the meeting with Erdogan, and they were the first to acknowledge and provide some support to Erdogan after the coup. We know that–
HELMER: –No support. No, no, that’s not quite right. Russian policy is for stability on its borders, its neighbors. Russia does not consider its national interests, its security interests, its border stability, to be advanced if there are coups and revolutions in countries around the neighborhood, whether that’s Ukraine, the US did sponsor a coup in Kiev in February 2014, whether it’s in Iran, whether it’s in North Korea, whether it’s in China, or whether it’s in Turkey. So the Russian position was, stability in the neighborhood. The Russian position was Mr. Erdogan is the elected, constitutional leader of that country, and what was happening was an attempt to kill him, overthrow him, so Russia’s position was stability in the neighborhood. That was the Russian position. It was stated rather quicker than Mr. Kerry was capable of stating it when he was trying to put some money on whoever was the winner and wasn’t sure who would be the winner.
But the Russian position is really simple. It’s good neighbor policy if you like, but let me try and make it quick and short for you. First, Turkey should stop supporting and fueling and providing safe haven and supplies for groups that threaten Russia to the North, threaten Syria to the south. Threaten Iraq to the east. That means and end to support for ISIS, an end to support for the Chechen Rebellion in the Russian Caucasus. It means an end to support for Crimean Tatar opposition to Russia. It means an end Turkish support for the war against Armenia. That’s number one. Number two, Russia has always for the last several hundred years, as long as there are ships, and as long as there’s the sea, Russia wants free passage through the so-called Turkish straits, between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean. The Turks claim that it’s a territorial war, they often claim that they lost several wars over this. Russia wants to see no expansion of NATO or enemy operations, naval operations, in the Black Sea, facilitated through the Bosphorus, through the Dardanelles, through the Turkish straits, at the behest and at the permission and the encouragement of the Turkish government. Those are security issues, right? No response from Erdogan. In fact, he said at the press conference, we didn’t even talk about Syria, we’ll talk about that a bit later in the afternoon. But as for that meeting, there is no record that anything was said, because as I said before the Russian Foreign Ministry has yet to acknowledge there was such a meeting. More important, on the [crosstalk] morning on the day Erdogan–
PERIES: [interceding] –Now, John, but there was a post-meeting press conference that took place. Both presidents did make a statement. President Putin actually made reference to what you were just talking about, which is that Russia categorically opposed any unconstitutional coup d’etats of this nature. Some interpreted that to be also a reference to Syria and Bashar al-Assad, so there was some official references to this. What then, did they say in the meeting, and what was your take away?
HELMER: Well, let me go back a minute. On the morning of Erdogan’s arrival in Saint Petersburg, there is a 30 minute interview that he gave to Russian state television, to the Tass News Agency, which he made a number of statements which he didn’t repeat in his press conference. He called again for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad. He again explicitly referred to support for the Crimean Tatars and their opposition to Crimea’s accession, to the Russian Federation.
Those are two very big no-no’s, negatives. Aggressive remarks to make on the eve of your arrival in Russia, so that there was nothing left to discuss when he got there. Instead there’s a lot of talk about talking.
A lot of talk about talking about the future economic relations between the two countries. The revival of the two gas pipeline projects, the Turkish Stream and South Stream for Gazprom. The revival of the nuclear reactor project, which is Russia’s building at Akkuyu. Talk about reviving investment, talk about improving visa conditions for Turkish workers in Russia.
On none of those things, none of those things was any agreement announced. All the sides did, all the presidents said at their press conference was that they agreed to continue talking. And for all Mr. Erdogan’s dear friend Putin remark he kept making roughly, I timed him, every three to four minutes of the time he’s in front of the camera, nobody believes it. And he didn’t offer anything on which the Russian side could say we’ve reached a new stage.
He did, yes he apologized for the shoot down of the SU24, but he did not offer Turkish compensation for the murdered pilot, Captain Peshkov. It was very clear Russian policy that Turkey should pay compensation, just as it’s been Turkish policy that Israel should pay compensation for the killing of Turkish citizens in the famous vessel incident off the Gaza coast several years ago. Turkey insisted on compensation from Israel. It took years, it’s been achieved. Yet Turkey offers no compensation when Russia has insisted, on little issues, on big issues, Erdogan offered nothing.
PERIES: And John, what now? In terms of moving forward with these two countries who are very pivotal and very strategically located in terms of the Syrian conflict.
HELMER: Well, I wouldn’t say that the direction is forward. From a Greek point of view, there is increasing chaos. From a Greek and Cyprian point of view, there is increasing chaos in Turkey, and around Turkey. And from one point of view, that’s a small positive because it makes the Turkish army less capable of expanding aggressively east, south, or west.
There is not improvement on Turkey’s readiness to reach a solution for the withdrawal of troops from Northern Cyprus, illegally there since the invasion of ’74. There is no sign that Turkey will relent in its support for the overthrow of Syria. There is no sign that Turkey will do anything to remove the Chechen threat to Russia inside Turkey, so we’re going to move sideways.
We’re going to move, we will simply watch and see if Mr. Erdogan himself can survive. But the way he describes his survival is that he’s the democratic leader of Turkey, well that’s true.
He produces these street displays of public support, and at the same time he distrusts his own military forces so much that he not only purges the general, generals staff, he couldn’t bring a military officer in his delegation to Moscow yesterday. Not one military officer does Mr. Erdogan trust enough to bring to the party in Moscow. Sorry, in St. Petersburg. The chief of the Russian General Staff was there but no Turkish counterpart officer.
PERIES: Now, finally, John, do we at this point know what the Russian intelligence knew about the coming coup in Turkey?
HELMER: All we know is telephone intercepts. What we know is all major intelligence organizations follow what happens in Turkey, so they’re all listening to military communications. Some are in the open, some are encrypted. Knowing and listening doesn’t mean that you’re assisting in what’s happening.
I think we said on this program before, the Turks themselves engaged in the push didn’t know what was happening with their own comrades across Istanbul town. So, foreign intelligence services, whether they were the United States or Russian were watching and listening, but I don’t believe controlling, and the situation is right now, everybody continues to sit in their bunkers and watch and listen.
But Mr. Erdogan, if he thought he came to Russia to prove that he’s in charge, proved that he’s not even in charge of his own mouth.
PERIES: All right John, thank you so much for joining us today, and look forward to ongoing reports from you.
HELMER: Thank you very much. Me too.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
Getting straight to work on cross-posting duties with yves out, i see. :)
if we all get our hands on the Ouija board’s planchette that will tell us. Who knows, it might actually work!
If that’s too much effort (and it may well be) there’s always Nostradamus. ;-)
I think this knocks on the head the notion that the coup was planned by Erdogan. He seems to be genuinely floundering – if not in panic, then in real confusion. This makes Turkey very vulnerable to external and internal pressures, its hard to predict what can happen.
Instability seems to be the best description. Erdogan has so many horses attached to his cart it’s hard to see what he wants. Beyond the billions stashed in the walls of his estates; I think it was Russia that released the phone calls with his son talking about moving the cash.
We know he wants the cash, but is he an Islamic sultan first, or is his main horse the Turkic language group, which pushes into the X-istans to the east? Or is he a Euro, or a Russian lackey?
Easier to see the view from Russia. No Islamic fundamentalism is a foundation stone. The Kurds have been better friends to Russia on this, and Russia reinforces success. That’s close to a deal-killer for Erdogan. But he has to deal with the strategic fact that Russia can control the Black Sea by closing the Bosphorus unilaterally. Assad has managed to keep the same deal with Russia as the Kurds, so far. Erdogan has a lot of enemies to keep close. Does he have any friends?
Erdogan does not have the personality to be somebody’s lackey. He wants to be the Big Man in Total Command of every single last thing he can be in Total Command of. He is trying to play every end against all the middles and catch some fish in the waters he is troubling.
Wasn’t planned but was let happen as it gives the perfect excuse for purges and removing “unreliable” elements in the army, police and civil service. RTE can consolidate his power as part of the clean up after the coup but he’s made a devil’s bargain. Those crowds in the street protecting democracy are dominated by Salafists. He’s relying now on hardcore Islamists to secure power which has the potential for huge problems down the road in Turkey.
Funny, it’s all speculation but I had the opposite thought.
Erdogan, allegedly in a position of weakness, runs to Mother Russia for help in his time of need. But as Helmer notes, he brought bupkis to the table: no concessions on Syria, on Chechen seperatist groups, on trade, or even bones of lesser contention like Nato troops in Cyprus or fruit trade. The most obvious conclusion should be that his “failed” trip to Moscow was more signalling than a desperate appeal for help. And at whom is Erdogan’s signalling aimed? Well Helmer again tells us: the only ones who think it was a salient rapprochment are the Western Press: yes the same Western Press that are currently hyperventillating that the Russians Are Coming! To wit, if you are Erdogan and you thought Victoria Nuland was going to be the next US Secretary of State, what would be the best way to get the stuff you wanted? Especially when it comes to Cyprus, arms to kill kurds, the overthrow of Assad, leverage with the EU, escalation vs. Iran….
And on top of this, Erdogan has priors: he used the European press paranoia about immigrants to blackmail Merkl. He shot down a Russian fighter jet to ingratiate himself to Nato. And he’s actively re-courting Israel. None of this indicates a realignment toward Russia– in fact his lack of concessions indicates the opposite.
Like I said, at this point we can only speculate, and I personally lean more to the possibility that Erdogan saw the possibility of the coup happening and realised it could be to his advantage. But if you look at his position before the coup: weak domestically, not fully accepted by the West… and compare that to what he gets from the coup: elimination of enemies in a purge and the ability to use the threat of a Putin-alignment to blackmail the US, I don’t see how the self-coup theory has been knocked on the head.
I think your theory is as likely as any. Its very hard to see what Erdogan is doing. I suspects its a situation where he has been too clever by half and has wrapped himself up in knots in his various schemes. But its also possible he is actively trying to create as much ambiguity and uncertainty as possible in order to extract as much as possible from his ‘allies’.
Seems Erdogan is playing hard ball negotiations. Hopes Russia needs him more than Turkey needs Russia. And certainly he is doing the same with the EU. Undoubtedly he is playing both sides against each other for the best deal he can get. Wonder if he is competent enough to play those sort of games with someone like Putin.
Although an alternative possibility is that Erdogan is completely out of his depth and burning bridges with everyone by making irrational demands on the EU, the US and Russia.
Putin seems to be the most rational statesman in all this.
One of the best things about Trump, I think, is that he realizes this and wants to work with him rather than demonize him in support of imperialistic type goals.
If Erdogan is a true follower of the Prophet, he believes what he wants and relies on ‘Fate’ to smooth the waters he evidently plans to walk across. In such a scenario, rationality is whatever one wishes it to be.
Get those nukes out of Incirlik now. They are a temptation.
No no no, the nukes “we” have salted the area with (Belgium, fer Chrissakes?)
http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/policies/nuclear-doctrine.htm , are to “provide reassurance” and “promote stability!” See how easy it is to fix the problem?
And besides, no Wog is smart enough to figure out how to bypass the supposed fail safe controls and all — in a place where bribery and subornation are part of the political and social family tree, who would think that a US GI of any rank (Pollard? That recent Admiral passing along navy ship movement plans for cash and sex?) might take a bribe and a belly dance to roll the combination dials? (And yes, I know it;s a little more complicated than that, but still…)
If Erdogan can pretend to change his Syria policy while not doing so, he can also pretend to not change this policy while doing so. When is he deceitful and when is he honest? We may need more time for Turkey’s new policies to become apparent. Does anyone know what policy Gulen or the coup plotters wants toward Syria?
I think this might be one time JH is wrong but we’ll see in the coming weeks.
I don’t understand the Libya connection. Turkey opposed the NATO intervention there.
They along with Israel want chaos like what Libya is like today. There would be no one with real power. If gulen returned it would not be the open society that it is today he is pure cia.
Seems to be about as confused as Erdogan’s. This article on his website from 2011 is supportive of regime change, but this article from 2014 suggests that Gülenists within the media and the miltary/police/security organizations are against intervention in Syria.
Interestingly, this article from 2014 says almost the exact same things as we’re seeing today about a Turkish rapprochement with Russia and Iran.
These Turks don’t show their cards. They must be good poker players.
Erodgan wants to be the caliph of the new Ottoman Empire, with the support of the Salafis in Turkey, ISIS (or whatever) and Saudi Arabia.
As a supplier to ISIS for these reasons, he has no common ground with Russia, who wants an end to Muslim Unrest, because it fuels problems for the Russian like Chechnya, and the other Muslim states along the silk road.
Russia wants to ensure the Black Sea is no blockaded, because Sevastopol is their warm water port, and has been both very important and controlled by Russia for over 400 years.
Erdogan, one expects,is hoping for “approval” from the United States to invade Syria to “keep the peace,” which would be a great step towards a unified Salafi empire.
The Middle East was, is, and will be the cockpit of the world for the foreseeable future.
Before considering events in the Middle East:
1. Know you history
2. Know your geography – look at the maps of borders for the last 1,000 years
3. Analyze ambitions in,and for, the Middle East
I do agree with empire part not with him invading Syria wither has permission from Amerika or not, Russian won’t allow it. Like you pointed out warm water.
I think it’s a little early to be jumping to conclusions here. The dynamics are certainly going to change, but it will take some time to evolve. No one in the west is going to want to be blamed for losing Turkey, so the media will do it’s best to apply the proper spin. I’d say wait and watch what unfolds and take all the talk with a grain of salt. I personally think that it’s very possible Turkey has come to the conclusion that their future looks brighter turning to the east. The new silk road might be all it’s cracked up to be.
The reset has started small steps but the just same it moving. The Russian tourist are coming back with announcement the airlines are approved to return Turkey.
This opens the door for others, about a month ago the Russians, Iran’s, Syrians meet in Russia. They need to put aside their differences because Hillary coming back onto the world stage with every bat-shit-crazy neo-conn at her command. Turkey sees that also. They are all stronger together and throw in China in the back ground and who knows.
Then again what the hell do I know? Only time will tell.
Why do you write the Neo-Cons are at her command? Is it not, rather, than she is at the command of the Neo-Cons?
Erdogan awaits the results of America’s election. He hopes that Clinton gets elected because Clinton shares Ergogan’s goal of toppling Assad in order to install a Jihadi Cannibal Terrorist LiverEater government over all of Syria.
If Trump defeats Clinton ( unlikely I know), and if Trump then purges hundreds or thousands of pieces of radioactive Clintonite Filth out of the relevant parts of the Administrative Branch of Government ( even unlikelier) such that he can forcibly and semi-violently impose a “peace with Russia” policy upon an unwilling DC FedRegime Government; then Erdogan may eventually give up on getting Trump’s support to topple Assad and install a Jihadi Terrorist government. What would Ergogan do then? Where would he turn?
Anyone notice the pot-belly on Putin? When did that start?
I think that some of the other commentators here are overly disparaging of Erdogan.
Erdogan is a skilful and gutsy politician, with a large body of support in his country.
I mean, for God’s sake, we just saw that man totally punk the old-line Kemalists in Turkish officer corps!
Late last year, despite the Syrian imbroglio and mounting tension with the Kurds, Erdogan won a convincing electoral victory. His party formed an outright parliamentary majority.
When Erdogan meets Putin, that is a meeting of peers.
I’ll repeat the prediction I have already made a couple of times on this site: Erdogan is stringing Putin along until after the US election.
By the time Clinton is inaugurated in 2017, Erdogan will have finished purging the suspect elements in the Turkish officer corps. Turkey will then be ready to play an important role in the US-led escalation of the conflict against Syria and Russia.
But for the next 5-6 months, Erdogan wants to keep relations with Russia from going foul. That way the Russians might not want to make a more intense effort to help the Syrians recapture all of Aleppo.
It’s a tough situation for Putin. If Russia steps up the offensive at Aleppo, it would be easy for Erdogan and Clinton to use that as a pretext for their own escalation. If Putin waits for 2017, Erdogan and Clinton are likely to escalate anyhow–they’ll make whatever pretext they need.æ
A reasonable argument, but if Putin knows anything, it’s that he can’t trust Erdogan, no matter what the truth vis a vis US involvement in the coup or who may have tipped off or otherwise saved Erdogan’s regime. Erdogan was an utter fool to become involved in Syria, and like the Saudis and Saddam before him, allow his ego to be captured by dreams of wider regional power and influence under US auspices – in exchange, as always, for going to war against a US enemy. Anyone as encumbered as Erdogan is an ally to be kept close enough to be useful, but not within striking distance.
I think the meeting was likely very serious, and I expect Erdogan and Putin both were looking for something from the other indicating where there might be wiggle room vis a vis what everyone expects is coming under Clinton, but which may already be underway – a major influx of new rebels/ISIS into the fray in Syria amidst escalating calls for direct US intervention as per Libyan version of a ‘no-fly zone’.
Too bad for Turkey. Had they not become involved in this disastrous regime-change operation, Erdogan could’ve maintained his balancing act with relative ease. The focus of his Government would’ve been the continued development of what has become a large, dynamic economy capable of playing the role of Bridge from the West to an East that included Russia.
I don’t know how many rabbits can be left in Putin’s hat. The US really wants its 30 years of war to transform all the regions attacked back into desert and I really don’t expect Putin to go all the way to the wall to stop them. But he does want the world to know what’s happening.
That’s a fair assessment. What I wonder is how much Erdogan’s Islamic beliefs effect his judgement and how much his wanting to revive the Ottoman Empire effects it. Seems to me that betraying ISIS would have been an easy concession for him to make to Russia. Yet he’s still determined to get rid of Assad and anyone who says that supports ISIS because ISIS is the only means of achieving that result. Does Erdogan continue as an ISIS ally because of: 1) ideologically they are two sides of the same coin? 2) The Saudis are sending him money he doesn’t want to give up? 3) he wants continued chaos to have the opportunity to take advantage at Syria’s or the Kurds expense? 4) he fears the US more than Russia? After all, America destroys countries, Russia uses diplomacy, which is less threatening.
Could go on endlessly with all these questions. I suspect the easiest conclusion to reach is that Erdogan is biding his time until the US election results. After all, you couldn’t have a more starker choice: Clinton and full support for anything anti-Russian or Trump and a healing of relations, in which case being Russia’s would be a good thing. I guess the fly in the ointment is a NeoCon Presidency producing another neocon disaster, meaning Russia kicks NATO’s butt, including Turkey.
I can’t help but note that what Erodgan offers to each party – Russia, the US and Europe – is negative. Doesn’t that make it inevitable he ends up with no friends? For goodness sake, he only runs Turkey – and a divided Turkey! He’s a few centuries too late for that to strike any existential fear into his adversaries. Overplaying his hand perhaps?
> I guess the fly in the ointment is a NeoCon Presidency producing another neocon disaster, meaning Russia kicks NATO’s butt, including Turkey.
The next “neocon disaster” is the most probable outcome, but there one a countervailing factor to “new American militarism” (Bacevich) type of adventurism. The idea that the establishing and maintaining the global neoliberal empire by direct interventions is worth the price we pay as it will take the USA into the period of unprecedented peace and prosperity is now discredited. Prosperity is reserved to top one or ten percent and that factor can’t be hidden any longer.
I think the US elite became split and a smaller part of Washington establishment started to understand that the US neocons overextended the country in permanent wars for permanent peace. In wars for extension of the global neoliberal empire. Much like Britain became exhausted from British empire project before.
It well might be that soon the impoverishment of the population and, especially, lack of job and shirking middle class, become an internal political instability factor that will force some changes.
With the total surveillance in place the elite has probably pretty decent picture of the mood of the population. And it is definitely not too encouraging for another reckless neocon experiment.
Also the power of MSM brainwashing started to wear down and neoliberalism as an ideology that keeps the current Washington elite in power is in crisis.
The USSR crushed approximately in 20 years after the communist ideology became discredited by the inability to raise the standard of living of the population. The same is happening with neoliberalism. If we count from 2008, neoliberalism probably still has another 12 years or three presidential terms. That means that if “this Trump” fails to be elected, the “next Trump” might be much more dangerous for Washington neocons.
In a way, emergence of Trump is a sign that the elite can’t govern the old way and population does not want to live the old way. Degeneration of the US neoliberal elite is another factor. Looks at quality of presidential candidates — Hillary and the bunch of narrow minded fanatics they produced for Republican nomination as well as the level of Washington detachment from reality — “let them eat cakes” stance , Those factors will only increase internal political tension that already demonstrated itself in recent riots.
Situation with oil is also dangerous. Artificial suppression of oil prices destroys the US oil producers. They probably will manage to keep the prices low in 2016. Then what?