By Conor Gallagher
Türkiye continues to exasperate Washington and Brussels with its willingness to chart its own course in its relationship with Russia. While ties between Ankara and Moscow grow stronger, the Turkish relationship with NATO is on the rocks. Washington is using Greece and Cyprus to increase pressure on Türkiye in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Türkiye continues to block the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland.
Meanwhile the EU is reportedly discussing applying extraterritorial sanctions on Türkiye (pushed by members Greece and Cyprus) in what would be a major escalation. From Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty:
The EU diplomats I spoke to on the condition of anonymity indicated that the move to broaden the scope of EU sanctions should primarily be read as scare tactics to force third countries into aligning with the EU position on the issue. Some countries, notably EU candidate countries Serbia and Türkiye, have not followed Brussels’ lead on sanctions to date…
It was Cyprus and Greece who were allegedly instrumental in pushing for the bloc going toward extraterritoriality. Does that mean Türkiye might be in the crosshairs? In a leaked European Commission document assessing the impact of the EU’s Russia sanctions so far — a document seen by RFE/RL — Türkiye, alongside China, is mentioned in a subchapter on circumvention with the text stating that “the value of Türkiye’s exports to Russia nearly doubled since the second quarter [of 2022].” The document also states that “exports of some member states to Türkiye have also risen sharply over 2022.”
The threats of secondary sanctions come on the heels of the Netherlands-based operator of TurkStream, South Stream Transport, temporarily losing its export license after it was judged to be in breach of EU sanctions against Russia. Countries receiving gas via TurkStream include Türkiye, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Romania, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ankara and Moscow are also pressing ahead with plans to make Türkiye a natural gas hub for Europe – an irritating thought for Washington and many in Europe who want to completely end the relationship with Russian energy no matter the economic costs to the EU.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to the media about the Nord Stream pipelines and plans with Türkiye on Oct. 31, said:
It is difficult for us to control the situation because the [Nord Stream] site is in the exclusive economic zone of Denmark, Sweden and, farther, Germany.
In this sense, it is easier for us to work with Turkiye, first of all, because President Erdogan keeps his word. If we come to an agreement on something – this may be difficult to do, but if we come to an agreement, we try to implement it. It was the first point. And secondly, it is easier for us to control the Black Sea area.
Therefore, it is a perfectly realistic project, and we can accomplish it relatively quickly. And there will be enough of those wishing to sign contracts. I have no doubt about that.
Russia claimed in September and October that it foiled attacks on Turkstream. Expanding the pipeline would still face challenges from potential sanctions and the EU’s reluctance to buy Russian gas. There might be a workaround that would suit all parties, however. From the Middle East Eye:
Building a third and possibly fourth line in TurkStream may help to transport more gas, but there would be technical problems in building them due to potential sanctions that could be imposed on turbines and European construction companies.
Also, their maintenance wouldn’t be feasible if spare parts for the pipelines weren’t made available by western countries. And even if they were completed in a couple of years, it isn’t clear if EU countries would buy Russian gas.
The most realistic option is for Russian gas to be commercialised with other gas sources at the Epias energy exchange in Istanbul, physically blended in a hub to be established in Thrace and then delivered to European buyers.
Aside from the US, Türkiye is really the only NATO member to pursue independent foreign policy – largely due to its indispensable position controlling the Dardanelles Strait and access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean.
As the only NATO member that hasn’t closed its airspace to Russia or enacted economic sanctions on the country, tourism and trade with Russia is booming. Much of the latter can be attributed to setting itself up as a middleman between Russia and the EU to facilitate trade bypassing sanctions. From Hurriyet:
Türkiye boosted its exports to the EU by 4.8 percent from September last year to $8.9 billion…On the imports front, Russia topped the list last month. Imports from Russia soared 187 percent year-on-year to $6.9 billion.
There’s the case of unknown capital inflows into Türkiye, which Erdogan’s political opponents believe Russia is behind in order to help with the country’s foreign exchange shortfall.
Unorthodox policy, widening CA deficit, high public & private FX debt, weak reserves.
What is stopping another lira crisis from happening?
– inflows under net errors and omissions
– central bank interventions
Read more on @TheTerminal https://t.co/CqGAWLh5O3 pic.twitter.com/s2lT6kyzsN
— Selva Baziki (@SelvaBaziki) October 28, 2022
Ugur Gurses, a former Turkish central banker, believes the Russians are using a nuclear power plant they’re constructing in Türkiye to transfer funds by purchasing Turkish bonds instead of direct bank transfers. In return, Türkiye — by not heeding the embargoes — is helping the movement of capital, offering an important function as a bridge for goods to flow to Russia.
Any European secondary sanctions that hurt the inflation-battered Turkish economy ahead of next year’s elections would be a blow for President Erdogan who is facing one of his toughest reelection fights ever. The official annual inflation rate currently stands at a 24-year high of 83 percent, although independent economists put it at 186 percent.
Elsewhere, Türkiye continues to hold up the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland. Erdogan demanded concessions for its vote, including extradition from Finland and Sweden of individuals it labels terrorists and adjusting laws in Helsinki and Stockholm to allow arms sales to Türkiye.
It is believed that Türkiye is likely to let Finland’s application proceed but is still not sold on Sweden’s. The previous Swedish government quickly lifted the 2019 arms embargo on Ankara, and has at least partially stopped supporting Kurdish groups in Syria.
But there are still disagreements over cracking down on the Kurdistan Workers Party and extraditing people Türkiye deems to be terrorists. Sweden is home to an estimated 100,000 people of Kurdish origin. Türkiye has sought the extradition of 73 people from Sweden, but so far Stockholm has only sent one.
Sweden detained a 26-year-old Kurdish activist who arrived in Sweden when he was 18 and now fears he will be imprisoned and tortured upon his return to Türkiye because of his homosexuality and Kurdish ties. Sweden released him after 55 days.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is believed to be pressuring Stockholm to get moving on the extraditions. From Al-Monitor:
Sources with close knowledge of the deliberations speaking anonymously to Al-Monitor said Stoltenberg is pressuring Kristerrson’s center-right government that was formed earlier this month much in the same way he did its predecessors to make concessions to Türkiye. “He has been pressuring the Swedes like hell to turn away from their alleged ‘rigid’ approach to human rights embodied by [former Foreign Minister] Ann Linde.
Stoltenberg is scheduled to meet with Erdogan in Istanbul on Nov. 4, and Sweden’s new prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, will visit Nov. 8. They’re slated to discuss the NATO bids, and the rising tensions between Türkiye, Greece, and Cyprus.
Washington has been using Greece and Cyprus to up the pressure on Türkiye to toe the NATO line. On Oct. 26, US F-22s flew over part of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, enraging Ankara. The provocation comes after the Biden administration lifted the 35-year-old ban on the sale of US arms to Cyprus in September.
Cyprus is split between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Cyprus in the north, which is recognized only by Ankara. Cyprus was required to block Russian naval vessels from accessing its ports in order to get the US arms sale ban lifted.
Washington is also abandoning its formerly-neutral stance on Greek-Turkish relations. In September Greece received its first two F-16 military jets from the US as part of a $1.5 billion program to upgrade the Greek fleet. Ankara, which is excluded from the US F-35 program for buying Russian S-400 air defense systems, is worried that in time Greece could have a stronger air force than Türkiye.
The US is also ramping up its control over Greece’s Alexandroupolis port in the northeast of the country 18 miles from the Turkish border and using it as an entry point for supplies to Ukraine. US military officials have proposed deepening and expanding the port in order to accommodate US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
The US decision to make a fortress out of Alexandroupolis came after Türkiye’s decision to close the Turkish straits to all warships after the war in Ukraine began, including its NATO partners who wanted to send weapons to Ukraine via the straits.The move was well within Ankara’s rights under the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, and Türkiye’s adherence to the agreement has been credited in not making the Ukraine conflict even worse.
Turkish drones recorded Greece deploying US-donated armored vehicles on the islands of Lesbos and Samos, which is in violation of international law. Hasan Koni, a scholar on strategic studies at Istanbul Kultur University, told Türkiye’s Anadolu Agency the US moves in Greece are meant to send a message to Erdogan:
The American security apparatus has also recognized that the balance of power in the region is shifting toward Türkiye and needs to be “checked by empowering Greece,” he said, adding that Washington’s push for more Greek bases is aimed at “containing Türkiye.”
Adding fuel to the fire is an Oct. 3 deal Ankara signed with Tripoli to explore for oil and gas off the Libyan coast – potentially very near Greek waters. From Politico:
Much of the sensitivity over the exploration deal boils down to disagreements over who represents the legitimate government in Libya. Ankara signed its exploration agreement with the Tripoli-based government, which it backs, rather than with a rival military administration based in Benghazi in eastern Libya since 2014.
The U.S. State Department said the provisional government in Tripoli is compelled by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum not to sign new agreements, but that argument hardly washes with Turks. The eastern based government called the maritime accord illegitimate.
“So, it is legitimate for Italy, Egypt, Malta and a host of other countries to sign dozens of agreements with the same government in recent times, and not legitimate for Türkiye? That makes no sense,” said the Turkish ambassador.
Manufacturing more tensions: “The provocation comes after the Biden administration lifted the 35-year-old ban on the sale of US arms to Cyprus in September.”
The U.S. couldn’t figure out a way of reunifying Cyprus, and now the U.S. is selling arms to two-thirds of the island, with a population of some 700,000. What could possibly go wrong?
The Alexandroupolis situation is outrageous: And the Greeks know better.
I thought that the Greeks had figured out some things when Zelensky showed up on Zoom in Parliament with the Greek-Ukrainian nazo-fascist in tow. That produced a national scandal there. And yet: The Mitsoutakis government is one more convenient, easily cowed elite. Scholz without a backbone.
And Stoltenberg: He’s Ursula van der Leyen without the charm of her clueless malignity.
Lots to unpack here but I will start with the obvious, It is all sticks and no carrots. NATO wants to go full Punisher mode on them and expects that they crash their economy for what exactly? Türkiye controls access to the Black Sea and NATO may want unrestricted access there but I am sure that Türkiye has woken up to the fact that if they did, then maybe “something” will happen to TurkStream. There has already been two attempts and whereas Türkiye supported the Ukraine, that would not be to the point where they could let the Ukrainians blow the damn thing up. I note that Middle East Eye says-
‘Building a third and possibly fourth line in TurkStream may help to transport more gas, but there would be technical problems in building them due to potential sanctions that could be imposed on turbines and European construction companies.’
Didn’t the Russians buy some turbines off Iran just the other day? Does Iran also have the engineering chops to supply whatever else is needed? Somehow I suspect that they do. The EU may seek to crash the Lira so that Erdogan won’t be re-elected next year but I think that by then, the EU will have much bigger fish to fry. Besides, Erdogan may paint this as another coup attempt by the west and maybe the Russia-Iran-India-China block may throw them an economic lifeline which will integrate them even more into the east.
The article mentions that Türkiye is playing hardball with approval of Sweden and Finland entering NATO but it should be mentioned that there is one other country that has yet to give approval – Hungary. But this article makes plain that the NATO block is now treating Türkiye like an enemy state in order to make it buckle to its demands which will entail them crashing their economy and de-industrializing themselves like the EU is doing. It may just have the opposite effect so that Türkiye abandons Europe altogether and turns their attention to the east instead. Türkiye may even leave NATO altogether which would be a huge loss for NATO.
The sticks are growing increasingly absurdist.
This is insane. Is the Biden administration’s goal to drive Turkey out of Nato? Provoke yet another war in Eastern Europe? Go for round 3 (4?) in the middle east? I don’t think there’s a point reaching for strategic/commercial/conspiracy reasons. These are the actions of schoolchildren throwing a temper tantrum after not getting what they wanted. Expecting statesmanship is out of the question. The policy corps is in complete meltdown.
These are the kinds of decisions taken in collapsing dictatorships, as the rebels come within 50 miles of the palace. I don’t think there’s any reasoning to it and the only solution is a complete clearout.
I now think it is clear that the Biden administration is trying to destroy the US hegemony. Why would they go out of their way to antagonize China just after starting a war against Russia based on international financial cooperation? Maybe coincidence. But then they and the EU continue antagonize Turkey, and also start getting tough with Saudi Arabia. WTF? At least they haven’t antagonized India and Brazil… oh wait.
Didn’t the Russians buy some turbines off Iran just the other day?
I believe so and somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember a recent report about Russian made turbines coming on line. Another spectacular NATO/EU home goal. There goes Siemens’ market share.
I’ve seen no news about the Turkish straits lately. If the Turks allow NATO passage that will be a precedent for others, so very unlikely. There are Russian ships in the Med. At some point they will need relief and major rehabs. Is that being done through the Baltic? There was a report of Russian missiles being withdrawn from Syria and redeployed for use in the Ukraine. What was the route?
Those Russian ships can go to their home port in the Black Sea, if that is where their home port is, but cannot get out.
Turkiye will eventually be driven out of NATO, because NATO and EU will eventually converge into a United States of Europe with unified defense forces/policy, and Turkiye just doesn’t belong. Hungary and Serbia will be regime changed, if necessary to make this happen, but regime change won’t work with Turkiye.
This sets up tension where Russia, Iran and Turkiye collide to determine fate of smaller states, and NATO of course can exploit this. But Turkiye leaving NATO is a foregone conclusion.
Economically, Turkiye is poised to step in as industrial supplier to Russia, now that Europe is abandoning Russia. So Turkstream isn’t really necessary. Just reproduce German industry in Turkey, using Russian gas, and forget about forwarding the gas to Europe.
Turkey belongs in NATO a lot more than most other members of the alliance.
1. Critical strategic position.
2. Turkey is one of the few members that actually adds significant military strength to NATO.
When you look at the history of NATO, you’ll find that Turkey was one of the main reasons why the alliance was formed in the first place!
Russia and Turkey are not what you would ever call natural allies. The only times they’ve lined up together have been when the leading Western powers screw up and push them together, such as around 1919, or today.
For God’s sake, Turkey and RF were close to war just a couple of years ago, over Turkey’s Idlib protectorate.
However, the current Russo-Turkish relations certainly show the world what is possible through diplomacy. You can stand at the brink of war, and then very shortly afterwards enjoy amicable relations and growing commerce. Nobody needed to lose. Nobody needed to be proven wrong. Nobody needed to be dishonoured. No governments needed to fall. People can just got on with things, despite having multiple issues with one another.
Back in the 70s there was an actual shooting war between Russia and China but now they are tight and integrating their economies. Turkiye and Russia have had a whole series of wars against each other but like you say, diplomacy is the key here and they may now join this block rather than tying their fortunes to the sinking albatross of the EU/NATO that now only threatens them.
Unlike the confused and sycophantic EU and its imperial master the USA, Türkiye is doing diplomacy right and cleverly playing the cards its been dealt. It is nobody’s fool and will never pull a Brussels and commit suicide on behalf of NATO and US/western hegemony. Russia and Türkiye have an “adversarial” relationship going back to the 19th century imperial era and yet both countries manage to be civil with one another and maintain good relations despite their rivalries and conflicting interests. So of course Brussels and Washington are grumbling and sulking and preparing to “punish” Türkiye for not sufficiently toeing the Atlanticist line.
I’ve commented before on this topic, but a bit belatedly, so I’ll comment again.
If anyone is increasing the tension in the eastern Mediterranean/ balkans region, it’s Turkey, not Greece/Cyprus.
During the whole Eurozone crisis Greece was unable to buy even spare parts for its military equipment, and is now playing catch-up.
Turkey has been increasingly aggressive lately, what with its Mavi Matan doctrine, recent comments from Erdogan claiming the entire Aegean for Turkey (“the Aegean is ours”), attempts at destabilisation through the use migrant pipeline, the Lybian EEZ agreement that violates Greek rights south of Crete, and I can go on and on.
As correctly stated here, Turkey’s geographical position means that it’s an unavoidable actor on the international scene. That doesn’t mean that a policy of appeasement is correct, though. And it’s not just The Greece/Cyprus pair, Western Europe, and the USA that can’t afford to let Turkey dominate the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean as well as the straits. Russia has no interest in that either (which is why by the why I believe that Greece should ideally hold a more balanced position between the US and Russia.
Migrant situation? Have you paid much attention?
It was the Western countries that urged Turkey to intervene in the Syrian War, and then left Turkey in the lurch, with a new, substantial, and unwanted Arab ethnic minority group, numbering in the millions.
It is the Western countries that continue to blockade and embargo Syria, and thus make it practically impossible for those Arabs to go back home, even though the fighting has subsided.
It is the Western countries who like to cherry-pick the highly-skilled refugees to serve them as underpriced labour, while leaving Turkey to bear the burden of humanitarian relief.
Western behaviour in the crisis has been nothing but swinish. And yet you try to blame this on Turkey?
Look, I favour the loyalist side in the Syrian War. I opposed all of the interventions, which did nothing but lengthen and worsen the war. Turkey certainly has its share of responsibility for the catastrophe, as do all the war’s participants.
But don’t give us this crap about Turkey causing a migrant crisis. EU is every bit as much to blame.
Turkey had its own reasons to intervene in Syria that have nothing to to with the West’s prodding. Let’s not fall into the trap, denounced by commenter David in the Michael Hudson thread of today, of assuming other countries have no agency and can’t act on their own.
Turkey’s support of jihadist groups is part of its own strategy, as is the ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Northern Syria. It can’t complain of the number of migrants on its territory and blame its problems on the West as it is just as much to blame for the whole Syrian mess.
Greece, despite being part of the West in terms of alliances, has nothing to do with the Syrian debacle. Not to mention that the Syrian migrant flows have largely slowed down. What I was referring to was immigration from other countries: North Africa, Pakistan, etc.
Finally, you may not have noticed at the time, but in March of 2020, Turkey could have started sending (and yes the verb send is fitting because these migrants weren’t coming of their own accord) migrants over through the land border with Bulgaria, but sent them all to Greece instead. Turkey ultimate purpose was nothing less than the destabilisation of the Greek government. If that is not a hostile action, then I don’t know what is.
Since EU doesn‘t do diplomacy anymore I wonder what klnd of job an ex-diplomat can land.
Late to this, but thanks to Conor for an excellent article and the commentariat for adding all sorts of nuances.
What I am personally wondering what happens after Erdogan? Will the Russia and Turkey relationship be the same? Of course, he is only 68…