Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave NATO the public relations boost it so desperately wanted during the Vilnius summit. First, he released the neo-Nazi Azov commanders back to Ukraine in violation of the agreement with Russia. Then, he agreed to some sort of deal for Sweden’s entry into NATO.
The contents of that deal still aren’t entirely clear, but now that the PR euphoria has subsided and the summit has ended, it looks like the details still need to be ironed out as the same old stumbling blocks remain for Sweden’s accession.
Stockholm says it will meet Turkiye’s demands after Ankara gives the final go-ahead to NATO accession while Erdogan wants that order reversed and has now pushed off a vote in Turkiye’s parliament until October.
“We will honor every detail in the deal, but we will naturally only do this after we have been ratified,” Swedish Foreign Minister tells @dagensnyheter. “Ratification first has to be concluded before we can follow up the other articles” (re EU).https://t.co/QyQ9aLkgRQ
— Paul T. Levin (@PaulTLevin) July 13, 2023
After Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with Erdogan, Sweden declared that it will “actively support efforts to rejuvenate Turkiye’s EU accession process, including modernizing the EU-Turkiye Customs Union and visa liberalization.”
But there still appears to be disagreements over Turkiye’s demand that Stockholm must deport individuals Turkiye accuses of involvement in terrorism, including followers of US-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen, as well as groups and individuals allegedly linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.
Erdogan said “a bilateral security mechanism will be established at the ministerial level and we will increase our cooperation and collaboration in our fight against the terrorist organizations.” That could already be running into trouble. From Turkish Minute:
Sweden’s top court has blocked the extradition of two people wanted by Turkiye for involvement in the faith-based Gülen movement, saying their actions are not considered a crime in the Scandinavian country, Agence France-Presse reported. The ruling comes just days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced he was ready to allow Sweden to join the military alliance.
However on Wednesday, Erdoğan said Turkiye would not be able to ratify Sweden’s NATO candidacy until at least October, when the Turkish parliament is due to re-open after its summer break. In Sweden, the government makes the final decision on extradition requests but cannot grant a request to another state if the Supreme Court rules against it.
There are also questions about the US holding up its end of the bargain. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said he is in talks with the Biden administration about the hold he has on future U.S. sales of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara.
According to the Associated Press, “in order to get Menendez on board, the U.S. offered to provide Greece with unspecified tactical weaponry to defend from any future Turkish incursion, according to a Democratic senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.” So should the deals go through, the US weapons industry clearly comes out a winner.
So Erdogan is putting off the vote in the Turkish parliament (he could extend the parliament’s session if he really wanted the vote to happen now) until he sees the movement he wants on the deals with Sweden and Washington. And the F-16 sales might not be all that Biden offered. According to Seymour Hersh:
The public story for Biden’s face-saving coup was talk about agreeing to sell American F-16 fighter bombers to Turkiye.
I have been told a different, secret story about Erdogan’s turnabout: Biden promised that a much-needed $11-13 billion line of credit would be extended to Turkiye by the International Monetary Fund. “Biden had to have a victory and Turkiye is in acute financial stress,” an official with direct knowledge of the transaction told me. Turkiye lost 100,000 people in the earthquake last February, and has four million buildings to rebuild. “What could be better than Erdogan”—under Biden’s tutelage, the official asked, “finally having seen the light and realizing he is better off with NATO and Western Europe?” Reporters were told, according to the New York Times, that Biden called Erdogan while flying to Europe on Sunday. Biden’s coup, the Times reported, would enable him to say that Putin got “exactly what he did not want: an expanded, more direct NATO alliance.” There was no mention of bribery.
The IMF deal would be quite the shift for Erdogan who attacked his election opponent for wanting to cut deals with Western financial institutions. On the other hand, Turkiye certainly needs economic help, as it has been struggling with runaway inflation, a growing budget deficit, and dwindling reserves. While Erdogan won reelection, if he and his AKP ruling party can’t return to their old ways of delivering economic growth and rising living standards, they face the prospects of internal upheaval and a rude awakening in future elections.
The government-run Turkish Statistical Institute reported last week that the annual inflation rate was 38 percent in June (the independent inflation group ENAG put the figure at 109 percent). Erdogan and his ruling party a receiving criticism for increasing taxes 2 percent on a range of goods and services, including basics like toilet paper, detergents, and diapers
The government also hiked the tax collected from lending institutions on consumer loans. The moves are part of an effort to reduce the country’s ballooning budget deficit.
According to Reuters, Turkiye “recorded a deficit of 263.6 billion lira ($10.21 billion) in the first five months of the year, compared to 124.6 billion lira a year ago due to increased spending ahead of May elections and the impact of February’s devastating earthquakes in southern Turkiye.”
There has been some triumphant speculation from organizations like CNN and the Atlantic Council that Erdogan is now taking Turkiye fully into the Western camp and turning his back on Russia. This is inaccurate and misses the fact that Erdogan continually plays this game of trying to extract as many concessions as possible from each side.
Turkiye is still not opening the Black Sea to western warships. Turkiye will continue helping Russia evade sanctions (Turkish exports to Russia have jumped since the start of the Ukraine war – from $2.6 billion in the first half of 2022 to $4.9 billion over the same period this year.) Turkiye continues to have close energy ties with Russia. A more accurate take from Al Monitor:
In truth, none of this amounts to a pivot away from Russia any more than it does to a reset with the West. It’s just the latest retuning of Erdogan’s unique balancing act in which the Turkish leader navigates Ankara’s relationships in ways that he believes best benefit Turkiye’s interests and above all his own political survival. Turkiye’s flailing economy remains Erdogan’s top headache ahead of municipal elections that are scheduled to be held in March 2024.
The facade of improved relations with the West is meant to draw back Western investors even as thousands of political prisoners languish in Turkish prisons in defiance of European Court of Human Rights rulings that are binding for Ankara.
Should the Sweden deal go through, it likely won’t be long until the West is enraged again with Turkiye, as NATO will soon be pushing for more. Fatih Yurtsever, a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces, writes:
Some points in the Vilnius communiqué may compel Turkiye to make some challenging decisions concerning Russia and Iran. Item 79 of the declaration reads: “The Black Sea region is of strategic importance for the Alliance. This is further highlighted by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. We underline our continued support to Allied regional efforts aimed at upholding security, safety, stability, and freedom of navigation in the Black Sea region including, as appropriate, through the 1936 Montreux Convention. We will further monitor and assess developments in the region and enhance our situational awareness, with a particular focus on the threats to our security and potential opportunities for closer cooperation with our partners in the region, as appropriate.”
Turkiye has traditionally resisted a substantial NATO presence in the Black Sea, especially one involving deploying warships that could potentially antagonize Russia. It has argued that security in the Black Sea should be the prerogative of the littoral states alone, asserting that any external intervention could jeopardize its security in the region. Moreover, Turkiye has interpreted the Montreux Convention’s provisions concerning the passage of non-littoral warships through the straits in a way that avoids provoking Russia. Nonetheless, as suggested in this article, it may become increasingly challenging for Turkiye to maintain this policy. A shift in Turkiye’s Black Sea policy favoring NATO’s interests could potentially precipitate a crisis in Turkish-Russian relations.
Another point of contention that could lead to a crisis between Turkiye and Russia in the near future concerns Iran.
The deepening of Russian-Iranian relations, marked by Iran’s assistance in helping Russia circumvent sanctions during the Russia-Ukraine crisis and its sale of unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia, has propelled their relationship to a strategic level. However, members expressed clear concerns about Iran’s nuclear program for the first time at the NATO summit. The statement “We reiterate our clear determination that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon. We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s escalation of its nuclear program. We call on Iran to fulfill its legal obligations under its Non-Proliferation Treaty-required safeguards agreement and political commitments regarding nuclear non-proliferation without further delay …” demonstrates NATO’s discomfort with this relationship. The US and Israel could use this clause to initiate a limited air operation against Iran. Turkiye’s reaction to such an operation could instigate a crisis with Russia and Iran.