Turkey and Ukraine have agreed to a free trade pact that both countries are touting as a very mutually beneficial deal. Of course, the free trade agreement announcement comes as Russia brings more troops to its Ukrainian border, threatening to invade and seize additional Ukrainian territory beyond what its Russian backed separatist forces control. The trade deal makes a key diplomatic statement as does the on-going Turkey-Ukraine bilateral diplomacy. Turkey has become a major Ukrainian ally. The Turkish government reported the value of its trade with Ukraine during 2021 was around $7.4 billion in 2021, up from $4.7 billion in 2020. Turkey, a member of NATO, has also supplied Ukraine with military equipment including the Bayraktar TB2 armed UAV. Ukrainian forces have used the TB2 to attack the Russian forces in the Donbas region. NATO is threatening Russia with sanctions should it invade. Presumably Turkey would invoke sanctions. But look at the diplomacy involved. President Erdogan is positioning himself to act as a mediator to end the Russian-manufactured crisis. Though Turkey and Russia have several serious foreign policy disagreements, Syria and Libya among them, Erdogan has managed to maintain a veneer of good relations with Russian president Putin. There is also the matter of Turkish wheat imports. Russia is Turkey’s top wheat supplier. In 2021 Turkey imported around 5.6 million tons from Russia, but that was a major reduction from prior years. In 2021 Turkey imported a record amount of Ukrainian wheat, some 1.4 million tons. Ukraine is Turkey’s Number 2 wheat supplier and Turkey is interested in buying more Ukrainian grain. Turkey has a keen culinary interest in avoiding war between its two primary grain suppliers. (Austin Bay)
February 3, 2022: In the southwest, just across the border in Syria (Idlib province) American commandos raided the house a few kilometers from the Turkish border where Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurayshi, the current leader of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) lived. Qurayshi was selected for the job a week after the 2019 raid on the Idlib province hideout of ISIL founder al-Baghdadi. Both men were Iraqi Islamic terrorists who became active after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003 and ended up in Syria after their terror campaign was defeated in 2008. Both ISIL leaders were from families that supplied military and police commanders for Saddam’s forces. By 2014 Baghdadi, and senior associates like Qurayshi created ISIL as the ultimate Islamic terrorist organization that was going to restore the reputation of Iraqi Islamic terrorists who failed in Iraq. ISIL was successful for about three years, but then the counterattack by all the enemies they had made, including fellow Islamic terrorists, destroyed the “caliphate” and forced survivors like Baghdadi and Qurayshi to flee with their families to Idlib province, where the Syrian government allowed surrounded Islamic terrorists to go to as long as they surrendered the territory (neighborhoods or towns) they currently occupied rather than fight to the death and see their surroundings blasted to bits and innocent civilians killed. This tactic worked by concentrated nearly all the surviving Islamic terrorists in Syria in one province on the Turkish border. The Turks fortified their Idlib border and warned Idlib refugees that any attempt to find refuge in Turkey would be resisted with force. Syria, with the help of Russian air power and equipment, have slowly been retaking Idlib province.
Currently the Islamic terrorist groups, most of them hostile to ISIL, hold only about half of Idlib. It’s a desperate situation and ISIL is tolerated as long as they carry out their attacks elsewhere in Syria, an arrangement that has held for years. This enabled senior ISIL leaders to hide out in Idlib. Unlike Baghdadi, Qurayshi and his family only occupied the top floor of a three-story residential building. This was the ultimate ISIL use of civilians as human shields. The American commandos took this into account and surrounded the building and then used bullhorns to tell civilians in the building to get out before the Special Forces team, many of who spoke Arabic, made their final assault. Other American troops had cleared nearby buildings of civilians, telling the locals that this pre-dawn raid would soon be over. Qurayshi gathered his wife and children with him on the top floor and detonated an explosive vest he was wearing as it was clear the Americans were coming in. The explosion killed Qurayshi and several of his children, as well as a child still in the floor below. The worst fate than can befall a senior Islamic terrorist leader is to be captured alive.
February 1, 2022: If it looks like an Erdogan charm offensive, indeed it is. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has made it clear that it intends to strengthen and expand its diplomatic and economic ties with Gulf Arab nations. Relations between Turkey and key states like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been strained. Turkish support for Qatar was one reason, as well as disagreements over Turkish action in Libya. Turkey has a military base in Qatar that can house up to 5,000 military personnel. Now Turkey is specifically addressing Gulf Arab relations. The Foreign Ministry announced that Erdogan will visit the UAE this month.
January 31, 2022: President Erdogan publicly stated that Turkey will face inflation “for some time.” In December 2021 Turkey's annual inflation rate topped 36 percent. That is the highest rate in 19 years. Promising to solve inflation and the economic crisis of 2002 helped get Erdogan elected. In 2021 the Turkish lira lost around 40 percent of its value.
January 30, 2022: Turkish defense industry sources confirmed Turkey is developing a new small attack submarine for coastline patrol and littoral operations. The diesel-electric STM-500 mini-sub has a crew of 18 sailors and four torpedo tubes. Space can accommodate a six-man special forces team. It is 42 (134 feet) meters in length, displaces 540 tons and has a max speed of 32 kilometers an hour. It can dive to a depth of around 250 meters (800 feet). There will be an export sales version. Southeast Asian nations are a potential market.
January 29, 2022: President Erdogan has fired the head of the state statistics agency. Apparently, Erdogan is angry that he told the truth. Earlier this month the statistics agency reported that Turkey’s December 2021 inflation rate was 36.08 percent. The official report indicated the fears of economists that a series of Erdogan’s interest-rate cuts won’t solve the economic crisis and in fact will increase the cost of food, medicine and fuel. That proved to be true. By February inflation had increased to 49 percent and an independent Inflation Research Group believed the actual inflation rate was twice the government figure. President Erdogan insists that his unorthodox cure of lower interest rates in the face of rising inflation will eventually work, although it may take a year. That approach rarely works and the Turkish people are not willing to endure another year of this.
January 28, 2022: On January 20 a technical failure in the main pipeline between Iran and Turkey disrupted the flow of natural gas. Iranian officials did not specify the nature of the technical failure. Turkey’s state pipeline operator, BOTAS, cut gas supplies to industrial users and electricity generation by 40 percent. Private households were not affected – voters don’t like being cold. The energy disruption was the last thing Turkey’s stressed economy needed. Today BOTAS announced that intermittent supplies of Iranian gas have resumed. It expects full supply will be restored in the next ten days. In 2020 Turkey used 48 billion cubic meters of gas. Iran supplied 5.3 billion cubic meters, about ten percent. In 2021 Iran supplied around 15 percent of Turkey’s natural gas requirements.
January 21, 2022: Police forces in southeastern Europe conducted operations to dismantle a criminal syndicate that smuggles migrants from Turkey to Italy. Greek police reported that the syndicate mainly relies on private yachts to move the migrants.
January 20, 2022: Turkey’s and Israel’s foreign ministers spoke to one another over the phone for the first time in 13 years. The subject of the icebreaking call? The Turkish Foreign Minister learned the Israeli Foreign Minister had contracted Covid-19, so he called and told him to get well soon. Stay tuned.
January 19, 2022: Turkey announced it will send 3,250 police and special security officers to Qatar for the football World Cup. The task force looks like this: 3,000 riot policemen, 100 Turkish special forces troops, 50 bomb detection dogs and their operators, 50 bomb experts and around 50 support personnel. Turkey has also provided training for 677 Qatari security personnel. The competition starts in November 2022 and will last 45 days.
January 18, 2022: President Erdogan announced that he and the Serbian president will mediate crisis talks in Bosnia. In December 2021 nationalists in the parliament of Bosnia’s semi-autonomous Serb region, the Republika Srpska, passed a resolution that would end the region’s participation in Bosnia’s military force, tax system and judicial system. Interestingly enough, the resolution was non-binding.
In northeast Africa (Somalia) Turkish troops are under attack. In the capital Mogadishu an Islamic terrorist suicide bomber attacked a tea shop near an army base, killing four and wounding nine. The bomber attacked the wrong target, which was the nearby army base, which is a training facility for Somali soldiers that is operated by Turkey, with Turkish troops providing the training. The Turks were the target but all the casualties were Somali civilians. For nearly a decade Somalia has been in the middle of the Gulf Arab dispute with Iran and its allies Turkey and Qatar. The UAE has been the most active Arab state in Somalia and now appears to be overtaking Iran and its allies. The Arabs supply more aid than Iran and its allies.
January 17, 2022: A Turkish court decided to keep civil society leader and philanthropist Osman Kavala in jail, despite calls for his release from European human rights organizations.
Meanwhile, another Turkish court acquitted German journalist Mesale Tolu. For almost five years (four years, eight months) she has been on trial for” terror-related charges,” to included “engaging in terror propaganda.” In 2017 she spent eight months in jail in Turkey. She was released from detention and in 2018 was allowed to go to Germany as the trial continued.
January 15, 2022: Turkey has launched its first specifically designed intelligence-gathering ship. Named the TCG Ufuk, Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency will use it to monitor Turkey’s sea coast and maritime territory.
In northwest Syria (Idlib province) Russia carried out numerous airstrikes on Islamic terrorist targets over the last two days. This was in support of Turkey, which is trying to deal with Islamic terror groups in Idlib that have been firing rockets are Turkish bases.
January 10, 2022: Turkey is preparing to register Türkiye with the UN as its official name. The Turkish government is planning to change its internationally recognized official name in English to Turkiye by registering it to the United Nations in coming weeks, two Turkish officials told Middle East Eye. Turkiye means Turkey in Turkish. Of course, the Turkish U is ü. That may be a problem with some keyboards.
January 9, 2022: Is this good news? Still reeling from official reports that December 2021’s inflation rate was over 36 percent, Turkish government officials said they believe inflation will drop to around 25 percent by the end of 2022.
January 8, 2022: A roadside bomb killed three Turkish soldiers near Tell Abyad, near the Syrian border. Turkish security officials said that in response to the attack The Turkish Army struck Kurdish positions near Tell Abyad, Kobani and Ras al-Ain. Turkish-supported Syrian rebels also participated in the retaliatory attacks. Turkish security officials believe at least ten Syrian Kurd separatists were killed in the retaliatory attacks.
January 4, 2022: Nineteen Turkic Uighur exiles from China filed a criminal complaint with the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office. They accuse Chinese officials of committing torture, rape, genocide and crimes against humanity. A lawyer working with the Uighurs said international judicial bodies have failed to consider them. He specifically said the International Criminal Court had ignored the charges. International torture, genocide and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted in Turkish courts Some 50,000 Uighurs live in Turkey. Uighurs are the easternmost Turkic peoples while those in Turkey are the westernmost. The European Turks are the result of several waves of Turkic invaders that eventually established the Ottoman Turk empire in 1300 and it lasted until 1922. The core of the empire is modern Turkey, which became a secular republic in the 1920s and now considers itself the protector of oppressed Turks everywhere.
January 2, 2022: Last month Turkey officially changed its name to Turkiye. Officials said Turkish culture and traditions informed the decision. ‘Made in Türkiye’ will now appear on Turkish exports used instead of ‘Made in Turkey.”
January 1, 2022: As 2022 begins and 2021 ends the Turkish government’s decision to buy Russian S-400 surface to air missiles continues to harm US-Turkey relations. It also jeopardizes Turkey’s full participation in NATO. The U.S. and other major NATO nations fear the S-400 would give the Kremlin an “intelligence window” on NATO air operations and even compromise NATO’s stealthy aircraft. Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s triggered sanctions authorized by the U.S. Congress Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The sanctions included kicking Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter program. In October 2021 Turkey asked the U.S. to consider an F-16 buy as an alternative to acquiring the F-35. Turkey wanted to buy 40 new Block 70 F-16Vs and 80 F-16 modernization kits to upgrade F-16s it currently flies. Key U.S. congressional leaders on defense committees and foreign policy committees remain angry with Turkey and especially President Erdogan. The U.S. invested billions in the F-35’s development and was willing to share the technology with its allies. Perhaps it’s diplomatic posturing, but the possibility exists that the U.S. Congress will not agree to sell Turkey the new F-16s and may even be reluctant to sell modernization kits (though that’s a stretch).
Turkey needs new front line aircraft. Where might Turkey shop for new aircraft if the F-16 deal flops? Russia and communist China manufacture “new generation” fighters but if Turkey bought them, it would face drastic U.S. sanctions. Sweden would love to sell Turkey a variant of its Gripen fighter. France’s Rafale is another candidate, though Greece’s decision to buy Rafales may eliminate this option. South Korea is developing an indigenous advanced fighter and like Sweden definitely has the “home grown” engineering and manufacturing expertise to build a superior 21st century fighter. Turkey has already reached a preliminary agreement with South Korea to supply Korean-made engines for Turkey’s Altay main battle tanks. Buying aircraft from a new foreign source requires more than just retraining pilots and ground crews. Buying from other foreign suppliers means aircraft relying on a new logistical support system. The F-16 and F-35 have robust and proven support systems. Turkey might develop its own indigenous fighter. Turkey’s defense industry is developing the capacity to build one. But independently designing and building a top-line jet fighter takes years. (Austin Bay)
December 31, 2021: Many of the 7,000 Syrian Arabs hired by Turkey to serve as mercenaries in Libya report that they have finally gotten some of the seven months of unpaid wages. Only partial payments were made and four months of unpaid wages are still overdue. These Syrian Arabs are paid $600 a month while Turkey handles living expenses, medical care and military supplies. This adds up to a total of at least a thousand dollars a month per man. Turkey suffered severe economic setbacks in 2021 which impoverished a lot of Turkish voters and forced the Turkish government to cut expenses where it could, usually without prior notice or explanation about when delayed payments to foreign suppliers (like the Syrian mercs) would be made good. Turkey has hired at least 20.000 Syrian Sunni Arabs mercenaries since 2016 to serve in Syria and later Libya. The Syrian mercs in Syria could more effectively complain about back pay and other problems while those who volunteered for duty in Libya are literally cut off from home. In addition to back pay issues, many of these mercs were not provided with brief trips back to Syria to visit families. These visits, at Turkish expense, were part of the deal for those signing up to serve in Libya for up to a year. Turkey says it will pay these back wages but won’t say when because the economic problems in Turkey are getting worse and the Turkish government has to concentrate on that before dealing with its unpaid mercenaries in Libya.
December 24, 2021: Turkey is seen as the main reason Libya was not able to carry out the December 24 elections that are supposed to unite the country under one government. Libya is still divided by multiple factions, foreign intervention and interference, as well as a major problem with corruption. The situation is further complicated by Russia, one of the few nations with a UN veto, that is blocking the appointment of UN officials to lead the UN Libya operations, if the proposed candidate is seen as a threat to Russian interests in Libya. Several senior UN officials in Libya have resigned, citing the difficulties dealing with the factions and their foreign backers, like Russia and Turkey. The UN is also unwilling or unable to sanction Turkey for intervening in 2019, and breaking a number of international treaties and UN sanctions, to rescue the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) in Tripoli. The result is that the UN insists the canceled December 24 national vote will go ahead eventually while foreigners and locals in Libya doubt the election will work and the fighting will resume, especially if the Turks refuse to depart and see their illegal deals with the GNA canceled.