Turkey: Multiplying Misunderstandings

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June 15, 2022: Turkish President Erdogan is once again frustrating his NATO allies and playing obstructionist. This time he is opposing the bids by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. To join NATO requires the approval of all NATO nations. It is a consensus-run alliance. Erdogan is angry with what he considers to be the Nordic nations coddling of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) exiles. Turkey considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization – with good reason, given the long terror campaign it has waged within Turkey, along Turkey’s borders and against Turkish interests in Europe. The PKK was founded in the 1970s as a Marxist organization, but was really a Soviet Union proxy during the Cold War. Erdogan has tried several rhetorical tropes to justify his veto of Finland and Sweden’s effort to join NATO, but seems to have settled on declaring Finland and Sweden do not show enough concern for an organization which is clearly a threat to Turkish security. Finland and Sweden both allow Kurdish political activists with ties to the PKK operate openly within their borders. Turkish officials claim both nations have imposed arms exports restrictions on Turkey. Sweden particularly irks Erdogan. He resents Swedish criticism of alleged political and ethical violations in general but against Kurds in particular. The Turkish government claims Sweden intends to give Kurdish militants over $300 million in 2023. Sweden has a large Kurdish expatriate community, estimated at least 100,000. Interestingly enough, Turkish diplomats have said the foreign ministry favors including Finland and Sweden in NATO. Erdogan has a record for stalling and declaring he adamantly opposes this or that. Then, after he extracts a concession, he will come to an agreement. He definitely wants the U.S. to greenlight a sale of new F-16s. That’s a concession. Erdogan may demand that Finland and Sweden stop pro-PKK operatives from raising money in their countries. (Austin Bay)

June 12, 2022: Turkey is actively working with Venezuela to establish economic opportunities, like growing wheat to deal with the Russian blockade of wheat exports from Ukraine. Venezuela is run by a socialist dictatorship that has ruined the economy and is now trying to rebuild. Most nations are reluctant to invest in Venezuela because of losses in the last two decades from ruinous economic policies. Turkey has become more accommodating to Iran in Syria.

Turkey has offered to allow Finland into NATO because the Finns do not host any political exiles from Turkey or groups Turkey considers terrorists, even though no other nations do. Finland turned down the offer and said if both nations are not accepted into NATO, neither one would. Leaders in some NATO nations concede that Turkey has some legitimate concerns about Sweden and Finland joining NATO, but this is a minority attitude. Most NATO members regard Turkey as an unreliable and hostile member of the alliance. NATO rules allow any member to leave if it gives a one-year warning so that security and logistical adjustments can be made by other members. There is no mechanism for expelling a NATO member although Turkey has been treated less and less like a reliable NATO member and many NATO activities in Turkey have been withdrawn.

June 10, 2022: New Turkish military action in Syria could lead to a confrontation with Iranian proxy forces, specifically Shiite militias in northwestern Syria. On June 9 Erdogan stated Turkey intends to create a 30-kilometer-wide border buffer zone. This means pushing Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia units out of the buffer zone. It is believed that Turkey will move several thousand Syrian Arab refugees now in Turkey into the new 30-kilometer buffer zone. Turkey considers the YPG to be an arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Erdogan specifically mentioned the town of Tel Rifaat as a target for the planned incursion. Nearby Manbji is also on the target list. Both towns are west of the Euphrates River. However, a large Turkish attack on Rifaat and Manbji would put two Shiite villages, Nubl and Zahra, in the line of fire. The two villages are northwest of Aleppo. Iran backs militant Shiite militias in the area. At least one Arab source believes Iran has asked Turkey to call off the incursion. Turkey has no love for Iran's ayatollah regime but in Syria’s chaos adversaries and enemies occasionally cooperate. That said, Turkey knows Iranian-backed Shia militias have attacked Turkish bases in northern Iraq. One suspicious attack occurred in 2015. Another in April 2022. Plausibly deniable? Iran is in the proxy war business. (Austin Bay)

June 9, 2022: President Erdogan accused Greece of militarizing Aegean islands Turkey contends are according to treaties are supposed to be demilitarized. Turkey takes the position that the islands, which are just off the Turkish coast, were ceded to Greece with the understanding they would not have military installations. Greece has heard this argument before and points out Greek forces have garrisoned the islands for several decades and they are within easy striking distance of Turkish amphibious or airmobile forces.

June 8, 2022: The grain talks between Russia and Turkey have ended without an agreement. Turkey sought to convince Russia to open a sea corridor in the Black Sea for the export of Ukrainian grain to world markets. The Turkish proposal had Turkish and Russian ships providing escort for ships carrying grain. Turkey entered the talks as part of a UN effort to prevent a global food crisis.

June 7, 2022: Turkey has begun manufacturing a “micro munition” for its popular Bayraktar TB2 drone. The Bozok is laser-guided and though small, has a range of up to 15 kilometers. The missile is 80 cm long and has a diameter of 120 mm.

June 3, 2022: During the month of May Turkey's annual inflation rate hit a 24-year high of 73.5% in May. That exceeded 2002’s 73.2%. 2002 is significant because that’s the year Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a national election promising economic restructuring and reform.

In a phone call with NATO Secretary-General Erdogan declared that Turkey's concerns about Finnish and Swedish NATO membership are based on legitimate security issues.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey claimed Turkish buyers were knowingly taking delivery of Ukrainian grain stolen by Russia. The filched Ukrainian grain was shipped to Turkey from Crimea. The ambassador identified five ships that had carried the stolen grain. Ukraine wants Turkey to start criminal proceedings against the buyers.

June 2, 2022: Turkish defense manufacturer Baykar will donate a Bayraktar TB2 drone to Lithuania for transfer to Ukraine. Through a crowdfund program, in less than six days Lithuanian citizens raised nearly six million euros to buy Ukraine a drone. When Baykar learned of the project the company decided to give the drone to Lithuania free of charge. The company suggested the six million euros be given to Ukraine as humanitarian aid.

June 1, 2022: The UN officially recognized Turkey’s name as Turkiye-- the Republic of Turkiye. How to pronounce it: "tur-key-YAY." This means a name change for Turkish Airlines, the official national airline is now “Türkiye Hava Yolları”.

President Erdogan said Turkey intends to conduct a new incursion into rid northern Syria's Tal Rifaat and Manbji areas to rid the region of “terrorists.” Erdogan also said he was halting talks with Greece because of airspace violations. Subsequently Germany asked Turkey to ease tensions with Greece and for both nations to refrain from “provocations.” A senior German official chastised Turkey for “invading” Greek airspace.

May 30, 2022: President Erdogan’s office confirmed he has discussed Turkey’s planned military operation in Syria and the war in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Israel warned its citizens in Turkey, or those planning to visit, that there was credible evidence that Iran was planning to attack Israelis in Turkey as retaliation for the assassination last week of IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) colonel Hassan Khodaei in the Iranian capital. Iran always blames Israel for attacks like this. Turkish officials pointed out that while Iran often threatens to carry out attacks on Israelis in Turkey, they rarely do so. Aside from the fact that Turkish counterterrorism efforts against such attacks is quite good and that such an Iranian attack would damage cooperation between Turkey and Iran in Syria. The Turks believe Iran made the threat mainly for propaganda purposes.

May 26, 2022: Turkey began negotiations with Russia aimed at opening a secure sea corridor through the Black Sea to the Bosporus Strait in order to permit the export of Ukrainian grain. An estimated 22 million tons of grain is trapped in Ukrainian seaports.

May 25, 2022: After a series of talks with Swedish and Finnish officials Turkey said it would not support the two countries' bids to join NATO unless the Nordics took “concrete steps” to meet Turkey’s security concerns.

May 24, 2022: Conducted a test of its advanced Akinci Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drone. Two Akinci drones took off from northwestern Turkey, flew over Georgia, then landed in Azerbaijan, a distance of about 2,000 kilometers. which is rumored to be among the first countries in line to receive the advanced combat drone. Flight time was about five hours.

May 23, 2022: The Turkey-Saudi Arabia effort to repair diplomatic and economic relations continues. President Erdogan invited Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit Turkey.

The Turkish Navy expects to take delivery of a domestically-manufactured air independent propulsion (AIP) diesel submarine within the next six months. The submarine was built at the Golcuk Shipyard Command in Kocaeli province (northwestern Turkey). The first sub (of six being built) is named the Hizir Reis.

May 22, 2022: The foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to express “discomfort” with a post published May 18 on the embassy’s website. The post discussed an opposition rally in Istanbul, protesting the conviction of opposition leader Canan Kaftancioglu for insulting Erdogan and the Turkish state. The post warned that police might intervene during the protest. The rally took place on May 21. Kaftancioglu is an MD as well as a politician. heads the Istanbul regional branch of the Republican People's Party (CHP). She was sentenced to four years and 11 months in prison.

May 21, 2022: Turkish drone strikes in northern Iraq targeting PKK rebels killed at least six people. A PKK statement said three PKK rebels were wounded.

May 20, 2022: Turkey revealed that 502,000 Syrian refugees have returned to Syria. On average between 400 and 500 Syrians return each week.

May 19, 2022: In Syria the Assads are now willing and able to fight to subdue the Idlib Islamic terrorists, the Kurds, and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Iran is backing the Assads as part of their efforts to establish a military presence on the Israeli border and replace Russian and Arab influence over Assad. The Russians have long tried to play peacemaker to preserve their relationships with the Assads, other Arab states and even Israel. The Islamic terrorist rebels in Idlib would prefer to be anywhere but Syria, No one wants them. The Kurds are willing to make peace with the Assads in return for an autonomy deal similar to what the Iraqi Kurds have had for over two decades. The Assads are willing to make a deal but Turkey and Iran oppose that because of problems with their own Kurds. The war in Ukraine has forced Russia to withdraw much of its military forces from Syria and the distraction of fighting a losing war in Ukraine has made Syria a much lower priority.

May 18, 2022: President Erdogan accused Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the national leader of the CHP, of committing treason. Allegedly Kilicdaroglu has threatened Arab investors interested in buying property in Turkey. Actually, the CHP contends many of Erdogan’s infrastructure projects are a waste of money.

May 17, 2022: Greece’s prime minister visited Washington and asked that Greece be allowed to acquire F-35 stealth fighters. He also lobbied against Turkey’s bid to acquire new F-16s. Turkey wants to buy 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and upgrade several dozen older F-16s.

May 16, 2022: President Erdogan told a news conference that Finland and Sweden shouldn’t bother to send diplomats to Turkey to try and get Turkish support for their bids to join NATO. Erdogan called Sweden a “hatchery” for terrorist organizations.

May 14, 2022: Turkey is desperate to gain an edge over the separatist Kurds of Turkey and Syria. The latest effort involves Turkey threatening to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO. New members must be approved by all existing members and Turkey is threatening to use its veto to coerce other NATO members to halt support for Kurds in Syria. The Turks have become cozy with Russia in Syria and violated NATO rules by purchasing and receiving Russian S400 air defense systems. Turkey has not activated the S400 system because other NATO members agreed that they could no longer allow Turkey to participate in the joint NATO air defense system if they used S400. Turkey has already been barred from purchasing F-35 stealth fighters or participating in manufacturing components. The latest misbehavior over allowing Finland and Sweden to join has revived calls for developing a mechanism for expelling an existing NATO member. Introducing such a mechanism might take a while depending on how unanimous other members are to do it.

Turkey is also in trouble for tolerating Islamic terrorist activity (smuggling, not arresting known terrorists) and reneging on agreements. For example, the Turks regard American support for the Syrian Kurds as condoning the actions of one faction of Syrian Kurds; the separatist YPG. Turkey considers the YPG an arm of the more violent and radical Turkish Kurd PKK. The U.S agrees that the PKK is radical, violent and a regional menace, but disagrees with Turkey about YPG/PKK cooperation and has found the YPG an effective and reliable component of the SDF militia that controls much of northeast Syria, which is mainly Kurdish majority Hasaka province. SDF forces have clashed with Turkish troops and their Syrian mercenaries in Syria frequently, usually in response to a Turkish attack or attempt to gain control of more SDF territory. One thing Turkey and the U.S. do agree on is that the YPG is the most unpredictable faction of the SDF, but also the most effective in combat. The Americans also point out that the separatist Iraqi and Iranian Kurds also cooperate with the PKK. In Iraq that means the autonomous Kurds in northern Iraq will not fight the PKK but will not interfere with Turkish operations against PKK camps in northern Iraq. The Arab Shia dominated Iraqi government also protests, but does not interfere with Turkish air and ground operations against the PKK in the north. The Iranian Kurd separatists have a similar policy towards the PKK, which does not try to operate in Iran because the Iranians are more violent in their response to such incursions.

May 13, 2022: Turkey announced it is willing to conduct a sea evacuation of wounded Ukrainian fighters in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The proposed operation was offered to Ukraine in late April.

May 12, 2022: In northern Syria (Aleppo and Hasaka provinces) Turkish artillery began firing on more than fifty towns controlled by the Kurdish led SDF. The fire continued for several days and was not heavy, consisting of about a hundred shells or rockets per day. in several places. This is a violation of a ceasefire agreement agreed to in 2019 with Russia and the United States providing ceasefire monitors to monitor any violations. Since March Russia has withdrawn most of its ground troops from Syria and there are not enough American troops to protect villages and investigate violations. So far this year Turkey has violated the ceasefire over 300 times and killed at least 18 civilians and wounded nearly 300. The targets are often SDF positions near these towns but the SDF forces are entrenched and protected from that firepower while nearby civilians are not.

Further east, in Kurd-majority Hasaka province SDF continues attacking Turkey backed Syrian mercenaries. Few are killed but some are wounded. These Syrian Arab mercenaries have also been used by Turkey in Libya and some have been hired by Russia to reinforce Russian forces in Ukraine. It is unclear if any of those Syrian mercs have arrived in Russia because the Russians are losing and taking heavy casualties. The Syrian mercenaries are not effective combat troops. The Turks and Russians have found the Syrian mercs useful for providing security in areas where they do not have to face experienced combat forces. Islamic terrorists and armed gangsters are about the most these mercenaries can handle. The Russian Wagner Military Contractor group has hired these Syrian mercenaries for security work. It’s about the best paying job a Syrian can get these days and as long as it is not too dangerous, there is no trouble recruiting. Many of these Syrians once belonged to Syrian rebel coalitions that cooperated with the Kurds against the Assads and the Islamic terrorist rebels, especially ISIL. Divisions among the Syrian rebels are the main reason they failed to overthrow the Assad government. The Kurds and non-religious rebel groups the current Syrian mercenaries once worked with made peace deals with the Assads while most everyone else informally cooperated to curb ISIL activities. While Russian and Iranian forces are in Syria to help the Assads, the Turks are there mainly to destroy Kurdish separatists from Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

 

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