Disagreements and quarrels continue to disrupt Turkish and American relations. Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense missile system and the U.S.’s subsequent cancellation of Turkish participation in the F-35 program remain major issues. Many Turks are very critical of president Erdogan’s fickleness, but they also perceive the U.S. as being an unreliable ally regarding Syrian Kurds belonging to the separatist YPG (People’s Protection Units). They see the YPG as an arm of the more violent and radical Turkish Kurd PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). The U.S agrees that the PKK is radical and violent but disagrees with Turkey about YPG/PKK cooperation and has found the YPG an effective and reliable component of the SDF that controls much of northeast Syria (mainly Kurd 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 territory occupied by the SDF. 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 and not worth the risks for the PKK.
A more obscure disagreement is roiling Turkey’s already stressed financial system. The U.S. has charged Turkey’s state-run Halkbank with plotting to help Iran avoid American financial sanctions. The case is complicated because in October a Turkish appeals court turned down Halkbank’s claim of immunity. Still, Turkey and the U.S. are cooperating on a range of security problems in central Asia. It also appears the U.S. will sell Turkey F-16s in lieu of F-35s.
November 18, 2021: The Turkish lira fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar. It traded as low as 11.08 to the dollar today, a record low. So far in 2021 the lira has lost nearly a third of its value versus the dollar. Before Erdogan’s Islamic party gained power in the late 1990s, it was over twice what it is now versus the dollar. The currency crisis is another sign that Erdogan’s economic policies are not working and more Turks are demonstrating in major cities over the fact that they cannot meet essential needs under current economic conditions. For the third year in a row Turkey will suffer double-digit inflation. At the end of October, the inflation rate was 19.89 percent versus 11.48 percent a year earlier. Three years ago, it was as high as 25 percent and drastic action was required to reduce it. That exhausted government reserves of dollars and is not an option currently. The current generation of Turks had no memory of what inflation that high did to lives until recently and the voters want no more of it. President Erdogan is held responsible and that fuels the decline of his approval ratings hitting historic lows. Currently it is 41 percent versus 61 percent for his most likely opponent in any election. As the inflation rate rises more Erdogan supporters turn against him. Even members of his own party are quietly advising him to call for early (before 2023) elections to deal with the pressure all politicians, especially members of parliament, are feeling because of the economic crisis. Erdogan supporters point out that the longer elections are delayed, more of his parliament stalwarts will be replaced by anti-Erdogan politicians.
November 14, 2021: Israel is seeking the release of an Israeli married couple Turkey arrested and charged with spying. The couple took a picture of the presidential palace. Erdogan wants to negotiate, apparently for some help in Syria or with the economic crisis in Turkey.
November 13, 2021: Turkey rejected France’s request that all foreign powers remove their forces from Libya. Turkey has had an armed presence in Libya since 2011. Turkey also supports militias in Libya, some manned by Syrian mercenaries.
November 12, 2021: The Finance Ministry confirmed it is working with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF, aka Groupe d'action financiere) with the goal of keeping Turkey off the “gray list.” The FATF cited Turkey for failing to take effective action to stop money laundering and terrorist financing operations. In October 2019 Turkey made a commitment to improve its standards and supervise compliance, to include cracking down on unregistered money transfer services and money exchange offices. Turkey was still on the list in October 2021. As of today, Turkey is no longer on the published gray list. FATF was organized in 1989 by the G-7 nations with the explicit aim of combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Gray list countries have “strategic deficiencies in their regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and (nuclear) proliferation financing.” Black list countries are “Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories” (NCCTs)” FATF deems “non-cooperative in the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.” (Austin Bay)
Responding to pressure from the EU, Turkey halted airline ticket sales to citizens of Yemen, Iraq and Syria who want to travel to Belarus. Middle Eastern migrants are traveling to Belarus with the intention of entering Poland, Lithuania, or Latvia by force with the help of the Belarus government.
November 9, 2021: Turkey successfully test fired its domestically-developed Siper air defense missile. This Siper is designed to defeat aircraft and some ballistic missiles. Siper is part of a larger project to develop a full range of SAM (surface-to-air) systems. Turkey has had a mixed record with projects like, especially Siper, which is similar to the American Patriot and a new Israeli David’s Sling. Siper is supposed to enter service in 2023.
November 5, 2021: Turkey is in the process of beginning a major military operation in Syria. Syrian operation. Media reports that the Turkish Army has positioned tanks in the Idlib area and has sent infantry reinforcements. There are reports that Turkey will expand its buffer zone east of Ras al-Ain.
November 4, 2021: The Turkish government denied social media claims that it had deployed Russian S-400 missiles in the big NATO airbase at Incirlik.
November 3, 2021: Turkish security personnel arrested 17 people belonging to the Turkish Youth Union (TGB). The individuals under arrest are charged with forcefully placing a hood over the head of a U.S. Navy civilian employee during a protest in Istanbul. The TGB was protesting U.S. Middle Eastern policy.
November 2, 2021: Turkey’s Interior Minister met with Greece’s Migration and Asylum Minister to discuss common interests in illegal (irregular) migration and combating terrorism.
Investigators working with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) confirmed that the six suspects arrested in late October on charges of spying did intend to assassinate Chechen dissidents living in Turkey. The assassination team consists of four Russians, one Ukrainian and one Uzbek.
November 1, 2021: The government announced it plans to raise wages and lower taxes for lower wage earners in Turkey. This will require government borrowing to cover a larger budget deficit. That reduces the credit rating for government debt and increases the cost of borrowing. The rating is the lowest since the 1990s and one step above “junk bond” status.
October 29, 2021: The U.S. and Turkey confirmed that discussions continue regarding substituting F-16 jet fighters for canceled F-35 deliveries. The U.S. removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter consortium when Turkey acquired the Russian-made S-400 surface to air missile defense system.
October 26, 2021: Turkey and South Korea have signed a preliminary agreement regarding the acquisition of Korean engines for Turkey’s Altay main battle tanks. Turkey is reportedly seeking a co-development and manufacturing deal. South Korea wants to sell Turkey off the shelf engines. Both nations say a deal will be reached without South Korea getting into trouble with sanctions on Turkey for bad behavior in Syria and Libya.
October 25, 2021: Two days after President Erdogan threatened to expel ten Western ambassadors, the government decided to withdraw the threat. The threat had sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and several of its major allies. Erdogan made the threat after the U.S., Germany and France called on his government to release philanthropist Osman Kavala. Kavala has been in prison for four years
October 23, 2021: In a televised speech President Erdogan announced he had ordered the Foreign Ministry to declare ten Western ambassadors’ persona non grata and force them to leave Turkey immediately. On October 18 the U.S., Germany, France, Holland, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and New Zealand signed a joint statement asking Turkey to release Osman Kavala from prison.
October 22, 2021: President Erdogan announced that Turkey intends to increase its bilateral trade with Africa from $25 billion annually to $50 billion. Erdogan made the announcement during the Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum. He had just returned from a trip which took him to Angola, Nigeria and Togo. In Angola he discussed bilateral energy and defense issues. Erdogan tells African nations that Turkey should be a preferred trade partner. In Angola he claimed Turkey rejects “Western-centered Orientalist approaches to the African continent.” While in Nigeria he signed eight new bilateral agreements with the Nigerian government.
October 21, 2021: President Erdogan told reporters he believes Turkey and the U.S. will reach an agreement where Turkey will receive new F-16 fighters in lieu of F-35s.
A Turkish criminal court ordered six suspects imprisoned and held for trial. The six men were allegedly involved in a plot against Chechen dissidents living in Turkey. Four of the suspects are Russian nationals. The government believes the men were spying on the Chechens. There is also a possibility they were involved in an “armed action” (assassination plot).
October 19, 2021: The EU (European Union) announced that that Turkey's bid to join the EU had come to halt. The office cited “democratic shortfalls” as the reason
October 17, 2021: Ethiopia signed a military cooperation agreement with Turkey. Ethiopia is reportedly interested in acquiring armed Bayraktar TB2 UAVs. The TB2 entered service with the Turkish Air Force in 2014. So far over 200 TB2s have been built or on order, mainly by the Turkish military. Export sales have been made to Ukraine and nine other countries have placed orders or are close to doing so. TB2 is competitive with similar Chinese UAVs and has a better combat record. The 650 kg TB2 was initially introduced as an unarmed surveillance UAV. It could be armed and soon was with up to 100 kg of laser guided missiles. TB2 had a max payload of 150 kg which meant vidcams and a laser designator could also be carried to find and aim the lightweight laser-guided missiles Turkey was producing. TB2 has a wingspan of 12 meters (39 feet) and a top speed of 220 kilometers an hour but cruises at 130. Max ceiling is 8,200 meters (27,000 feet) and endurance is 27 hours. Max control range is 150 kilometers. TB2 has proved very effective in combat over the last few years in Turkey, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, and Armenia.