Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan versus Russia

Russia’s announced economic sanctions against Turkey could explode Erdogan’s entire project, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Apparently not everyone has swallowed the justifications cited by the powers-that-be in Ankara for shooting down the Russian Su-24 on Tuesday last week.

Sceptics even include some of Ankara’s NATO buddies who possess satellite imagery that could confirm Moscow’s claims that it received “a stab in the back administered by the accomplices of terrorists”, and that its fighter jets did not enter Turkish airspace. Of course, these bodies will not acknowledge this openly for fear of offending those who control the second-largest army in NATO.

But even in the vast Anatolian plateau, where ultranationalist fervour was instrumental in securing a majority for the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) in the general elections of 1 November, allowing the party to form a government on its own, there are nagging doubts over the official narrative.

Some are saying that even if the Russian plane encroached into Turkish airspace for a few seconds, surely this could have been overlooked for the sake of the vital and growing mutual interests between the two countries.

The opposition, with its three chief currents (secularist liberal, left and Kurdish), lashed out at the government, nominally headed by a prime minister but effectively headed by the president, for plunging the country further into the unknown as it works hand in hand with a gang of jihadists.

As the Cumhuriyet newspaper put it, the downing of the Russian fighter plane was only the latest addition to the bloodbath in Syria and part of the government’s drive to expand its influence in the region, towards which end it embarked on an adventure in the service of imperialism and the West.

Describing Turkey’s current situation as alarming, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party (RPP), said that the government’s misguided foreign policy has shaken Turkey’s international status and reputation.

He stressed that the JDP government still persists in the same mistakes that are not only harming the current generation but also threaten to harm generations to come. Thus, it is time for a new and different policy, one that serves the interests of the country and its people.

Meanwhile, up in the pinnacles of power, frustration and, even more, confusion and wavering are holding sway. One is stunned at the amount of backtracking and backing down on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in particular.

In less than a week he downshifted from his bellicose swaggering to a vague semblance of remorse over an action that was intended to humiliate the Russian bear, to give himself an excuse to crow and to strengthen his hand in Syria and recover from the setbacks inflicted by his mortal enemy Bashar Al-Assad and his Baathist clique, with the support of the Iran-Iraq-Hezbollah Shia triangle.

The plan did not pan out. In fact, it backfired. So, in an unaccustomed display of meekness, in front of a gathering of his supporters in the Aegean region, Erdogan expressed his regret, not for the plotting and planning of course, but over the incident that “we wished had not played out in this manner.”

Turkey had never sought to provoke tension, animosity or conflict, he said. Then, finally, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was given his cue to appear. Turkey and Russia are linked by profound and deeply rooted bonds, and no one should abuse this friendship, he said, adding that the doors are open to discussion.

Whether or not it was because they doubted the Turkish officials’ sincerity and ingenuousness, the descendants of the great Russian tsars bared their teeth against the heirs to their age-old Ottoman neighbour and enemy, and pronounced a long list of sanctions.

Old agreements have been shelved. Turks will no longer be permitted visa-free entry into Russia. Many of those already in Russia will be deported — even those who have been resident for decades.

Turkish leaders have been hoisted by their own petard. In the bargain, they have become the butt of many jokes and humorous video clips circulating on Turkish social networking sites. One clip is a montage of Erdogan and Putin at various times during the crisis and shows Putin breaking out in song and Erdogan weeping.

Erdogan had vowed that Turkish-Russian economic relations must never be jeopardised, regardless of the huge gulf between Ankara and Moscow over the Syrian conflict and Bashar Al-Assad in particular.

Now Russian sanctions have taken aim at that economic dimension and the greatest loser is Erdogan’s ambitions and the grand projects that he needs to market the “New Turkey” that he plans to launch, with himself on the throne, upon the centennial of the Turkish republic in 2023. But none of this will happen unless the energy needs of Turkish factories and people are met.

Already, a shadow has been cast over the natural gas pipeline extension that Russia is constructing in the Black Sea. As Hürriyet newspaper put it in a recent editorial, Russia holds the natural gas trump card. Energy is the factor that most binds Anatolia to Russia, the newspaper observed. Russia supplies Turkey with 54.7 per cent of its natural gas imports. Of the 50 billion cubic metres of natural gas consumed by the Turkish people, 26 billion comes from Russia.

Another shadow hangs over what has been hailed as the “project of the century”, the Akkuyu nuclear power plant that is under construction in Mersin province, overlooking the Mediterranean. Hürriyet noted that work on the $20 billion project could be slowed if not halted.

Russia also holds a strong economic card in the construction sector. Turkish firms have won around $62 billion worth of construction contracts in Russia since 1989, representing about 20 per cent of all construction works being undertaken around the world by Turkish firms to the tune of $310 billion.

The vice president of the Turkish Contractors Association, Emre Aykar, underscored the importance of the Russian construction market to Turkey. He said that Turkish contracting firms were awarded 47 projects in 2014 valued at $3.9 billion, and by the end of September this year they had signed eight contracts worth $2.9 billion.

Zaman columnist Faruk Efkan observed that if the Russian-Turkish crisis continues the consequences for Turkey will be catastrophic.

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