This autumn turned out to be rich in conflict events in politics. There is probably a certain regularity here, as politicians have finished their summer holidays; the world is still torn by a number of conflicts and contradictions; and the likely warfare in some regions, as a rule, perceives autumn as the best period for launching offensive operations.
The Russian-Ukrainian military-political crisis has caused a serious division in the international arena, while the economic war of the collective West led by the United States against the Russian Federation in the form of tough sanctions has predetermined the search for new communications and competitive markets. Some key countries of the Middle East, such as Turkey and Iran, are becoming new direct and potential centres of formation and control of strategic transit communications. The latter in turn initiates new clashes of interests, as new routes of trade caravans guarantee dividends and influence of the countries controlling the road corridors.
Turkey is trying to turn these developments in its favour, namely to use its favourable economic position by offering certain services to interested countries and continents, strengthening its economic independence and realising its own ambitious geopolitical goals. However, such activity of Turkey causes ambiguous reactions from other countries.
Nowadays, the policy of neo-ottomanism and neopan-turanism under the slogan “Golden Age of the Turks” receives maximum support from the newly created Turkic countries of the post-soviet space and the current authorities of Hungary. Although Russia and China believe that Turkey is weak and its ambitions on the “Turkic pole” do not pose any external and internal threats to them. Britain and Israel are trying to use the turanian vector of the Turkish state again to satisfy their own economic and political interests, such as trade in oil, gas and other raw materials of the Caspian basin and the Central Asian region in combination with the neutralisation of Iran. In turn, Iran opposes Turkey’s strengthening in the north of its borders with Transcaucasus and Central Asia. The United States has decided to observe Turkey to assess its advance in the post-soviet south against Russia and China.
At the same time, the United States, which considers itself a world leader, opposes the formation of a new Turkish power that could control the richest regions in the East and influence international affairs. Washington adheres to the imperial principle of “divide and conquer” or “nothing is above the stature of Pharaoh but Pharaoh himself”. Moreover, the West is well aware of Turkey’s flexible and unpredictable diplomacy since the days of the “sick man of Europe” Ottoman Empire.
Based on the above, the U.S. in all regional affairs tries to use a policy of containment in order to eliminate the risks of threats to its monopoly. During the Cold War, it was Washington, because of the independent and pro-soviet policy of the Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios, that played one of the main roles in the Turkish military invasion of the northern part of the island of Cyprus in July 1974 (codenamed “Operation Attila”).
In the current situation of Erdoğan’s independent policy, the US prefers:
– in the Mediterranean basin, to increase military support to Greece (establishment of new bases, active armament, deliveries of fifth-generation F-35 multirole fighters, etc.);
– in the Middle East warfare, support pro-american kurdish militant formations operating on the border with Turkey;
– on the Caucasus flank, supplement its presence in Georgia by establishing control over Armenia.
The Kurdish question has been on the agenda of international diplomacy since the Congress of Berlin in 1878 as part of the Eastern Question (at that time the question of ethnic territories within the Ottoman Empire). The First World War and the outcome of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 never resolved either the Kurdish or Armenian issues. From then until now, these historical territorial issues have remained problems without resolution in the Middle East. From time to time, the Kurdish issue is brought to the fore in the regional diplomacy of one or another centre of power.
The U.S. understands the extent of threats to the territorial integrity of Turkey from the Kurdish issue inside and outside Anatolia. Officially, the U.S. supported its NATO ally Turkey in suppressing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) militant resistance, arresting its permanent leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 and recognising the PKK as a terrorist organisation. In many ways, this U.S. attitude toward the PKK was motivated by two reasons:
1) countering the Soviet legacy of supporting the Kurdish issue against NATO Turkey in the Middle East because the PKK was oriented towards socialist values and Moscow;
2) preventing the Russian Federation from increasing its role in the post-Soviet south and the Middle East at the turn of the XX-XXI centuries with reliance on the Kurdish factor (at that time, the U.S. and Great Britain together with Turkey were solving the issue of laying new oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey and the European market, bypassing Russia).
At the same time, the United States does not exclude the possibility of using the political and combat potential of Kurdish forces in the Middle East depending on its interests and the behaviour of the four countries in the region with a compact settlement of the divided Kurdish people, i.e. Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
In the situation with the Syrian crisis, where the United States has taken an emphatically hostile position to the current legitimate regime of Bashar al-Assad, Washington considers part of the Kurdish forces as its allies, supplies them with small arms, provides certain training for command and assault personnel, uses them in its actions within the SAR. In this regard, the United States is in no way satisfied with Turkey’s anti-Kurdish military activity in the northern and northwestern regions of Syria, the conduct of five local military operations by Turkish special and proxy forces and Ankara’s plans to create a 30-km buffer zone in these areas adjacent to Turkey’s southern borders with the eviction of local Kurds and the resettlement of Turkmens.
Moreover, the Kurdish issue has become particularly acute in the matter of Sweden’s accession to NATO, where up to 140,000 Kurds live, mostly those who left Turkey for national reasons. Ankara makes reasonable, and sometimes unrelated to the Kurds, demands to Stockholm, which may allow the Turks to express their consent to Sweden’s membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. The U.S., of course, has so far struggled to sustain a concerted “Turkish-Hungarian rebellion” within NATO. Once again, the Kurdish issue comes to the forefront of both satisfying Turkey’s ambitions and probably curbing (or undermining) these ambitions.
At the July NATO summit in Vilnius, Recep Erdoğan expressed hope that the Turkish parliament would make a positive decision on the fate of Sweden, but at the same time put forward a counter request to Stockholm in terms of speeding up Turkey’s admission to the EU. This, as you know, caused a negative reaction from Brussels and a number of European capitals. In response, the Turkish leader took a break for three months due to the departure of the parliamentary corps for summer holidays and linked the solution of the Swedish issue with the opinion of Turkish parliamentarians in early October next year.
Over the period since the July NATO summit, Turkey, in various forms and at different stages, in parallel with the topic of Sweden, discussed and found out the possibility of significant financial assistance from the West due to the current crisis in the country and the devastating earthquake, as well as the organisation of military supplies of upgraded F-16 fighters. The United States, represented by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, promised the Turks to take a positive attitude to the requests of Turkish partners with a positive decision of the Swedish status.
In this regard, the White House even went to some kind of pacification of the consistent anti-Turkish Senator Robert Menendez, who opposed military supplies to Turkey because of Ankara’s behavior towards US allies and partners (Greece, Cyprus, the pro-American Kurds of Syria and Armenia). In particular, in september of this year unexpectedly, a case was opened against Menendez and his wife with suspicion of corruption, which allowed him to be temporarily suspended from the chairmanship of The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for the period of the investigation, from whose opinion and decision the provision of military assistance to foreign states (including Turkey) depends. This personnel decision was positively perceived by Erdoğan himself as an opportunity to accelerate US military supplies. In particular, the Turkish President stated in this regard: “The absence of Menendez in sight is an advantage.” However, America is in no hurry to fulfill its promises to Turkey and, simply put, waits before the relevant decision of the Turkish parliament.
On the first day of October, explosions thundered in Istanbul near the parliament building and the Ministry of the Interior. The PKK claimed responsibility for the terrorist act, which is perceived in Turkey as a kind of attempt by external forces to exert preventive pressure on the opinion of Turkish deputies on the Swedish issue. The Kurds, of course, are unlikely to be satisfied with Stockholm’s submission to Ankara’s demands regarding PKK members. Simply put, in this case, the Kurds will lose their good place in a prosperous European country.
The retaliatory actions by the special services and the Turkish Air Force did not take long to wait on the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Syria. The Turkish military reports that they have already hit almost 60 PKK targets and captured many militants involved in the latest events. Meanwhile, on October 5 of this year, an F-16 fighter of the US Air Force shot down a Turkish military drone in the sky over Syria in the Hasakah area, which turned out to be half a kilometer from the US military in the SAR. This was reported to Reuters by Pentagon representative, Brigadier General Pat Ryder.
The Americans perceived the Turkish drone dropping bombs on Kurdish facilities in Hasakah as a military threat. The Turkish military department ruled out the connection of official Ankara with the downed drone.
Is it a coincidence that the US Air Force strikes a combat drone of a NATO ally for the first time? In principle, no one is immune from accidents, and even Turkish UAVs. At the same time, we should not exclude the version of a warning signal to the Turks not to invade the zone of US interests for the same Kurds; otherwise, the answer will not take long. And what should Erdoğan expect in this case, if suddenly a conscious part of the Turkish parliament believes in the independent forces of its leader and votes against Sweden’s membership in NATO?
As you can see, October has had a busy start this year. Let’s see how it will end in the Middle East and the adjacent Transcaucasia, where Erdoğan is not appeased by success in Karabakh and rushes to Zangezur. Whether the conflict potential will lead to a new regional Iran-Turkey war, or the parties will keep the peace through new transit communications, the near and endless time will show…
Alexandr SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine «New Eastern Outlook».