04.02.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

So why did Turkey refuse to participate in the Davos forum?

World Economic Forum. Professor Klaus Schwab

Traditionally, at the beginning of the new year, Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), since 1971, has gathered at the famous ski resort in Davos a regular summit of world politicians, businessmen and representatives of the leading media to discuss the current state and prospects of the world economy and other topical issues. One can treat this forum in different ways, but the fact remains that it is the flagship club gathering of business and political players in Switzerland. More than 1,000 major companies and organisations are members of the WEF.

Turkey, being a member of NATO and an ally of Western countries, traditionally takes part in this forum and tries to promote issues of interest to it in the field of politics, economy, investment, technology, etc. Turkey’s natural interest in the WEF is partly determined by Ankara’s policy of achieving full economic integration with the EU, despite the well-known and artificial problems on the Turkish path, created mainly by Brussels and Washington.

Given the personality and political course pursued by President Recep Erdoğan, the Davos platform has become a marker of Turkish identity (and sometimes protest) on some sensitive international issues. It is known that while he was still Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan had a sharp public conflict with then Israeli President Shimon Peres over the same Gaza Strip issue at the 2009 WEF summit. The two leaders clashed to the point that Erdoğan interrupted his participation in the forum and left it early. After this incident, Recep Erdogan did not attend the Davos Forum, although the Turkish delegation was eventually represented again.

From 15 to 19 January this year, Davos again hosted the forum, to which Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister Mehmet Şimşek was originally scheduled to travel. Today’s Turkish economy is in a state of serious crisis due in no small part to Erdogan’s “special policies” (including financial ones). Today, the exchange rate of the Turkish national currency against the US dollar is breaking new anti-records (in particular, 1 Turkish lira is equal to 31 US dollars), the Central Bank’s lending rates have exceeded the 42% mark, and inflation in December 2023 was 65%. Added to this are the massive challenges of rebuilding the earthquake zone in the south-east of the country. Turkey is in dire need of foreign investment (including from Western countries and international financial institutions).

It seemed that the Davos forum was a convenient platform for Turkey’s activity with the participation of experienced Finance Minister M. Şimşek, who had gone through the school and practice of American business. However, as noted by the world media, it was he who was dissuaded from travelling to Davos by Turkish President Recep Erdogan a few days before the trip. What is the reason for such a change in the position of the Turkish leader?

After all, if Şimşek planned to participate in Davos, it means that he had a corresponding authorisation from President Erdogan. And such approval was obviously received by the head of the financial block of the Turkish government earlier than 15 January, because although Davos is a ski resort, but the Minister of Finance is sent there not for skiing with young Swiss girls, but, apparently, for solving important economic (first of all, financial and investment) tasks. For such a business trip, the minister should prepare in advance and form a portfolio of proposals to potential investors. The change in the Turkish leader’s decision on the eve of the forum itself indicates that it was at the beginning of the new year before the opening of the Davos forum that Erdogan apparently received new inputs, which influenced his previous opinion.

World media claim that the Turkish delegation’s refusal to participate in the WEF is motivated by President Recep Erdogan’s critical assessment of Professor Klaus Schwab’s position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In particular, since Ankara unequivocally supports Hamas’ struggle against Israel’s arbitrary rule, Recep Erdogan cannot accept Schwab’s condemnation of Hamas’ actions for launching Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, 2023. That is why the Turks refused to participate in the current forum….

Although I do not have extensive information capabilities like the world media, nor do I have operational sources in the Turkish President’s administration, a simple comparison of events and facts makes it possible to disagree with such an opinion.

The fact is that Klaus Schwab neither yesterday nor today expressed his position on the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October (although he also called on Tel Aviv to respect the rights of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and meet their humanitarian interests). Meanwhile, the Davos forum did not meet on October 15 last year, but on January 15 this year. Then why did the charismatic Erdoğan first give his minister Şimşek permission to participate in the forum, and then cancelled this decision a few days before it started? Erdoğan is a serious politician and is not insane, so he makes his decisions reasonably, based on his perception of Turkey’s national interests.

President Erdoğan meets with various external partners, many of whom attended the Davos summit, who have identical positions to Professor Klaus Schwab. However, this does not stop Ankara from its respective diplomacy, contacts, meetings and negotiations.

The same Davos forum was attended by representatives of Turkey’s allies and partners (in particular, at the level of ministers and even prime ministers) who also (or possibly) disagree with Klaus Schwab’s views. For example, Azerbaijan’s Economy Minister Mikail Jabarov, Pakistan’s interim head of government Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, and Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian. It cannot be said that Erdogan is more helpful to Palestine than Iran. Today, it is not the Turkish military storming Kurdish positions in northern Syria or Iraq, but the pro-Iranian forces of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq that pose a military problem for Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Finally, Klaus Schwab has headed the non-governmental organisation WEF since 1971. What does Turkey’s refusal to participate in this year’s forum mean then? Is it that Erdogan or someone else has certainty or information that this professor will no longer head the WEF next year, or that Schwab has decided to abandon his official position on Hamas and recognise this Palestinian organisation not as a terrorist but as a liberation organisation? But Turkey does not say that it will refuse to attend this forum at all in the future. So, the official motive for the Turks’ refusal to participate in Davos is somewhat different from the real reason.

But let us return to the topic of the economy and important meetings in Turkey. As we know, with the start of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, Ankara took a rather balanced stance and maintained relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Erdogan then initiated peace diplomacy, whose mediation efforts allowed for talks in Istanbul, a prisoner exchange and a “grain deal.”

Despite pressure from his NATO allies, led by the United States, over anti-Russian sanctions, Erdogan did not go out of his way to disrupt relations with Russia. On the contrary, the trade balance between the two countries has grown significantly, and Moscow has offered Ankara a large-scale “gas hub” project after the well-known terrorist attacks by Western intelligence services on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines. Turkey has actually become a transit corridor for Russia, through Turkish territory there is a “parallel transit” of goods from third (including European) countries to our country. Until January of this year, Turkish banks, despite the well-known sanctions, were able to accept Russian payments and demonstrate financial flexibility. However, this is exactly what the US does not like.

As is known, in 2022-2023, delegations of the US Treasury Department were repeatedly sent to Turkey (for example, in the status of Undersecretaries Wally Adeyemo and Brian Nelson). Washington is exerting hard pressure on Ankara for non-compliance with the anti-Russian sanctions, and the same B. Nelson promised his Turkish colleagues appropriate sanctions in case they ignore the US requirements.

After the beginning of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken paid two visits to Ankara with a break of exactly two months (6 November and 6 January). And if last autumn the chief American diplomat was given a “cold reception”, at the beginning of the new year Blinken had substantive talks with both his colleague Fidan and President Erdogan. The two sides discussed not only the current situation in the Gaza Strip, but also a rather broad agenda (including the Swedish issue, bilateral and multilateral relations).

Ankara is still holding out hope for deliveries of modernised American F-16 Block70 fighter jets and investments. Washington, in turn, apparently conveyed through Anthony Blinken a stern warning of negative consequences in case of continued violations of US sanctions against Russia, and as a carrot promised investments and a solution to the fighter jet issue. As a result, Turkish banks in January (temporarily or untimely) started not accepting Russian payments.

Meanwhile, the actions of the pro-Iranian groups of the Houthis in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are actually creating not only high tension on the path of world trade ships through the Suez Canal, but are actually blocking this sea transit artery, leading to a sharp increase in the price of transporting goods and creating a security crisis. Both Western and Eastern countries are affected. Already today, the EU and China are sending alarming signals of rising transport prices. In this regard, in the near future, the focus of world trade communications may shift from the Suez Canal to other strategic routes (including the so-called Middle Corridor from China via Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey to Europe).

Accordingly, Turkey’s interest in transforming the already established Trans-Caspian transport and energy corridor into the Middle Corridor acquires tangible forms for the export of goods from export-dependent China through the Turan corridor to Europe. And this is the way to the recovery of the national economy of Turkey, overcoming such a serious crisis and the most important component of the foundation of Erdogan’s new policy “axis of Turkey”, as he stated at the celebration of the 97th anniversary of the national intelligence organisation MIT.

Therefore, Erdogan is eager to establish control over the Zangezur corridor through the south of Armenia, which allows him to create the shortest trade-economic and military-strategic route to Turan (Azerbaijan and Turkic countries of Central Asia). But Armenia for some reason talks a lot and does not agree, then referring to Iran’s negative position, then resuming dialogue with Russia on the fact of controlling the security of the Zangezur corridor.

It is known that Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi has already postponed his announced visit to Turkey twice. Russian President V.V. Putin’s visit to Ankara is also planned, but he is also expected to visit Turkey soon. Putin’s visit to Ankara is also planned, but even here there is no clarity on the timing (some experts note that plans for the visit have been pushed back to mid-January this year). Why are the leaders of Iran and Russia postponing their visits to Ankara? Apparently, Erdogan is expected to make some decision on financial policy and trade communications. Russia and Iran are no longer bound to Western financial dictates, and the world is on the threshold of a new order. Therefore, Turkey, counting on the Middle Corridor (as well as its allies in the Turkic bloc), should respect the interests of Russia and Iran on the subject of controlling this corridor.

It is not accidental in this regard that on 18 January, on the initiative of the Armenian side, Armenian Ambassador to Moscow Vagharshak Harutiunyan met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin, during which Yerevan publicly reaffirmed its official position on the preservation of the Russian military base in Armenia and the development of Armenian-Russian allied relations. And a couple of days before that, Russia admitted to the official media information about limited arms deliveries to allied Armenia (which was mentioned by the representatives of the Armenian parliamentary corps from the ruling party – Andranik Kocharyan and Gagik Melkonyan).

If we take into account that the countries of the collective West did not show much interest in the fate of the Middle Corridor at the Davos forum, Erdogan had no reason to send Şimşek to Switzerland. Besides, on the eve of the Davos forum, the Turkish finance minister limited himself to online participation in the work of the investment club in New York, thus demonstrating a certain remoteness (although initially the Americans expected Şimşek’s personal participation in the New York meeting). The latter is apparently preparing to organise talks between its leader and his counterparts from Russia and Iran. In the meantime, Turkish banks are demonstrating their compliance with the sanctions regime against Russian payments, though they promise to resume them soon.

In principle, with the change of the world order, the relevance of the WEF in Davos may recede into the background, because there will be a new Davos with a different geographical coordinate…


Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine «New Eastern Outlook»

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