Turkex: Time for NATO to wake up and smell the coffee; Moscow was the winner in coup drama

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs

It is unsurprising that the world should be incredulous at the explanations given by the Turkish Government as to the origins, sponsors, and actions of the putsch which was attempted against it on the night of July 15-16, 2016. Indeed, the great difficulty is to avoid considering the “conspiracy theory” that the entire event had been orchestrated by President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan himself.

The event was cut from whole cloth. It was too perfect, and the responses too complete. Its outcome could not have been more favorable to the president and his ambitions.

U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy in final approach at Incirlik air base.
U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy in final approach at Incirlik air base.

And as with all conjuring, the audience was complicit, and the scale of the deception bold and outside the scale of comprehension of Turkey’s traditional allies and supporters.

What Erdoğan did and achieved — regardless of whether he had staged the patently-unworkable putsch himself — was breathtaking in its scope and objectives, and was initially successful in consolidating his power and removing Turkey from the secular, Western-oriented path of the President’s nemesis, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The fact that the leaders of the putsch have not been credibly identified (some officers have been blamed, true, and some military personnel went along with the affair, believing it to be a genuine attempt to overthrow the President), and the blame so laughably assigned to convenient “enemies”, makes it necessary to question the reality of events in Turkey before, during, and after the incident.

Whatever actually happened, it is clear that President Erdoğan has — with the catalyst of the alleged putsch — completely transformed the strategic position of Turkey: its alliances and dependencies; its chances for survival, and the fate of the region which is vital not only to its inhabitants, but as a nexus of global trade.

The Russian Government knows full well just how mercurial President Erdoğan has been, and how he has tried — and failed — to confront Russia strategically. It was Russia which essentially defeated Turkey in Syria and Iraq, and possibly in the Caucasus and Balkans.

To cut through the niceties of the transformation, President Erdoğan has nominally capitulated to Moscow, even though he uses the old Soviet mechanism of “peaceful coexistence” (cooperation publicly; confrontation discreetly) in his new relationship with Russia. Hitler and Stalin each employed this stratagem against each other. Russia today is under no illusions that the Turkish President has suddenly become its friend, and Moscow will not let down its guard. But it cannot ignore the reality that Turkey’s capitulation, for whatever reason, must be seized.

What are some “take-aways” from what has happened?

  • 1. Turkey has now formally declared the U.S. (and therefore NATO) as its enemy. President Erdoğan has blamed the U.S. Government for the coup attempt — which many inside Turkey and the Middle East will believe, given the U.S. recent history of advocating “regime change” — and he did so in a way which offers little chance of revision, also publicly crediting Russian Spetsnaz troops with saving his life during the putsch. [How did they get to Marmaris to do this?] As a bonus to Russia, he also said that the shooting down of the Russian Air Force Su-24 strike aircraft over Syria in November 2015 was done by “CIA pilots”. The Russians know how it happened (Turkish F-16s engaged the Su-24), but listen patiently to the Erdoğan “big lies”.
  • 2. If logic prevails, the U.S. and other NATO states will have to remove their military and intelligence assets from Turkey or risk them being even more compromised than they have become over the past few years. NATO will have to suspend Turkey from membership, something it has no mechanism, effectively, to do. Instead, as with the EU, it keeps waiting for Turkey to “‘fess up”, say “you got me, copper”, and resign from NATO. Why should Erdoğan do that? He will stay in NATO and the EU negotiations as long as he can extract economic and political benefit, even as he — for his own ideological reasons — undermines those institutions. And no-one has the nerve, in NATO states (particularly during a U.S. Presidential election year and a meltdown in the EU) to initiate “Turkex” (Turkish exit) procedures. And no-one in NATO or the senior member states has actually done the calculation as to how to structure global and regional strategies without Turkey, or how to remove Turkish officers from NATO facilities; how to manage the region without Turkey. These were things which should have been considered.
  • 3. If Washington and London are not too busy with their own tactical distractions, they should be looking at how to remove their strategic levers from Turkey and place them in the UK’s Sovereign Base Areas, in Cyprus. This time there should be some real negotiation with Cyprus on the matter, also indicating that, finally, the issue of the Turkish military occupation of northern Cyprus can no longer be ignored.
  • 4. Turkey’s public war with Russia is on hold. Will Erdoğan secretly continue his jihadist proxy wars? Yes.

For Russia, in many respects, this has been a strategic coup de main: It has Turkey in a position where, to survive, it has had to capitulate to Moscow, albeit unwillingly and temporarily. For Moscow, the goal will be to ensure unfettered access through the Black Sea and Bosphorus to the Mediterranean, and to put an end to the Syrian war.

What this may mean is that Russia itself could be a de facto guarantor that Turkey would not be broken up by the current civil war. Perhaps it will not go that far. Perhaps Moscow will just say that, for now, it would not support the Kurdish (and other) irredentists in Turkey. Moscow seems unlikely to surrender its other neo-allies, either: Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia, Iran.

Frankly, Moscow wants to return to good relations with Western Europe, something the U.S. Barack Obama Administration interrupted.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov knew all this when he was negotiating in Moscow with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the Syrian crisis on July 15, 2016.