Erdogan could be caught in a ‘double gripper’

2017/09/10 Issue: 122 Page: 14

The Arab Weekly
Yavuz Baydar

The more defiant to calls from allies for a return to the rule of law Turkish Presi¬dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains, the more cornered he becomes.

Erdogan faced strong chal¬lenges in recent days as Germany, Turkey’s top trade partner, issued statements that EU membership negotiations should be termi¬nated in October when EU leaders meet.

German Chancellor Angela Mer¬kel gave clear hints of what she would do if her party, the Chris¬tian Democratic Union (CDU), wins the elections: She called for a unity among EU members in expelling Turkey from the EU process. The other parties, in the heat of the elections, agreed with her in a joint stance against what they say are Erdogan’s extortion politics.

Erdogan is not the one to blink at such escalation and he con¬tinued his name-calling against the German leadership. This may keep his power perception intact at home but if he at all has a strat¬egy beyond harsh tactical moves to provoke the European Union to end the accession process, he ob¬viously is suffering from myopia.

Germany, in fury over attempts to import oppressive policies onto its mark, means serious business. If Merkel asks for a two-thirds majority to back her proposal, it will be a slam dunk. There is good reason to presume that Erdogan’s sycophantish economic advisers have no idea what the conse¬quences of such a radical move would be to the frail Turkish economy.

The obstinacy in Ankara shows no sign of letting go. On the con¬trary, it stretches most of Tur¬key’s decades-long alliance and partnership network to its limits of tolerance. For foreign nation¬als, Turkey has become a high-risk territory, as governments advise their citizens not to visit the country.

Arbitrary arrests have risen to levels that confirm the notion of absence of the rule of law. The traditional security cooperation between Turkey and Germany has reached a breaking point, observers said.

“I understand that the rela¬tions between the intelligence structures and security units of the two countries have come to a halt,” said Bernd Liedtke, a German security expert. “The cooperation not only on ISIS (the Islamic State) or jihadists but also on drug smuggling and organised crime is at a standstill. This is very bad.”

Perhaps more seriously, the Erdogan government has been treated with utter caution within NATO, whose leadership lost fundamental trust in the Turkish government on sensitive issues.

“There is information that a new cooperation (agreement) has been under way,” Liedtke said. “This means Turkey comes closer to Russia in the domain of intel sharing. Nobody in NATO wants this to happen… The fact is, Tur¬key is lonely within NATO now.”

“Turkey is no longer a trusted partner within NATO. My im¬pression is no strategic data any longer is shared with Turkey,” concluded Liedtke in an interview with Deutsche Welle Turkish.

The rapid worsening of relations is in sync across the Atlantic. At a session of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, senior US politicians agreed that a revision of relations with Turkey was nec¬essary. One expert, calling Turkey “an ally, but not a partner,” urged the Trump administration to think of an alternative to Incirlik Air Base, a key post for NATO near the Syrian border.

What brought the patience in Washington to a boiling point was the Erdogan-style challenges to legal orders exported to US ter¬ritory: 15 of his bodyguards have been indicted for severely beating peaceful Kurdish demonstrators in Washington. They would be ar¬rested if they entered the United States.

There is much more that adds to Erdogan’s anger. The US Attor¬ney’s Office for the Southern Dis¬trict of New York announced that former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and three others had been charged with conspiring to use the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and Iranian entities barred by US sanctions.

Caglayan is among those charged with laundering funds in connection with the transactions, including millions of dollars in bribes to Caglayan and others, and defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the nature of the transactions.

The indictment further alleged that Caglayan’s co-defendants — Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, previously charged in this case with similar offences — participated in the same crimes. Zarrab was the prime suspect in a graft investigation in 2013, along with others from the inner circle of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, includ¬ing Erdogan, for having bribed cabinet-level officials to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

Is Erdogan caught in a double-gripper? Top-level Turkish military officers and organised crime prosecutors granted asylum in Germany and Belgium put his links to EU capitals to an all-time low. Further on, it seems the American judicial system will run its natural course. Under such cir¬cumstances, even a routine visit to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly seems an option for Erdogan to think twice about.

All this points to a bleak future: Erdogan is left with no choice but to remain defiant to whatever comes his way.

Yavuz Baydar is a journalist based in Istanbul. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) and a news analyst, he won the European Press Prize in 2014. He has been reporting on Turkey and journalism issues since 1980.

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