Oppressive Regimes Reach Beyond Their Borders

“”In countries like Vietnam and Australia, Chinese agents have simply abducted their prey, whether the targets were dissidents or people accused of corruption,” ProPublica reported after its own investigation.

While “China conducts the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world,” according to Freedom House, it’s hardly alone. Russia’s overseas effort “accounts for 7 of 26 assassinations or assassination attempts since 2014, as catalogued in Freedom House’s global survey”; former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted in the United Kingdom in 2018 in an attack that resulted in the death of a local woman. Saudi Arabia’s government plotted what a UN special rapporteur described as “a premeditated extrajudicial execution” of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Turkey, in turn, has developed a reputation for leaning on other governments “to hand over individuals without due process, or with a slight fig leaf of legality,” in the words of the report.”

Why Biden’s statement recognizing the Armenian genocide is a big deal

“President Joe Biden became the first US president to formally refer to atrocities committed against Armenians as a “genocide””

“Previous presidents have refrained from using the word “genocide” in connection with the mass atrocities committed against the Armenian people in the early 20th century, and Turkey categorically denies that a genocide took place. So Biden’s declaration marks a major break from precedent, and could signal an increase in tensions with Turkey, a longtime US and NATO ally.”

“Previous presidents, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, made similar campaign promises to recognize the Armenian genocide, but never followed through while in office, and Bush later called on Congress to reject such a designation. In 1981, Ronald Reagan made a passing reference to “the genocide of the Armenians” during a speech commemorating victims of the Holocaust.”

“other factors have already chilled the US-Turkey relationship. In December of last year, for example, shortly before Biden took office, the US imposed sanctions on Turkey for purchasing Russian military hardware. In 2019, the US also removed Turkey from its joint F-35 stealth fighter program over the same purchase.”

Why Trump just sanctioned NATO ally Turkey

“The United States is finally punishing Turkey for purchasing a Russian missile defense system, a long-anticipated move that is likely to increase tensions with a NATO ally.”

“the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. The administration ordered the penalties under a section of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which gives the president the power to sanction people or entities that do business with Russia’s intelligence or defense sectors. The sanctions specifically target Turkey’s defense procurement agency, known as the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), and its senior officials.”

“Turkey acquired the defense system last year, after repeated warnings by the Trump administration not to do so because they do not want a NATO ally relying on Russian systems. US officials also said Turkey’s use of the S-400 jeopardized America’s F-35 fighter jet program, over fears the Russian system’s radars could collect intelligence on the F-35s.

In response, the US removed Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program, which barred the country from getting the jets and restricted any Turkish personnel from working with the planes. Still, bipartisan members of Congress continued to push for harsher punishment of Turkey, including sanctions.

Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian system further strained relations between Washington and Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has consolidated power in recent years, becoming more explicitly authoritarian and cracking down on dissent, including by jailing journalists and others he perceives as his political enemies.

Erdoğan was angered by the US’s decision to ally with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS in Syria, as Erdoğan associates them with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a terrorist group that’s waged attacks in Turkey. He has also bristled at the US’s refusal to extradite a US-based cleric whom Erdoğan blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

Beyond Turkey’s flirtation with Russia, Turkey has also tried to exert its regional influence in places like Syria and Libya and the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where its gas exploration efforts have increased tensions with Greece and other NATO allies in the European Union, too. (The EU is also considering sanctions against Turkey.)

But despite issuing lots of admonitions, the Trump administration didn’t move forward with the CAATSA sanctions. Some attributed Trump’s refusal to do so to his personal affinity for Erdoğan.

Then in October, Turkey tested the S-400 system in defiance of US warnings, making it much harder for the US to ignore.

And this month, Congress, in its annual defense authorization bill, included mandatory sanctions against Turkey for its Russian defense shopping spree. Though Trump has threatened to veto the bill for lots of reasons, the administration’s move to sanction Turkey on Monday may have been an attempt to get ahead of that requirement.”

Turkey

“For Turkey, the outcome was also the latest successful example of its assertive and game-changing use of military hard power, which has so far redrawn geopolitical realities from Libya and Syria to the southern Caucasus.

The moves take advantage of a vacuum left by now-absent U.S. and European actors, analysts say, in order to realize Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitions of regional preeminence – and to enhance his popularity at home.

The result is that Mr. Erdoğan is the latest exemplar of the effectiveness of gunboat diplomacy, even as traditional military players withdraw from the field. If there is one important caveat, though, it is that Turkey’s ambitions have also brought it increasingly into competition with another power, Russia.”

” Few think Azeri troops could have broken the years-long stalemate with Armenia without Turkey’s ironclad support and weaponry. Ankara’s arms sales to Azerbaijan increased six-fold this year, rising to $77 million in September alone – making Azerbaijan the biggest client for Turkish weapons – Reuters reports. Turkey also reportedly deployed Turkish-trained mercenary fighters from Syria.”

““There are inherent limits to how far this can go, and the limit is really the Turkish economy, because it is very interdependent with the Western economy,” says Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and head of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

Turkey’s assertiveness abroad has been aided by two concurrent changes in the global order, he says: A United States that is “much more disinterested in this part of the world,” coupled with the “continuing ineffectiveness of the EU as a foreign policy actor.”

“This combination has opened up space for mid-power countries like Turkey to exert themselves more assertively in the regional theater,” says Mr. Ülgen. “The domestic dimension is that the [ruling] AK Party has espoused a narrative of a strong Turkey abroad, and hard power tactics tend to nurture this narrative.””

Turkey used a new weapon in Syria that was so effective it looks like Russia won’t dare confront Turkey directly

“The Turkish military’s devastating display of power against the Syrian army last week — which saw the destruction of hundreds of regime tanks, artillery pieces and armored vehicles — came from a cheap but effective domestic drone program that NATO officials say has changed the military equation against Russia in Syria’s Idlib Province.

The confrontation began in late February. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air support and “special forces advisors”, began to push into Idlib, the last major area held by rebels against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime. Syria’s civil war has lasted nearly a decade.”

“Turkey’s response was to send thousands of regular army units into Idlib to prevent the pocket’s collapse.”

“Turkey has a new ace up its sleeve, one that forced Russia to think twice about escalating against President Recep Erdogan’s government, military sources told Insider.

Turkey’s offensive was conducted with about 100 domestically produced drones launching cheap guided munitions with deadly efficiency.”

“US policies restricting sales of armed drone technology to Turkey out of concerns the technology would be used on Kurdish targets as critical to the development of a domestic program. By 2007 the Turkish military had tired of limitations on what it could buy from the Americans. Disappointed by the poor performance of Israeli drones on the market, it then began to develop their own program.”

“While Turkey guards the exact cost of producing the Bayraktar TB2 as a state secret, it sold 12 drones and three ground command centers to Ukraine last year for $69 million. At less than $6 million per drone, the TB2 is about a third of the cost of the similarly capable US produced Reaper MQ-9, which retails for US allies at about $16 million a piece.”

Turkey sends more troops, tanks to Syria amid Idlib assault

“For weeks, Syrian troops, backed by Russian air force, have been advancing in rebel territory as the cease-fire deal reached in 2018 unraveled. The offensive has displaced over half a million people, many of them arriving in open air and temporary shelters, often near the borders with Turkey. Idlib and nearby rural Aleppo are the last rebel-held areas in Syria and are home to more than 3 million people, most of them already displaced by previous rounds of violence.”