How Turkey is ruining NATO’s moment of unity
“Erdoğan, specifically, is raising new objections to the ascension of Finland and especially Sweden over what Turkey perceives as the latter’s lax policies toward Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other groups that Turkey deems terrorist organizations. Most recently, Erdoğan has used a far-right politician’s burning of the Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm to harden his opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid.
All NATO members must approve new ones, so Erdoğan’s opposition is effectively a veto. The Turkish president is not alone in declining support— Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is also holding out, for now — but Erdoğan is seen as the more legitimate roadblock. Erdoğan is flexing his foreign policy power and influence, and seeking to improve his domestic political position, especially ahead of difficult elections this May.
“Erdoğan thinks Turkey has leverage. Erdoğan thinks Turkey has justifiable grievances about Sweden’s policies. Erdoğan thinks he has an opportunity to use that leverage to address those grievances in a way that would be good for Turkey’s national interests. And, in addition to all of that, the entire issue is good for Erdoğan politically,” said Nicholas Danforth, editor at War on the Rocks and nonresident senior research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.
Given all that, it’s not really surprising this spat over the Nordic countries’ NATO membership is dragging out. But this is also really not how the script was supposed to go — at least according to most of the rest of NATO.”
“In June, Sweden, Finland, and Turkey reached a memorandum of understanding to try to assuage some of Erdoğan’s concerns. Sweden and Finland lifted their arms blockades and agreed to a series of steps to cooperate with Turkey on terrorism-related issues.
But Erdoğan is pushing for more concessions, especially from Sweden. Some of the demands are wholly unrealistic, such as a request to extradite 130 purported “terrorists” to Turkey. As experts pointed out, Turkey operates under a pretty shaky definition of terrorism, and things that Erdoğan might consider terrorism look a lot more like freedom of speech in Sweden. Additionally, even in things like extradition, Sweden and Finland can’t just arbitrarily arrest people; it has to go through the judicial system, and the accused have due process.
Then, recent anti-Turkey protests in Stockholm and the burning of the Quran by one far-right protester have soured talks even further. Turkey condemned the burning as “anti-Islam,” with the Turkish Foreign Ministry saying that allowing such acts “under the guise of freedom of expression is completely unacceptable.” Turkey then scrapped talks with Swedish officials.
Sweden also condemned the act and the protests (which were actually anti-NATO protests). “This act plays directly into the hands of Russia and weakens our country, and it happened during the most serious security situation since the Second World War,” said. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström. (The book burner was reportedly funded by a journalist with Kremlin ties.) But, at the same time, Sweden said, the whole thing wasn’t actually against Swedish law, even if they were angry about it, too.”
“Sweden and Finland are still trying to work something out, with Sweden introducing a law Thursday that would ban certain activities that could support terrorist organizations. Washington and Brussels are increasingly annoyed, with some leaders being pretty vocal about Turkey’s disloyalty. Congress has said Ankara will not get American-made F-16s (more on that later) unless it approves the NATO bids. More people are also saying that maybe NATO should just kick Turkey out (no more on that because, while it’s noteworthy politicians are even talking about it, experts said it’s not realistic and the mechanisms to do so are pretty fuzzy). Turkey, meanwhile, has basically said talks are meaningless in the current climate, though it floated the possibility of backing Finland for NATO, just not Sweden — something Finland immediately rejected, as the two Nordic countries are very close, and they purposely sought a joint bid.
And the standoff may stay this way, at least until May — which is when Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party are facing a difficult election.”
“Erdoğan’s obstinance is causing real frustration in Washington and throughout European capitals. This is not exactly new; even before Erdoğan, Turkey was always something of a NATO misfit — incredibly useful to the alliance because of its unique position, but also a power whose interests and perspectives did not always align with the rest of the alliance members.”
Why earthquakes are deadlier depending on where you live
“In Turkey and Syria, the high concentration of old, inflexible, concrete buildings, the lack of construction oversight, the Syrian civil war, and an ongoing cholera outbreak have left the region vulnerable to devastation. “You already had areas where people were displaced and living in temporary shelters,” said Traub. “In many ways, they’re already really compromised going into the disaster, and now they’re doubly displaced, and don’t have their support mechanisms.”
This is what happens when you end up on the wrong side of the disaster divide, which explains how unequal losses experienced by certain communities and countries following a natural disaster are chiefly due to the discrepancy of wealth and resources, limiting the ability to invest in the very things — strong buildings, weather prediction, rapid humanitarian response — that would prevent deaths. There’s a reason that 90 percent of disaster deaths between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low and middle-income nations, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction found. It’s not that rich countries are somehow exempt from extreme weather and geological events. It’s that the lack of wealth, and everything it can buy, is what makes a quake or a hurricane or a tornado disastrous, more than the sheer strength of a storm or how high a quake scores on the Richter scale.”
Better buildings could have saved lives in Turkey’s earthquakes. Are contractors really to blame?
“Turkey sits along two major fault lines, and after a deadly 1999 earthquake, the country passed stricter building codes, but they were not consistently enforced. And that goes beyond builders and contractors cutting corners or using inferior materials. There are also likely inspectors and municipal and state officials who issued permits when they shouldn’t have, or who looked the other way. There are those who lobbied for (and the politicians who backed) amnesty laws for buildings, essentially overriding ordinances in the name of quick construction and profit.
“Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon. Yes, it happens. But the consequences of the earthquake are quite, I would say, governmental and political and administrative,” said Hişyar Özsoy, a deputy chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and an opposition member of Parliament representing Diyarbakır, a city near the quake’s devastation.
All of this happened under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, along with his Justice and Development Party (AKP), has been in power for about two decades. Erdoğan made a construction boom the centerpiece of Turkey’s economic growth. At the same time, he has consolidated his power over institutions, the press, and the judiciary. This rapid economic growth, happening alongside democratic erosion, created layers of corruption and government mismanagement that allowed contractors to construct the buildings the way that they did.
“This is very much about the entire system that Erdoğan built — not just the politics of it, but also the economies behind it,” said Sebnem Gumuscu, a professor of political science at Middlebury College who has studied democracy and authoritarianism in Turkey. “The entire system is built around these corrupt networks, crony networks, and it is all levels: local level, national level, local branches of the party, local construction, developers — they’re all in this together.””
“Construction was also a source of political power for Erdoğan and the AKP, as major Turkish construction companies enriched themselves with government contracts and cozied up to the regime. That construction boom, which fueled other sectors of the economy, helped make Erdoğan and the AKP popular; that in turn allowed him to bolster his own authority, and helped put AKP into power at all levels of government, including state and municipal offices — often the ones tasked with overseeing permits or enforcing construction codes.
Politicians had incentives to approve things like amnesty laws. People enriched themselves through this ecosystem of cronyism, so there was no incentive to make sure earthquake-safe standards were applied. And the institutions that might hold these players and politicians accountable — the press, the civil service, the courts — were being hollowed out and eroded by Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian bent.
So, yes, developers and contractors likely were negligent, constructing buildings with cheap materials or designs that could not withstand a 7.8-magnitude quake. But these shortcuts couldn’t happen without the complicity or encouragement of government institutions, all of which knew the country’s vulnerabilities and pushed ahead anyway.”
Why Turkey is Preparing to Invade Syria (Again)
Despite sanctions, Russian fuel is still selling — here’s who’s buying
“Petroleum shipments are still relatively stable for Russia, as nations like China and India have picked up some slack from EU countries weaning themselves off oil, and Russia still has LNG, coal, and nuclear energy to help the economy float, too.
In order to make petroleum products more appealing to customers like India and Indonesia, Russia has offered fairly steep discounts — an average of $30 per barrel — against Brent crude oil, which has also been a benefit for Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Cuba, all emerging economies struggling with inflation, as Business Insider reported. Although according to S&P the discounts on Russian crude oil are decreasing, some analysts believe they’ll persist, making Russian crude oil imports highly palatable for poorer countries.”
“Countries like China, India, and Turkey are proving eager partners for the Russian fuel industry, with Turkey doubling Russian oil imports this year and vying to become a hub for Russian LNG transfers into Europe after damage to the Nord Stream pipelines.”
“Even with the Nord Stream 1 pipeline out of commission — and setting aside the transfers to China, now Russia’s biggest natural gas buyer — European countries are importing record amounts of Russian LNG at market prices, according to Bloomberg. France has purchased about 6 percent more Russian LNG between January and September of this year than it did all of last year; Spain has already broken its record for Russian LNG imports this year, and Belgium is on track to do the same.
The stakes for natural gas imports are somewhat different than they are for Russian petroleum, in a number of different ways; for one, the EU hasn’t imposed sanctions against it as it has against petroleum products, though the bloc does intend to eliminate its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027. Second, Russia has already used Europe‘s reliance on its natural gas as a weapon; Russia cut access to many European countries which refused to pay for LNG in rubles, and cut total output to Europe by 60 percent in June and by 80 percent in July, Reuters reported last month.”
“Russia continues to invest heavily in its nuclear technology, and nuclear facilities in many nations are dependent on Russian technology and cooperation to function, even if they’re not directly importing Russian nuclear fuel, according to a report by Robert Ichord for the Atlantic Council.”
“Russia has several illicit strategies to evade western sanctions on its energy products and financial system. Because these transactions are, by their nature, often difficult to track, it’s hard to know how effective and how widespread they are — not to mention how much the Russian economy is benefiting from them.”
Why Turkey unblocked NATO enlargement at the last minute, what it means, and how Erdogan was persuaded
“Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main formal claim to Sweden and Finland was their loyalty to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognized in Turkey as a terrorist organization, as well as to the “Gulenists” – Ankara has been raiding for many years those it considers followers of the preacher Fethullah Gulen and accuses them of organizing a coup attempt in 2016. About 100,000 Kurdish refugees have found refuge in Sweden.”
“Clarifying the wording of the compromise memorandum between the three countries, UK newspaper the Guardian noted that Finland and Sweden have promised not to “support” the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) and the Kurdish People’s Self-Defense Forces (YPG). And according to the Turkish pro-government daily newspaper the Daily Sabah, the memorandum also states that “Finland and Sweden commit to preventing activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated and inspired groups or networks linked to these terrorist organizations.””
Turks Flee to Gold, Bitcoin, and Foreign Currency as Government Devalues Lira
“The reason for the plunging lira is no secret. In contrast to virtually every economist on the planet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that low interest rates and cheap money fuel a thriving economy that fights inflation. His claims—dubbed “insane” in some quarters—don’t seem to have done much for the value of the currency. Nevertheless, he sticks to his policy and fires officials who disagree.
Instead, what Erdogan has actually accomplished is a surging money supply that dilutes the value of the lira and has driven Turks to despair.”
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.”