Turkey needles NATO by buying Russian weapons

Turkey appears to be building a military infrastructure independent of NATO – much to the annoyance of Washington. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might need that new S-400 missile defense system at home.

Russian S-400 at parade in Moscow

Turkey has risked the anger of the United States and its fellow NATO members by signing a contract with Russia to buy a missile defense system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media on Tuesday that Ankara had put down a deposit on the Russian-made S-400 missile batteries, a system that can – according to the manufacturers – shoot down up to 80 targets at the same time, and has a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles).

Washington had long been warning Ankara against this purchase, and made increasingly disgruntled diplomatic noises about it. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, suggested that the purchase could violate US sanctions against Russia.

Read more: Özdemir: Erdogan wants to establish Turkey in Germany

For its part, Moscow remained sanguine in response. Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the Russian state news agency TASS, “I can assure you that all the decisions made for this contract strictly comply with our strategic interests. In this regard, the reaction of some Western countries that are trying to put pressure on Turkey is completely understandable to us.”

Russians at the top

For NATO, the trouble with the S-400 weapons system is that it is not technologically compatible with the systems it has in place in Turkey – in other words, Erdogan seems to have decided to build a military capacity independent of NATO. “It makes sense [for the Turkish government],” explained Guney Yildiz, Turkey specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), “because if everything is integrated with NATO, NATO commanders have full control over Turkish military systems.”

G20 Erdogan and Putin (Reuters/K.Ozer)Erdogan and Putin appear to have found much in common

On the other hand, a Russian missile system also means Russian control.

“It is a very significant development,” said Marc Pierini, former EU diplomat and analyst at Carnegie Europe. “This is a missile defense system that is going to be hosted by the Turkish air force, and the Turkish air force has no experience of anti-missile systems, therefore it is going to come with a significant number of Russian advisors, trainers, and operators and so on. So at the top of the Turkish air force defense architecture, you’re going to have Russians.”

Yildiz believes that a nationally controlled defense system has become a strategic priority for the upper echelons of the Turkish government in recent years.

Watch video00:30

Merkel: ‘We have changed our stance on Turkey’

“They feel they might need a non-NATO air defense system in case they come under attack by some factions in their own military,” he said. “Turkey was the scene of an attempted coup last year, when Turkish fighter jets were bombing Turkish institutions.”

Yildiz pointed out that there have been signs of US jealousy about Turkey’s arms deals before. He remembered that a similar narrative played out over Ankara’s attempts to buy a Chinese missile system a few years ago, when US diplomats managed to successfully dissuade the Turks. “But since then several things have changed,” said Yildiz.

“The US left a vacuum in the Middle East and Turkey tried to fill it in Syria and elsewhere by trying to directly confront Russia and Iran, and it failed really badly.”

Tit-for-tat weapons deals

The low-point of this attempt at regional self-assertion came when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that had encroached on its territory in late 2015 – which makes the new rapprochement more surprising.

Read more: Russia, Turkey agree to reinvigorate relations after diplomatic row

“If you’d asked me six months ago I would’ve said that it was unthinkable that Turkey chooses to purchase S-400 batteries – so this does mark a significant change in Turkey’s approach,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund’s office in Ankara.

Since then, Ankara has changed tack, “pivoted away” from the West, as the jargon goes, and is now seeking regional allies anywhere it can – i.e. Russia. Not only that, Turkey is not exactly pleased by the way the US has been arming and training Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

Sigmar Gabriel (imago/foto2press/M. Täger)Sigmar Gabriel’s new tough line has not gone down well in Ankara

Meanwhile, as if to give Turkey even more reason to shop elsewhere, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed this week that Germany would put all arms exports to Turkey “on hold,” because of the tensions between the two countries.

Read more: Sigmar Gabriel: ‘Turkey will never join EU under Erdogan’

The response from Ankara was prickly: “Germany should keep its security concerns out of political discussions,” said Europe Minister Omer Celik, arguing that the decision would weaken Turkey’s fight against terrorism – or against Erdogan’s enemies at home, some might say. In any case, the move has added spice to Germany’s strange, paradoxical new relationship with Turkey – a major trading partner and biggest political adversary.

This all helps Russia’s cause, according to Unluhisarcikli. “Russia has discovered that it can influence Turkish foreign policy through supporting Turkey’s military industry,” he said. “And if the United States and European Union are unwilling to do the same thing, then actually Turkey might feel compelled to move away from the western orbit and closer to Russia. Russia has a very clear strategy of driving a wedge between Turkey and the United States, and particularly between Turkey and Germany.”



Courtesy, DW

Germany’s Islamic organization DITIB under fire for skipping ‘March Against Terror’

On Saturday, thousands of Muslims in Cologne will take to the streets in a “March Against Terror.” But Germany’s largest Islamic organization, DITIB, will not be taking part. This decision has drawn strong criticism.

Duisburg Moschee DITIB (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch)

Aydan Özoguz, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the German commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, cannot hide her dismay. She has no sympathy for DITIB’s decision not to take part in a Muslim anti-terror demonstration.

“To be frank, it is no longer understandable. I also believe that DITIB is hurting itself the most, especially its own members who, in part, find this call for action good,” she said, adding that these members regard the board’s decision as an affront.

Muslims plan to hold a demonstration under the motto “Not with us” in the German city of Cologne on Saturday to promote peace and show that they are against Islamic terror. Organizers who are associated with the liberal Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor are expecting tens of thousands of participants. The event was heavily advertised on social media.

DIBIT, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, Germany’s largest Islamic organization with a network of around 900 mosques and 800,000 members, regards the demonstration as an affront. In a press release, the group has accused organizers of engaging in sensationalism and expressed concerns that Muslim anti-terror demonstrations would stigmatize Muslims themselves.

Like Aydan Özoguz, Cemile Giousouf also cannot understand DITIB’s argument. She is the integration commissioner for the joint parliamentary group of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Giousouf does not see an “objective reason to refuse to participate in the planned demonstration against Islamic terror.”

Deutschland Zentralmoschee in Köln (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Becker)The DITIB mosque in Cologne was inaugurated in early June

Accusations of espionage and infighting

DITIB is going through hard times. Imams from the organization allegedly spied on community members in Germany who were suspected of being followers of Fetullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused by the Turkish government of being behind the country’s failed coup last July. The federal prosecutor’s office has begun investigations into the imams. Trouble is also brewing within the organization itself. The entire federal executive committee of DITIB’s youth organization quit in mid-May because liberal attitudes were not tolerated.

Turkey expert Christoph Ramm from the University of Bern says the recent disputes have arisen at an inopportune moment.

“In the past, DITIB was sort of regarded as ‘everybody’s darling,’ for example, at the Islam Conference,” he said. “It was predictable and based on a secular understanding of Turkey and the people there were familiar. Contrary to other smaller, opaque Islamic associations, it was a welcome dialogue partner for politicians.”

In the course of the failed coup in Turkey in the summer of last year, DITIB became one of the “bad guys,” according to Ramm. He says that most of all, allegations of espionage and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies that were pursued in Germany through DITIB – like the controversial referendum campaign – cast  a bad light on the association.

Aydan Özoguz Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Migration (picture alliance/dpa/M. Becker)Özuguz says she doesn’t understand DITIB’s position

Public funding

In Berlin, there is a cross-party consensus on DITIB’s refusal to take part in the demonstration. Cem Özdemir, co-chairman of the Green Party, agrees with Özoguz and Giousouf. He described the excuse for DITIB’s refusal as “more than flimsy,” adding: “It is beyond me why DITIB does not use the opportunity to send a clear signal of solidarity.”

To integration commissioner Özoguz the problem lies in the fact that decision-makers in associations like DITIB have never really settled in Germany, “although the members for have, for the most part.”

“By that I mean that many were born and raised here,” she said. “But the association, especially the board of directors, is still linked to Ankara in many respects and it attempts to somehow also exert its influence abroad.”

However, DITIB does not seem capable of surviving only off Ankara’s support and without help from Germany. After payments to the association were temporarily suspended because of the espionage affair, the money has been flowing into its accounts again. According to the German Ministry of Family Affairs, “It was decided that funding for projects that have already been approved would resume under consideration of all relevant aspects.” DITIB has received around 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in funding from the German government since 2012.


Turkey’s Erdogan calls Qatar embargo ‘un-Islamic’

Turkey’s president has likened several Arab states’ efforts to isolate Qatar to imposing the death penalty. Qatar is one of Ankara’s main regional allies and is seeking a diplomatic route out of the Gulf crisis.

Türkei Präsident Erdogan Rede Parteitag AKP (Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan)Erdogan speaks to party members as he flashes the four finger “Rabia” sign used by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He has said the sign stands for “one nation, one flag, one people, one state” in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday slammed several Arab countries for economically and politically isolating Qatar, branding their actions as inhumane and un-Islamic.

“It is neither humane nor Islamic to totally isolate a country’s people,” Erdogan told a gathering of lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last week, accusing it of supporting “terrorism,” destabilizing the region and having close ties with Iran.

An embargo has also cut off food, transport and other links between the four countries and Qatar, which typically imports around 80 percent of its food from its neighbors.

Qatar denies allegations it supports terrorism and has vowed to not give up its independent foreign policy.

Erdogan dubbed the Saudi-led actions as tantamount to a “death penalty” imposed on Qatar, which he said was the target of a defamation campaign.

Watch video02:01

Qatar denounces ‘illegal’ sanctions

Read: Why Turkey is standing behind Qatar in the Gulf crisis

The crisis has put Turkey in a difficult position as it views Qatar as one of its chief allies in the region, but Ankara also seeks to avoid damaging relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

Erdogan called on Saudi Arabia’s king as the leader of the region to resolve the impasse.

“Resolving this crisis as soon as possible is in the interest of all nations and people,” Erdogan said.

Underpinning Turkey’s stance on Qatar are strong investment ties, cooperation in Syria’s civil war and the sharing of similar views on political Islam, most notably on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf monarchies and Egypt oppose.

Turkey has been a sharp critic of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the former general (now retired from the military and elected to his office) ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup.

Watch video01:18

Fears over liquefied natural gas shortage

Qatar and Turkey also seek to engage Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran despite differences with Tehran’s policies in the broader region.

Erdogan said Qatar had fostered stability and was a key actor in fighting the “Islamic State” (IS).

“Without the support of Turkey and Qatar it would not be possible for Syria to push back Daesh (IS),” Erdogan said, referring to Ankara and Doha’s backing of some of the same Syrian rebel groups.

Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of US Central Command, which leads US military action against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Seeking to show its backing of Doha, Turkey has fast-tracked a previously planned deployment of soldiers and trainers to Qatar and has begun delivering food and other supplies by air.

Erdogan is scheduled to talk with US President Donald Trump in the coming days about Qatar situation, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

Separately, Erdogan sharply criticized US support for the YPG Kurdish militia fighting IS in Syria. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization, because of its links to Kurdish militants fighting in Turkey.

cw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)




Why Turkey is standing behind Qatar in the Gulf crisis

From the start of the Gulf crisis Turkey has backed the leadership in Doha, sending a clear signal to Saudi Arabia that Qatar is not alone. DW spoke with Turkish academic Serhat Erkmen about Ankara’s role in the dispute.

Emir Tamim von Qatar und Erdogan (Picture alliance/dpa/Turkish President Press Office)

DW: For many Middle East observers, countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt are regarded as status quo powers, whereas Iran and to an extent Turkey and Qatar are considered revisionist ones. Do you think the current rapprochement between Ankara and Doha in the aftermath of the Gulf crisis is the reflection of a status quo versus revisionist power struggle in the region?

Serhat Erkmen: Yes, the balance of power is still missing in the Middle East following the Arab Spring. We are witnessing multiple ongoing civil wars in the region. And those civil wars are not concluding in the way the regional powers would like to see. Saudi Arabia and Iran are not getting what they want, and Syria is in a mess. If you look at the prominent powers in the region, neither of them can declare victory [in those civil wars].

Moreover, as the conflicts and the power imbalance persist, the economic and political costs rise for all the countries in the region. Once the costs reach a boiling point … these countries could go as far as declaring war against each other or find reconciliation in contested areas. But the reality is that none of the Middle Eastern powers are capable of overcoming the current problems on the ground. That’s why they are getting help from countries of critical importance such as the United States, Russia and some European powers.

Therefore, both regional and external powers have engaged in a power struggle in the Middle East and I think we should view the Qatar issue through that lens. The problem is not limited to Qatar.

Karte Countries that severed ties with Qatar ENG

Relations between Qatar and Turkey have been on a positive trend over the past decade. The two countries have shared investments and signed military training deals. Do you think Turkey’s support for Qatar in the current crisis stems from this cordial relationship or has the government in Ankara made a calculated policy choice?

Although Turkey and Qatar’s friendly ties are obvious, when the foreign direct investment to Turkey is considered, the UAE has the highest share among the countries in the region. And Turkey is standing against the UAE, which belongs to the anti-Qatar Saudi camp in the ongoing crisis. It is true that Qatar has been investing in Turkey heavily and has the potential to invest more, but the economic relations cannot explain Turkey’s support to Qatar on their own.

If you look at Turkey and Qatar’s Syria policy and their cooperation in the war-torn country, if you consider their stance on the situation in Egypt after the country’s 2013 coup, their support for each other should be evaluated from the perspective of regional political calculations rather than a mere economic reading.

Should Qatar be taken out of the picture when it comes to regional matters, it could isolate Turkey. And perhaps this is why Turkey does not want to lose Qatar.

Katar Lebensmittel Blockade (Getty Images/AFP)The sudden diplomatic isolation sparked long supermarket lines in Qatar, which relies heavily on Saudi food imports

Until the recent row between Qatar and the Saudi camp, political nuances in the Gulf were not apparent for an ordinary Turkish observer. What do you think are the effects of this crisis on the perception of the Gulf region in Turkey?

The perception of the Gulf region in Turkey has traditionally been monolithic. With the recent developments, I think this simplistic approach will no longer be the case. If you look at social media posts or pay attention to opinion leaders’ comments on the Gulf rift, there is now more of an emphasis on the nuances of different policy preferences among the states in the region.

Do you think by fast-tracking the troop deployment agreement for training missions that was signed in 2014, Turkey is sending a defiant message to Saudi Arabia and the UAE?

Turkey is not only sending a message to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it is also flexing its muscles to all the countries that could potentially express hostility towards Qatar. The military deal between Turkey and Qatar involves a training scheme, but the way that the agreement has been presented to the international community is a clear sign of support for Qatar. I think this is a loud and clear message. This support implies, “If you are looking into ways to put pressure on Qatar other than diplomatic means, know that they are not alone.” And I think this message is received by the other parties.

Serhat Erkmen works at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, where he heads Middle East and Africa Studies. Erkmen also lectures at the Ahi Evran University in Kirsehir.


6.3 earthquake strikes Aegean Sea, 1 person killed on Lesbos (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

6.3 earthquake strikes Aegean Sea, 1 person killed on Lesbos (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3, at a depth of approximately 10km, has struck off the coast of western Turkey. Effects of the quake have been felt in the cities of Izmir and as far away as Athens in Greece, according to the European Earthquake monitor, EMSC.

Witnesses said they felt a strong quake as “everyone ran outside,” with one describing it as the biggest they ever felt in Turkey.

A woman on the island of Lesbos was killed after the roof of her home collapsed during the quake.

Other earthquake monitoring agencies issued preliminary reports of a tremor of varying magnitude, with the USGS alerting a 6.3 and the Greek Geodynamics Institute posting a 6.1 quake.

Just had an earthquake in Izmir. Biggest I’ve felt in Turkey. Pretty scary. Everyone ran outside.

The quake was felt as far away as Plovdiv in central Bulgaria.

Several aftershocks have been reported since the initial quake, measuring between 3.0 and 4.9.

M6.0 () strikes 85 km NW of () 4 min ago. Read witnesses’ stories & share yours: http://www.emsc-csem.org/Earthquake/earthquake.php?id=597714#testimonies 

@LastQuake I felt it here in Plovdiv Bulgaria. Really felt it. Then saw a speaker moving back and forth and my water jug. First earthquake I’ve felt.

“Canakkale is swaying!” a video uploaded from the northwestern city in Turkey said, showing commotion on the streets following the quake.

The quake was also felt on the Greek island of Lesbos, where small landslides and damage were reported by ERT. No injuries have been reported.

Amnesty International lawyer Kilic arrested in Turkey

Amnesty International’s director in Turkey, Taner Kilic, was among 23 lawyers arrested in the western city of Izmir. They are suspected of having ties to the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Türkei Großer Basar in Istanbul Polizei (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Toprak)

Taner Kilic, the chair of Amnesty International in Turkey , was arrested on Tuesday along with 22 other lawyers, the human rights organization has reported. They have all been accused of links to the network of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Kilic was detained by police at his home in Izmir early on Tuesday before being taken to his office, Amnesty announced.

“We are calling on the Turkish authorities to immediately release Taner Kilic along with the other 22 lawyers and drop all charges against them,” Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty said.

Chair of @Amnesty Turkey office among 23 lawyers detained today in post-coup purge. We demand their urgent release! http://amn.st/60158lMPT 

“Taner Kilic has a long and distinguished record of defending exactly the kind of freedoms that the Turkish authorities are now intent on trampling,” Shetty said.

Amnesty reported that there was no reason to believe that Kilic’s arrest was connected to his work for the London-based rights group. He has been the local director in Turkey since 2014.

The Turkish government claims that Gulen ordered a coup attempt last July, but the cleric denies the accusation.

Since July, authorities have arrested 50,000 people and sacked or suspended 150,000 government employees – including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants – for alleged links to Gulen’s network and other groups.

es/jm (Reuters, AFP)



Russia’s Gazprom starts building TurkStream gas pipeline under Black Sea

Russia’s Gazprom has begun construction on the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey. Feeder lines are planned to also supply EU markets.

Ostsee Pipelineverlegeschiff Solitaire von Allseas (picture-alliance/dpa/Allseas)

Russian gas giant Gazprom said Sunday it had started construction of a gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey that also aims to provide gas to the European Union.

Gazprom said its Swiss partner Allseas Group’s vessel Audacia had started laying pipes on the Russian shore of the Black Sea.

“By late 2019, our Turkish and European consumers will have a new, reliable source of Russian gas imports,” Alexey Miller, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward the TurkStream project in 2014 after plans to build a gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, known as South Stream, collapsed under EU pressure during the Ukraine crisis.

The project was later put on ice after Turkey shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border, triggering a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The plan was revived after the two sides reconciled their some of their differences in October last year.

Russland Gasförderung (Getty Images/AFP/O. Maltseva)A Nord Stream pipeline operator in northwestern Russia

From southern Russia to northwestern Turkey

TurkStream will run from near Anapa in southern Russia under the Black Sea to northwestern Turkey. A planned feeder line to Greece would then bring gas onwards to southern and southeastern Europe.  Two lines each with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters (1.1 trillion cubic feet) will be built.

For Russia, which is already Turkey’s largest gas provider, the pipeline would allow it to reduce dependence on Ukraine and Eastern Europe for transporting gas while helping to further seal its dominance over European gas markets.

Turkey aims to become a regional oil and gas hub for energy from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean in order to ensure domestic energy security and cement the country’s geostrategic importance.

Infografik Karte Gazprom Turkish Stream englisch