Turkey

Russia’s homage to Nord Stream pipelines

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David Brinkley, the legendary American newscaster with a career that spanned an amazing fifty-four years from World War II once said that a successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. How many American statesmen ever practised this noble thought inherited from Jesus Christ remains doubtful.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stunning proposal to Turkish President Recep Erdogan to build a gas pipeline to Turkiye to create an international hub from which Russian gas can be supplied to Europe breathes fresh life into this very “Gandhian” thought.

Putin discussed the idea with Erdogan at their meeting in Astana on October 13 and since spoke about it at the Russian Energy Week forum last week where he proposed creating the largest gas hub in Europe in Turkey and redirecting the volume of gas, the transit of which is no longer possible through the Nord Stream, to this hub.

Putin said it may imply building another gas pipeline system to feed the hub in Turkiye, through which gas will be supplied to third countries, primarily European ones, “if they are interested.”

Prima facie, Putin does not expect any positive response from Berlin to his standing proposal to use the string of the Nord Stream 2, which remained undamaged, to supply 27.5 billion cu. metres of gas through the winter months. Germany’s deafening silence is understandable. Chancellor Off Scholz is terrified about President Biden’s wrath.

Berlin says it knows who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines but won’t reveal it as it affects Germany’s national security! Sweden too pleads that the matter is far too sensitive for it to share the evidence it has collected with any country, including Germany! Biden has put the fear of God into the minds of these timid European “allies” who have been left in no doubt what is good for them! The western media too is ordered to play down Nord Steam saga so that with the passage of time, public memory will fade away.

However, Russia has done its homework that Europe cannot do without Russia gas, the present bravado of self-denial notwithstanding. Simply put, the European industries depend on cheap, reliable supplies of Russian for their products to remain competitive in the world market.

Qatar’s energy minister Saad al-Kaabi said last week that he cannot envisage a future where “zero Russian gas” flows to Europe. He noted acerbically, “ If that’s the case, then I think the problem is going to be huge and for a very long time. You just don’t have enough volume to bring (in) to replace that (Russian) gas for the long term, unless you’re saying ‘I’m going to be building huge nuclear (plants), I’m going to allow coal, I’m going to burn fuel oils.’”

Quintessentially, Russia plans to replace its gas hub in Haidach in Austria (which Austrians seized in July.) Conceivably, the hub in Turkiye has a ready market in Southern Europe, including Greece and Italy. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

Succinctly put, Putin has made a strategic move in the geopolitics of gas. His initiative rubbishes the hare-brained idea of the Russophobic European Commission bureaucrats in Brussels, headed by Ursula von der Leyen, to impose a price cap on gas purchases. It makes nonsense of the US’ and EU’s plans to put down Russia’s profile as a gas superpower.

Logically, the next step for Russia should be to align with Qatar, the world’s second biggest gas exporter. Qatar is a close ally of Turkey, too. At Astana recently, on the sidelines of the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Putin held a closed-door meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. They agreed to follow up with another meeting soon in Russia.

Russia already has a framework of cooperation with Iran in a number of joint projects in the oil and gas industry. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak recently disclosed plans to conclude an oil and gas swap deal with Iran by the end of the year. He said that “technical details are being worked out – issues of transport, logistics, price, and tariff formation.”

Now, Russia, Qatar and Iran together account for more than half of the world’s entire proven gas reserves. Time is approaching for them to intensify cooperation and coordination on the pattern of the OPEC Plus. All three countries are represented in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF).

Putin’s proposal appeals to Turkiye’s longstanding dream to become an energy hub at the doorstep of Europe. Unsurprisingly, Erdogan instinctively warmed up to Putin’s proposal. Addressing the ruling party members in the Turkish parliament this week, Erdogan said, “In Europe they are now dealing with the question of how to stay warm in the coming winter. We don’t have such a problem. We have agreed with Vladimir Putin to create a gas hub in our country, through which natural gas, as he says, can be delivered to Europe. Thus, Europe will order gas from Turkey.”

Apart from strengthening own energy security, Turkiye also can contribute to Europe’s. No doubt, Turkiye’s importance will take a quantum leap in the EU foreign policy calculus, while also strengthening its strategic autonomy in regional politics. This is a huge step forward in Erdogan’s geo-strategy — the geographic direction of Turkish foreign policy under his watch.

From the Russian viewpoint, of course, Turkiye’s strategic autonomy and its grit to pursue independent foreign policies works splendidly for Moscow in the present conditions of western sanctions. Conceivably, Russian companies will start viewing Turkiye as a production base where western technologies become accessible. Turkiye has a customs union agreement with the EU, which completely removes customs duties on all industrial goods of Turkish origin. (See my blog Russia-Turkey reset eases regional tensions, Aug 9, 2022)

In geopolitical terms, Moscow is comfortable with Turkiye’s NATO membership. Clearly, the proposed gas hub brings much additional income to Turkiye and will impart greater stability and predictability to the Russia-Turkey relations. Indeed, the strategic links that tie the two countries together are steadily lengthening — the S-400 ABM deal, cooperation in Syria, the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Turk-stream gas pipeline, to name a few.

The two countries candidly admit that they have differences of opinion, but the way Putin and Erdogan through constructive diplomacy keep turning adverse circumstances into windows of opportunity for “win-win” cooperation is simply amazing.

It does need ingenuity to get the US’ European allies source Russian gas without any coercion or boorishness even after Washington buried the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the depths of the Baltic Sea. There is dramatic irony that a NATO power is partnering Russia in this direction.

The US foreign policy elite drawn from East European stock are rendered speechless by the sheer sophistication of the Russian ingenuity to bypass without any trace of rancour the shabby way the US and its allies — Germany and Sweden, in particular — slammed the door shut on Moscow to even take a look at the damaged multi-billion dollar pipelines that it had built in good faith in the depths of the Baltic Sea at the instance of two German chancellors, Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel.

The current German leadership of Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks very foolish and cowardly– and provincial. The European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen gets a huge rebuff in all this which will ultimately define her tragic legacy in Brussels as a flag carrier for American interests. This becomes probably the first case study for historians on how multipolarity will work in the world order.

Views expressed are personal. Click here to read the author’s personal blog

Iranian and Turkish Moves to Join SCO Raises Its Profile

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Held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from September 15 to 16, the 2022 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council demonstrated that the SCO was continuing to evolve into a viable international political congregation independent from the West.

Beginning in the early 1800s, international organizations (IOs) began to emerge as modest arbiters of European affairs. But during and after World War II, new IOs established themselves as far more prominent actors on a global scale. The United Nations (UN), the Arab League, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and several other IOs were created to manage the affairs of their member states.

After the Soviet collapse, more IOs were created to manage the independence of new states, globalization, and regional cooperation. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), created in 1991, attempted to coordinate military, economic, and political policies between post-Soviet states. The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), created in 1993 and 2002, respectively, bound member states more forcefully to common economic and political norms. Other IOs, like the Arctic Council (1996) and Asia Cooperation Dialogue (2002), aimed to foster broader regional cooperation.

Most new international organizations meshed neatly with the Western-led liberal world order. But in 2001, the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was formally announced, and it established itself as an exclusionary outlier. Originally known as the Shanghai Five when it was created in 1996, it included China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, with Uzbekistan later joining when it evolved into the SCO in 2001.

The SCO was created partly to help coordinate a new era of peaceful relations between Moscow and Beijing and to manage their coalescing interests in Central Asian states. In addition, combatting the “Three Evils” of extremism, separatism, and terrorism were major priorities for the organization, which included data and intelligence sharing and common military drills among its member states.

Over time, the SCO began to embrace greater political and economic integration. Support for autocratic rule and limiting criticism of human rights violations set it apart from other Western-aligned IOs, with the SCO also overseeing the growth of joint energy projects, the fostering of trade agreements, and the introduction of the SCO Interbank Consortium in 2005 “to organize a mechanism for financing and banking services in investment projects supported by the governments of the SCO member states.”

But the organization’s most pressing vocation was facilitating a multipolar world order. Investing in an independent forum for economic, political, and military affairs outside of Western influence became a key component of Russian and Chinese attempts to reduce Western power in global affairs.

Russia and China have also developed complementary mechanisms to the SCO, which have helped decentralize its mission. Following the blacklisting of several Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) in 2014, for example, the Kremlin approved the creation of the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) to replicate SWIFT and introduced the National Payment Card System (now known as Mir), while China created the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS).

These initiatives even proved attractive to states that were more aligned with the Western-led global order. India and Pakistan began SCO accession talks in 2015 and officially joined the organization in 2017. Despite relatively positive relations with the West, India and Pakistan have both faced Western criticism over human rights and democratic backsliding in recent years. India’s introduction of platforms like RuPay in 2012 and Unified Payments Interface, which eroded the traditional dominance of Visa and Mastercard in the country, also complemented SCO’s attempts to reduce Western economic preeminence globally.

At the 2022 summit of the SCO Heads of State Council, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev reiterated that the SCO was not an anti-U.S. or anti-NATO alliance. But the organization’s original motive to create a multipolar world was echoed in its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, and continues to conflict with Washington’s attempts to maintain the U.S.-led world order. According to the declaration, the member states “confirm[ed] their commitment to [the] formation of a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order.”

This core stratagem continues to appeal to countries around the world. Alongside the leaders of its eight member states, the SCO invited the presidents of Belarus, Mongolia, and Iran as official observers to the recent summit. Having started its accession process in 2021, Iran signed a memorandum of understanding with the SCO to join the institution by April 2023.

The SCO would likely alleviate Iran’s sense of economic isolation stemming from Western sanctions, a sentiment shared by Iranian officials at the summit and something that was also noted back in 2007. Belarus has also found itself under increasing sanctions in recent years and enhanced its accession procedures to join the SCO in Samarkand.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey were also invited to the SCO summit as special guests, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announcing that his country would seek full membership to the SCO. In 2012, Erdoğan joked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about abandoning Turkey’s EU aspirations if Russia would allow them into the SCO. Turkey’s renewed attempt comes at a time when its ties with the rest of the Western world are increasingly strained and could instigate other NATO states, and potentially the EU states, to join the SCO as well.

The SCO has also established strong relations with other IOs. Representatives from ASEAN, the UN, the Russian-dominated CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) were invited to the 2022 summit. Notably absent were any representatives from the EU or NATO. Meanwhile, in 2005, the U.S. was rejected from gaining observer status, solidifying the SCO’s status as a bulwark against U.S. influence in Eurasia.

Like all major international organizations, the SCO faces systemic obstacles that hinder its effectiveness and long-term viability. At the recent summit in Uzbekistan, China’s Xi Jinping was welcomed to the country by his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Putin, however, was greeted by Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, highlighting Russia’s strained relations with many of the former Soviet states and the growing strength of Beijing over Moscow. Unlike in the CSTO and the EAEU, Russia is not the dominant actor in the SCO, and will increasingly have to contend with China’s predominant authority.

Disputes also remain between SCO member states. India and Pakistan, for example, are afflicted with an ongoing struggle over Kashmir. China and India have their own territorial disputes and have engaged in minor violent skirmishes since India joined the SCO. Additionally, deadly clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan erupted during the recent summit, while admitting Armenia and Azerbaijan, both of which are SCO dialogue partners, will only further increase the number of members currently locked in their own territorial disputes.

But the SCO has consistently portrayed itself as a vehicle to supervise these issues. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met for talks during the summit to assuage tensions. And since 2002, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) has encouraged military coordination between member states, with the Indian and Pakistani militaries conducting RATS drills in 2021. More drills between them are planned for October, and while they are aimed primarily at countering unrest from Afghanistan, they are also part of SCO’s attempts to manage relations of member states.

China and Russia have also agreed to “synergize” the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the EAEU to help mitigate possible tension between them, with both Xi and Putin meeting on the sidelines of the 2022 SCO summit and pledging to respect each other’s core interests.

The SCO member states clearly believe the organization can, and has greater potential to, effectively manage their concerns and regional affairs, and its appeal continues to grow. Besides the additional SCO dialogue partners (Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were granted the status of SCO dialogue partners at the 2022 SCO summit. Myanmar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Maldives were also granted the status of dialogue partners.

Russian and Chinese influence will fall as more members join, which will also dilute consensus within the organization. But it remains a Beijing and Moscow-led initiative to manage world affairs and to demonstrate that the “international community” is not just the West. With almost half of the world’s population and a quarter of the global GDP, the SCO is increasingly becoming a representative of the Global South.

By pooling together other IOs into an umbrella forum, the SCO can further its goal of challenging the wider Western-dominated IO ecosystem and prevent Washington from setting the global agenda. This will require the constructive management of Russian and Chinese ambitions and the increasingly complex needs of more member states.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Can South Asia’s future be any different?

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A mild flutter ensued after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent meeting with his Turkiye counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York on September 21 when it came to be known that Cyprus figured in their discussion. Jaishankar highlighted it in a tweet. 

The Indian media instinctively related this to Turkish President Recep Erdogan making a one-line reference to the Kashmir issue earlier that day in his address to the UN GA. But Jaishankar being a scholar-diplomat, would know that Cyprus issue is in the news cycle and the new cold war conditions breathe fresh life into it, as tensions mount in the Turkish-Greek rivalry,  which often draws comparison with the India-Pakistan animosity, stemming from another historical “Partition” — under the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) that ended the Ottoman Empire.

The beauty about peace treaties is that they have no ‘expiration date’ but the Treaty of Lausanne was signed for a period of a hundred years between Turkiye on one side and Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and their allies on the other. The approaching date heightens the existential predicament at the heart of Turkiye’s foreign policy.

The stunning reality is that by 24th July 2023, Turkey’s modern borders become “obsolete”. The secret articles of the 1923 Treaty, signed by Turkish and British diplomats, provide for a chain of strange happenings — British troops will reoccupy the forts overlooking the Bosphorus; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch will resurrect a Byzantine mini state within Istanbul’s city walls; and Turkey will finally be able to tap the forbidden vast energy resources of the East Mediterranean (and, perhaps, regain Western Thrace, a province of Greece.)

Of course, none of that can happen and they remain conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, the “end-of-Lausanne” syndrome remains a foundational myth and weaves neatly into the historical revisionism that Ataturk should have got a much better deal from the Western powers.

All this goes to underline the magnitude of the current massively underestimated drama, of which Cyprus is at the epicentre. Suffice to say, Turkey’s geometrically growing rift with Greece and Cyprus over the offshore hydrocarbon reserves and naval borders must be properly understood in terms of the big picture.

Turkiye’s ruling elite believe that Turkey was forced to sign the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 and the “Treaty of Lausanne” in 1923 and thereby concede vast tracts of land under its domain. Erdogan rejects any understanding of history that takes 1919 as the start of the 1,000-year history of his great nation and civilisation. “Whoever leaves out our last 200 years, even 600 years together with its victories and defeats, and jumps directly from old Turkish history to the Republic, is an enemy of our nation and state,” he once stated.

The international community has begun to pay attention as Turkiye celebrates its centenary next year, which also happens to be an election year for Erdogan. In a typical first shot, the US State Department announced on September 16 — just five days before Jaishankar met Cavusoglu — that Washington is lifting defence trade restrictions on the Greek Cypriot administration for the 2023 fiscal year.

Spokesman Ned Price said, “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles.”

The US move comes against the backdrop of a spate of recent arms deals by Cyprus and Greece, including a deal to purchase attack helicopters from France and efforts to procure missile and long-range radar systems. Turkiye called on the US “to reconsider this decision and to pursue a balanced policy towards the two sides on the Island.” It has since announced a beefing up of its military presence in Northern Cyprus. 

To be sure, the unilateral US move also means indirect support for the maritime claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, which Turkiye, with the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, rejects as excessive and violates its sovereign rights and that of Turkish Cypriots.

Whether these developments figured in Jaishankar’s discussion with Cavusoglu is unclear, but curiously, India too is currently grappling with a similar US decision to offer a $450 million military package to Pakistan to upgrade its nuclear-capable F-16 aircraft.

Indeed, the US-Turkey-Cyprus triangle has some striking similarities with the US-India-Pakistan triangle. In both cases, the Biden administration is dealing with friendly pro-US governments in Nicosia and Islamabad but is discernibly unhappy with the nationalist credo of the leaderships in Ankara and New Delhi.

Washington is annoyed that the governments in Ankara and New Delhi preserve their strategic autonomy. Most important, the US’ attempt to isolate Russia weakening due to the refusal by Turkiye and India to impose sanctions against Moscow.

The US is worried that India and Turkiye, two influential regional powers, pursue foreign policies promoting multipolarity in the international system, which undermines US’ global hegemony. Above all,  it is an eyesore for Washington that Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi enjoy warm trustful personal interaction with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The photo beamed from Samarkand during the recent SCO summit showing Erdogan arm in arm with Putin must have infuriated President Biden. Modi too displayed a rare moment of surging emotions when he told Putin at Samarkand on September 16,

“The relationship between India and Russia has deepened manifold. We also value this relationship because we have been such friends who have been with each other every moment for the last several decades and the whole world also knows how Russia’s relationship with India has been and how India’s relationship with Russia has been and therefore the world also knows that it is an unbreakable friendship. Personally speaking, in a way, the journey for both of us started at the same time. I first met you in 2001, when you were working as the head of the government and I had started working as head of the state government. Today, it has been 22 years, our friendship is constantly growing, we are constantly working together for the betterment of this region, for the well-being of the people. Today, at the SCO Summit, I am very grateful to you for all the feelings that you have expressed for India.”

Amazingly, the western media censored this stirring passage in its reports on the Modi-Putin meeting!

Notably, following the meeting between Modi and Erdogan in Samarkand on Sept. 16, a commentary by the state-owned TRT titled Turkiye-India ties have a bright future ahead signalled Erdogan government’s interest to move forward in relations with India.

India’s ties with Turkiye deserve to be prioritised, as that country is inching toward BRICS and the SCO and is destined to be a serious player in the emerging multipolar world order. Symptomatic of the shift in tectonic plates is the recent report that Russia might launch direct flights between Moscow and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state supported and recognised only by Ankara. (Incidentally, one “pre-condition” set by the Biden administration to resume military aid to Cyprus was that Nicosia should roll back its relations with Moscow!) 

Without doubt, the US and the EU are recalibrating the power dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean by building up the Cyprus-Greece axis and sending a warning to Turkiye to know its place. In geopolitical terms, this is another way of welcoming Cyprus into NATO. Thus, it becomes part of the new cold war.

Can South Asia’s future be any different? Turkiye has so many advantages over India, having been a longstanding cold-war era ally of the US. It hosts Incirlik Air Base, one of the US’ major strategically located military bases. Kurecik Radar Station partners with the US Air Force and Navy in a mission related to missile interception and defence. Turkey is a NATO power which is irreplaceable in the alliance’s southern tier. Turkey controls the Bosphorus Straits under the Montreux Convention (1936).

Yet, the US is unwilling to have a relationship of mutual interest and mutual respect with Turkiye. Pentagon is openly aligned with the Kurdish separatists. The Obama administration made a failed coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan.

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