Friday 29 July, 2016 Update: Erdogan’s Realpolitik


In the two weeks following the failed coup in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a busy fellow. His purge of known or suspected supporters of the Gulen movement from the military, government services, and essentially the entire nation has expanded to include any and all opposition to his rule. The number of arrests connected to the coup attempt has risen above 6,000 along with thousands of others detained or dismissed from their positions for reasons which are not so clear. Media outlets are the next target on Erdogan’s list. On Wednesday, the government ordered 100 media outlets to be closed using the justification that these organizations have suspected ties to Gulen..

The purge is not the only disconcerting episode taking place with regards to Turkey right now. Erdogan’s relationship with the EU is on shaky ground. He wants to bring back the death penalty as punishment for the coup plotters. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of the effort to join the European Union. EU officials have stated clearly that should Turkey bring back capital punishment, all negotiations regarding Turkey becoming a full EU member will cease. Instead of moving to patch up the rift, Erdogan has chosen instead to take the EU-Turkey refugee deal hostage and make demands that will benefit his consolidation of power instead of the nation as a whole.

The same can be said for Erdogan’s overall relationship with the West. The reactions to the coup from the US and Europe were not supportive of Erdogan and his party. The US and EU reactions to the coup were a uniform call for the rules of democracy to be respected. When the dust settled post-coup, Erdogan chastised the US and Europe for not doing enough to support Turkish democracy. He demanded that the US extradite Gulen back to Turkey to face charges. The US refused, rightfully so. Next, Erdogan accused a retired US general of planning the coup. The accusation was groundless, yet Erdogan was undeterred and made yet another attempt to embarrass the United States. This time he is accusing the commander of US Central Command General Joseph Votel of being ‘on the side of the plotters’ because of remarks he made about how the jailing or Turkish military commanders will degrade US-Turkey military co-operation.

As Erdogan is lashing out at the US and the West, he is simultaneously making a concerted effort  to forge closer ties with Russia. This is where it gets interesting. Russia would love nothing more than to drive a wedge between Turkey and NATO. Turkey is a NATO member and a very significant one at that. Erdogan understands the leverage that he, as the ruler of Turkey, possesses and could be using the possibility of closer relations with Russia as a way to extort favorable concessions from his NATO partners. Some people call that blackmail, while others refer to it as realpolitik.

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