Checkpoint Asia

Weakened by Spat With the US, Economic Bust Turkey Will Be More Pliant to Russia in Syria

Bad news for Idlib jihadistan in northern Syria under Turkish army protection

Islamist-held enclave in Syria’s north is ringed by a chain of Turkish army outposts

In Sunday’s the local elections in Turkey the opposition parties won in the three biggest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. They managed to do that by concentrating their forces. The Kurdish aligned HDP made no nominations in cities where the main opposition party, the Kemalist CHP, already had a strong standing. HDP voters voted for the CHP candidates which brought them over the line. The CHP likewise held back in HDP strongholds which allowed the HDP candidate to win in Diyarbakir.

The elections show that Turkey is not a dictatorship (yet) and that voters still can change the political picture. The opposition parties also showed some unusual flexibility and presented candidates that were acceptable by a wider electorate than previous ones:

The winners of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, are not the typical hardcore Kemalists who despise the women in headscarves and anything that is visibly religious, always alienating the average Turk. Quite the contrary. Yavas is a politician from the nationalist right, and Imamoglu (whose surname literally means, “Son of Imam”) is an unusual figure in his camp who can recite the Quran. During his campaign, Imamoglu recited the Quran in a mosque, to honor the victims of the massacre in Christchurch. Such actions have capitalized on the “religion card” that Erdogan has exploited for too long.

The loss of Istanbul, at a very small margin, is seen as a personal loss for President Erdogan, who started his national political career some 25 years ago as mayor of that city. It is no wonder then that the Erdogan’s party, the AKP, is now demanding recounts.

The CHP win in the big cities and in the liberal tourist centers along the Mediterranean coast does not mean that Erdogan is defeated or his power diminished. In total his AKP and its allied parties won 51.63% of the nationwide votes. The municipalities in Turkey depend on handouts from the national government. As Erdogan controls the central purse he can easily squeeze the cities the opposition won. The next nationwide elections will only be in 2022 which gives him time to take on other problems and to recuperate the losses.

There are plenty of problems that demand his attention. Turkey’s credit bubble, which helped Erdogan to win the presidency, is bursting:

Turkey’s interest rates remained at record low levels from 2009 to 2018, which caused the country’s credit bubble to go into overdrive. Turkey’s low interest rate era ended in 2018, when the central bank hiked rates from 8% to 24%. Rapid interest rate hikes cause credit bubbles to burst, which then lead to credit busts and recessions.

Over the last two quarters Turkey’s GDP declined. The country is in a recession. Inflation is near to 20% which leaves no room to lower interest rates. Before Sunday’s election the central bank of Turkey propped up the Lira. It will have to end that or will otherwise diminish Turkey’s foreign currency reserves. After the long build up of the credit bubble it will take years for the economy to return to a steady state. There is little room for the government to turn the economy around.

Erdogan’s decision to become more independent of NATO is also taking its toll. Buying the Russian made S-400 air defense system secures Turkey from a potential U.S. attack but also means that its access to ‘western’ weapons ends. Germany stopped cooperation for the production of a new Turkish tank even before the S-400 issue came up. Today the U.S. halted all F-35 fighter plane deliveries and training for Turkey. This will be a loss for both sides but add to Turkey’s economic problems:

“Because Turkey is not just an F-35 purchaser, but an industrial partner, blocking delivery of these systems represents a major escalation by the United States as it threatens to impose serious costs on both sides,” Hunter said.Reuters reported last week that Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35. Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays. Sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and U.S. thinking on the issue last week said Turkey’s role can be replaced.

Russia will be happy to supply Turkey with Su-35 fighter planes. They are arguable better than the F-35 and will likely be cheaper. But they will come with a political price.

Red circles are Turkish army bases standing in way of Syrian army offensive into al-Qaeda-dominated Idlib jihadi enclave in dark green. Light green is Syrian territory occupied by Turkey directly together with Syrian “rebels” in its employ

Turkish supported Jihadis still hold Syria’s Idleb provinces and need to be removed. Erdogan tried to turn them into ‘moderate rebels’ but failed. Russia has for some time pressed Turkey to become more active in Idleb and to do more common Turkish/Russian patrols. These alienate the Jihadis, some of whom start to see Turkey as an enemy. Russia intends to do everything possible to intensify that feeling, while urging Turkey to finally solve the problem.

The U.S. still wants to ‘regime change’ Syria and will keep the northeast under its control. Trump’s idea to let Erdogan establish a security zone along the norther border was buried by the hawks in his administration. While that may comfort the Syrian Kurds with whom the U.S. is allied, it will further alienate Turkey. The removal of U.S. troops from northeast Syria is quickly becoming a common Turkish, Russian and Syrian aim.

A country that gets rejected by its NATO allies, is angered by U.S. moves to its south and under economic pressure will be easier to convince to follow Russia’s advice with regards to Syria. We can therefore expect that the dynamics at the Idleb front will soon start to change.

Source: Moon of Alabama

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