Erdogan’s Russia Problem (and Vice-Versa)
by Rachel Ehrenfeld
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing Islamist tendencies and his crackdown on the military and the media have upset many in Turkey. Revelations of a gold-for-oil scheme and the extent of his and his associates’ corruption; bribes to members of his government; and his son’s corrupt land and construction deals with Yassin al Qadi, a U.S.-designated terrorist who has funded al Qaeda, brought condemnation from the liberal opposition and thousands of protesters to the streets. Criticism of Edrogan’s growing totalitarianism is increasing within Turkey and without.
During the past 11 years, Erdogan has managed to consolidate power and move towards a radical Islamic state under the guise of advancing Turkey as an “Islamic democracy.” However, as we have been witnessing over the last four years, how the oxymoron of “Islamic democracy” – a Muslim Brotherhood invention – has been used successfully to turn the ‘Arab Spring’ into a scorching Arab summer. Erdogan’s “democracy” replaces Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Western legal codes with shari’a, turning the secular republic into an authoritarian, Islamic state.
While Erdogan’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch – Hamas, of Morsi in Egypt, and of al Qaeda fighters in Syria did not seem to upset the Obama Administration, it has made the Russians nervous. With good reason: The large Chechen community in Turkey that supports the separatist and Islamist terrorists in Russia’s Caucasus.
Indeed, Erdogan’s current crisis began with a 2011 Russian crack-down on a drug-money-laundering ring in this area, which laundered revenues from trading Afghan opium with the Taliban. The investigation also revealed illegal gold transactions in Russian banks, which the Chechens shared with their Turkish counterparts. This probe led to the December 17, 2013, arrests of the sons of a Turkish minister and 34 other suspects, and to mass demonstrations against the government.
Erdogan lashed out against the State’s prosecutors that until recently supported him, handing long prison terms to reporters and deposed military officers for allegedly plotting a coup. He denounced the corruption allegations and the arrests, and claimed prosecutors who conspired to oust him made up the charges.
While Erdogan’s authoritarianism would not be particularly bothersome to Putin, who dislikes the idea of being surrounded by democratic-minded states (as we’ve seen in his policies on Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine), Chechen terrorism certainly is. Clearly, Russia would prefer a secular Turkey to an Islamist Turkey leaking jihadist into Russia or the former Soviet republics.
Discord with Russia may or may not play into Edrogan’s hand, but the upheaval surrounding Erdogan’s corruption scandal presents the military and the Turkish liberal opposition with a unique opportunity to prevent the country from going the way of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since the U.S. doesn’t seem to care, Putin is likely to step in, offering aid to the leaders of a Turkish military secular coup. After all, Putin did so successfully in Egypt after General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi removed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. This would advance Putin’s efforts to become a greater player in the Middle East and on the world stage.
In the meantime, Erdogan and his lawless government are still in charge.