Commentary. The butcher Erdogan is the one on whom we are pinning our hopes for peace in Ukraine. But he doesn’t have better democratic credentials than Putin.

Sultan Erdogan, arbiter of his Donbass

Everyone has their own Donbass. For Erdogan and Turkey – a pillar of NATO since 1952 – this is Syrian Rojava and Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Sultan has permanently stationed troops and occupied the territory of other states without anyone even daring to raise an eyebrow.

He is the one who is deciding, with our complicity, who we are, what NATO really is, and, most importantly, the fate of the Kurds, Syrians and Iraqis, to be exchanged at the negotiating table for Sweden and Finland to join the Atlantic Alliance – countries that Turkey accuses of being complicit with “terrorists.”

Meanwhile, it seems that the U.S. has decided which Donbass it prefers. The Ukrainians will not be given missiles to strike Russia, while Erdogan is in talks with Washington for a new batch of F-16 fighter jets, and perhaps they will unblock F-35s for him if he gives up more of the S-400 anti-missile battery supplies he got from Moscow. And thus, Erdogan, counting on Washington’s acquiescence, is plowing ahead with “his” war. After trying to topple him in July 2016 through the network of Fethullah Gulen, the United States is now open to negotiation. Since mid-April, the Turkish military has been conducting a massive operation in northern Iraq to target the positions of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), but also against the Yazidi and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militias, bombing Kobane (using Italian Agusta-Westland- Leonardo helicopters), a symbol of heroic resistance to the Caliphate, which we celebrated back in 2014 as Europe’s last frontier against barbarism. Now Erdogan wants to include Kobane in his “security strip,” and those who fought against ISIS back then are feeling a strong sense of shame today.

The butcher Erdogan is also the one on whom we are pinning our hopes for peace in Ukraine, as the Turkish president – now engaged in his re-election campaign for 2023 – has relaunched his proposal to be a mediator, offering Istanbul as a venue for a meeting between Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations, and Turkey as a guarantor for a possible ceasefire observation mechanism.

Our ally Erdogan certainly doesn’t have better democratic credentials than Putin: indeed, the two have many traits in common, despite being geopolitical adversaries, from Syria to Libya to Azerbaijan. Despite the geopolitical incompatibility between Ankara and Moscow (which nevertheless suits NATO and the U.S. very well), Putin and Erdogan have pragmatic relations, both in Syria and Libya. In 2016, after the failed coup, Erdogan closed the U.S. base at Incirlik for a week and received Moscow’s full support.

With the gradual (but relative) U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, Erdogan is testing the waters with Russia and China, under the banner of multipolarity. “We are in a post-Western world,” Turkish diplomacy has long proclaimed. Accordingly – like Israel, with whom Turkey has resumed relations – Ankara has refused to impose sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries in terms of media freedom, according to a May report by Reporters Without Borders. On this issue, Erdogan is pushing for a Russian-style parliamentary initiative to punish with up to three years in prison the spread of “fake news,” but without specifying who is going to ascertain the veracity of an article, social media post or news report. In December, Erdogan had referred to social media as “one of the main threats to democracy.” The new law, referred to as “digital censorship,” provides for prison sentences of one to three years for anyone who publicly disseminates false information about national security and public order.

After businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Canan Kaftancioglu, the leader of the Progressives, who is able to represent the pink alternative to power, was also sentenced to five years in prison for insulting the president. She has coordinated the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Istanbul, and in 2019 she oversaw Mayor Imamoglu’s victory, the first non-Erdoganian figure in the past 25 years. Of course, there has been no reaction at her conviction from the Western front.

And now we come to Italy, namely Draghi’s mission to Turkey in July. Here, our own Donbass is called Libya and Mediterranean gas. As is well known, Turkey has us on a leash in Tripolitania, in the country which until 2011 was among our largest suppliers of gas and oil. This has been the case since the end of 2019, when Erdogan fought against General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against the Sarraj government, which is recognized by the UN and was installed with the support of governments in Rome.

Turkey is using Italian patrol boats to keep migrant trafficking in check, a task contracted out to highly controversial figures. And while Libya is still divided between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, Erdogan is enforcing the agreement signed with Libya on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Under this arrangement – operating outside international agreements – Turkey is using its naval vessels to impede offshore exploration activities in the Greek islands and Cyprus, conducted by Eni and other companies. Erdogan wants to stop the new Eastmed pipeline (which would be supplied with Greek, Israeli and Egyptian gas), which would cut him off.

Thus, Draghi is set to go to the bazaar to haggle with the Sultan: it’s not hard to imagine who will be paying the price.

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