The waning of European power in the first two decades of the 21st century has emboldened the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ambition to head a reborn Ottoman Caliphate is unconcealed. Mr. Erdogan evidently has plans to harness the awakened Islamic vigor of the Turkish state to push westward into Europe and northeastward into the Caucasus.
For months Turkey has been exhibiting provocative behavior towards Greece and Cyprus, exploring for mineral wealth inside Cypriot territorial waters, conducting military overflights of Greek airspace, and asserting territorial claims over islands in the Greek archipelago of the eastern Aegean.
Angela Merkel and her pro-Turkish German government have given Greece the cold shoulder on the issue of Turkish belligerence. Since the foreign policy of the European Union is steered mainly by Germany, the collective attitude of the EU towards the plight of the Greeks has remained cool and restrained.
France, however, is another matter entirely. It seems the French government has decided to pursue its interests in the Mediterranean by assisting the Greeks unilaterally. The following excerpts from article in InsideOver, an offshoot of the Italian daily Il Giornale, shed some light on events in the eastern Mediterranean:
The Alleged Rafale Deal: French-Greek Rapprochement in the Troubled Eastern Mediterranean
by Alex Kassidiaris
September 4, 2020
Since late July 2020, we have been witnessing the most severe escalation in Greek-Turkish relations in decades. It seems that both sides are pushing for a definitive solution on the long-term pending issues of the maritime boundaries across Eastern Mediterranean, changing the regional dynamics and prompting new geopolitical alliances to emerge in the region.
French-Greek Political and Security Rapprochement
The current Greek-Turkish crisis has created the appropriate circumstances for a new approach in relations between Athens and Paris.
On the one hand, France is concerned about the rise of Turkey as a considerable power in the Mediterranean region. Ankara is gaining significant momentum in an area that is actually connecting France with Africa, the continent where traditionally vital French interests are at stake. A potential Turkish dominance in the Mediterranean at the expense of Greece, would be catastrophic not only for Athens but also for Paris, since it could possibly disrupt the French maritime routes to Africa.
At the same time the current framework is the perfect chance for President Emmanuel Macron to showcase that France could still be seen as one of the key players within the European Union, a role that has gradually been overshadowed by Berlin, especially in the past decade.
The Greek Perspective
Meanwhile, Greece is actively looking for a reliable partner, a country with substantial international standing and with aligning interests, which could be used as a counterbalance and a deterrence for the Turkish claims in the Mediterranean. The unsympathetic role of Germany in the last months has prompted Greece to turn to France for this sought-after assistance and assurance. Macron in mid-August — at a moment that the Greek-Turkish dispute seemed to be reaching its peak — publicly adopted an unambiguous position in support of Athens. In response the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, thanked the French President with a tweet in French, making clear that Athens has a strong ally by its side.
Apart from the close bilateral relations in political and diplomatic level, there have been some critical moves in a military context.
By late August, with the Turkish unauthorized research activity still ongoing in the Greek continental shelf, a joint Cypriot, French and Greek naval exercise took place, in the area of interest. French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly publicized the activity through her Twitter account sending a political message to all the parties involved.
The developments have been even more interesting in the field of armament programs. Following some failed —possibly due to German and US involvement— negotiations in July for a major upgrade of the Greek Navy, Athens and Paris are currently holding fresh talks about the acquisition of a significant number of Rafale jet fighters.
Potential Rafale Acquisition; a Tactical Rather than Strategic Advantage
The Greek Ministry of Defense has been considering over the previous year the purchase of the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter aircraft. However, the latest developments and the rapprochement with France have put on the table the potential acquisition of 18 fourth-generation (or 4.5 generation) Dassault Rafale.
The alleged French-Greek deal could take place quite soon on very favoring terms for the Greek side. The current reports indicate that 10 aircraft of the latest F3 Rafale version would be purchased by the Hellenic Air Force and another eight earlier variant versions would be donated.
Rafale Negotiations Reportedly Moving Quickly
The negotiations between the two sides are moving fast and the aircraft could be delivered quite soon, since it is highly likely that the jet fighters are either already deployed and would only need to be moved to Greece or are a part of another major purchase — probably for Egypt — which is to be delivered soon and will be simply be diverted to Greece.
The presence of numerous upgraded operational Mirage 2000 in the Hellenic Air Force would accelerate even more the inclusion of the new aircraft in the Greek arsenal. Mirage 2000 is another Dassault trademark which has many resemblances with the Rafale.
Turkish Air Capabilities
On the other hand, the Turkish Air Force is mostly relying on variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and upgraded versions of the outdated F-4 Phantom II. The potential addition of the 18 Rafales in the Hellenic Air Force fleet, would definitely tip the balance in favor of Greece.
However, one should consider that prior to the final deal on the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, Ankara had agreed with Washington to participate in the F-35 program. The recent confirmation that eight F-35 aircraft, which were initially built for Turkey were eventually bought by the US Air Force, was the final blow to any Turkish aspirations for participation in the F-35 program.
However, there are rumors that the Turkish Ministry of Defense is already considering alternatives, with the Russian Su-35 and Su-57 being on the table. Apparently if such an agreement proceeds, Turkey will be considerably upgrading its Air Force capabilities in the long-term and combined with the deployment of the S-400 system across the country, then the potential should be rather worrying for Greece.
There’s more at InsideOver.
Turkey’s ambitions in the Crimea have received much less media attention than its chest-thumping in the Aegean. Significant numbers of Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, live in the Crimea, the Volga region, the Urals, and other parts of Russia and Ukraine.
President Erdogan seeks to include all of the Turkic diaspora, including the Tatars, under the protective umbrella of Turkey. To that end he is aligning himself with Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT or HT), a pan-Islamic Salafist group that is well-known to long-time Gates of Vienna readers as a significant force pushing for a universal Caliphate.
Ironically, for geostrategic reasons Ukraine is pursuing an alliance with Islam, the Tatars, and Turkey. From the 13th to the 15th century the eastern portion of Russia — also known as Muscovy — was conquered and ruled by the Tatars and the Mongols, groaning under the “Tatar yoke”. What is now called Ukraine — Kievan Rus — remained unconquered. In the 21st century the medieval situation is reversed: Ukraine looks towards Islam and the Tatars, while the descendants of Muscovy are resisting.
Unlike most Western governments and the media, InsideOver and Russia are willing to identify Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist group. HuT is able to pursue its supremacist goals unmolested in various Western havens, including the U.K., the U.S.A., Denmark, and Australia, among others. Regardless of what one might otherwise think of Russia, its policy towards Hizb ut-Tahrir is the correct one.
The following article, also from InsideOver, discusses Russia’s crackdown on HuT in the Crimea:
Turkey’s Tatar Agenda Explained
by Emanuel Pietrobon
September 6, 2020
Turkey is one of the countries that benefited the most from Ukraine’s Euromaidan. Since 2014 it has been working hard on turning a geopolitically ambitious and groundbreaking goal into reality: to make Ukraine part of the Eurasia-extended Turkish world.
The accomplishment of this historical task has been made easier by Russia’s forced withdrawal from the country, both politically and culturally, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pursuing a dual-sided strategy to make it happen: the building of a strategic partnership with Ukraine and strong attention devoted to the Tatar question.
Turkey is Against the FSB-Run War on Islamists
Turkey has never recognized the Crimean peninsula’s new Russian status quo and it is very unlikely to have a change of mind in the next future because of an ensemble of reasons, among them the country’s geopolitical alignment, the fear of a Crimea-like scenario within its own borders caused by the Kurdish guerrilla, and lastly the pan-Turkic agenda.
The last point has been prompting Turkey to significantly increase its presence in Ukraine’s internal affairs with the goal of constructing an informal protectorate over the little-but-influential Tatar community, which is the keystone for the control over the country and for the possible turning of Crimea into a Chechnya-like insurrection-plagued zone.
Turkey’s Latest Move on Crimea
The Turkish government’s latest move is the public condemnation of the Fsb-run war on Islamists in the peninsula, that is the war on a terrorist group known as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on August 31, voicing concern “about the raids and detentions taking place in Crimea”, which are seen by Ankara as the “latest example of systematic oppression and intimidation policies [on the Crimean Tatar population]”.
The statement was referring to the temporary detention of four Tatars as part of a terrorism and extremism-related investigation. The suspects were taken into custody in the early hours of August 31 and were released by that night. It was a hours-long normal police procedure, as it happens in every country, but it was depicted by Ukraine and Turkey as illegal and as the example of the alleged persecution against the Tatars.
It can be read that “Turkey will continue to stand by its kinsmen, Crimean Tatars, who have been defending their rights and interests by peaceful means and trying to make their voices heard through democratic methods.”
These words prove one fact: Turkey is actively supporting the Tatar underground opposition and has ceased a long time ago to limit its solidarity to the verbal sphere.
What is Going on in Crimea?
The very existence of HT threatens Crimea’s security and territorial integrity. It is a foreign-funded caliphate-seeking Sunni fundamentalist organisation whose activities are completely legal and free in many Western countries — but they have been outlawed in the post-Soviet space and in a large part of Asia. Due to its perfectly legal status, HT has been using Ukraine and Turkey as operational bases from which to coordinate the efforts against Crimea and it is infiltrating deep the Tatar expats community and those who are still living in the peninsula.
Despite the outlawing, HT keeps working underground in Russia as shown by the numerous police operations that have taken place over the years. More recently, HT has been accused of plotting terrorist attacks and recruiting foreign fighters to be sent in Syria. It is noteworthy that most of the operations are focused in the Turkic-majority republic of Tatarstan.
FSB Operations in Crimea
As regard to Crimea, several FSB-run operations have been carried out to target the group since the annexation. In 2019 more than 30 Crimean Tatars have been jailed, accused of being HT members and sentenced on terrorism charges. During the raids many weapons were found and seized. This year more than 10 Crimean Tatars have been arrested on the same charges, prompting the Kremlin to start talks at the parliamentary level aimed at strengthening the current national security’s and territorial integrity’s legislation.
Is Ukraine Headed to the Turkish Sphere?
Apart from the growing conflict in Crimea, Turkey is more and more assertive with and within Ukraine. Many events which took place in the last twelve months suggest that the birthplace of the Russian civilization is becoming part of the Turkic world. The latest news is that the Ukrainian government is interested in joining the Turkic Council, which is Ankara’s main soft-power instrument in the post-Soviet space.
According to Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Volodymyr Zelensky Government wants to join the entity because “Ukraine is the heir of Turkish culture [and] Crimean Tatars are a bridge between Ukraine and Turkey”. Whereas it’s perfectly understandable the political reason behind the move, which is expected to increase dramatically the quality of Ukrainian-Turkish partnership, Dzheppar’s claim is purely anti-historical and must be read as an identity-washing attempt aiming at rewriting the country’s past, present and future.
The Tatar Revival in Ukraine
Ukraine’s path to the Turkish world is not represented by the mere decision to join the Turkic Council; the 2020 will be remembered as the year of the Tatar revival. In July the Turkish ambassador to Kyiv, Yagmur Ahmet Gulder, declared that Ankara is set to fund the opening of the country-largest mosque in the heart of the Ukrainian capital city. The building is expected to cost $5 million and to have capacity for 5,000 faithful.
In the end, another very important event took place on May 18. Every year on that day the Tatars commemorate the so-called Day of Remembrance of Victims of Crimean Tatars Genocide; for six years now they are no longer alone in the observance of this much-felt date: they are accompanied by Turkish and Ukrainian delegations.
It is no coincidence that Zelensky chose this very important day to announce the birth of a “new Ukraine [in which] anyone may feel citizen”, deciding to start this nation building process by listing in the calendar of public holidays two of the most iconic feasts of Islam: the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha), and the Festival of Breaking the Fast (Eid al-Fitr).
Everything seems to indicate that Turkey is willing to play a major role in the once-homeland of Russian civilization, and if the West would ever green light a destabilization plan aimed at disturbing Russia’s interests in the region, this plan is likely to target the infiltrated and ready-to-explode Crimea.
The FSB-driven war on Islamism must be read for what it truly is: a race against time to prevent a Chechnya-like scenario from taking place in Crimea.
Read the rest at InsideOver.
Hat tip: C. Cantoni.