Turkish Week – Istanbul Canal, Covid and Foreign Policy
One of the main issues of Turkish domestic policy last week was the issue of the construction of the Istanbul Canal. Last Friday, Turkish President Erdogan announced that the design of the Istanbul Canal has come to an end and a tender will be announced soon. The main opponent of the construction of the canal, the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, commented on the response to this statement of the president – “Erdogan is right, the project has come to an end because it will not be implemented.” After that, for almost the whole week, serious passions were seething around this issue.
The idea of building a canal that will relieve shipping traffic on the Bosphorus. will allow charging for the passage of ships, on the Bosphorus it is impossible according to the Montreux convention and will increase the logistical importance of Turkey and the Black Sea, was first expressed by Erdogan back in 2011. In 2018, a channel route was approved that will connect the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea.
The Istanbul Canal also has a military and political significance. According to the convention on the regime of the Black Sea straits, concluded in the Swiss city of Montreux, Turkey has sovereignty over the Bosphorus, but does not have the right to admit military vessels of non-Black Sea countries above a certain tonnage. In addition, the stay of military vessels of non-Black Sea countries that passed through the Bosphorus canal should not exceed 21 days. During the August 2008 war, Turkey faced a serious problem with the passage of the flagship of the US 6th Fleet to Georgia, since the same Montreux Convention prohibits the passage of warships in wartime. Ultimately, the problem was resolved, since, legally, for Russia itself, the aggression against Georgia was not a war. but only a “peace enforcement operation”, but the situation showed the vulnerability of Turkey’s position.
In general, the question of the straits from the eighteenth century was extremely painful for Turkey. The Russian Empire directly declared its intention to take control of the Straits, all this was ideologically justified by the formula – to restore the crosses over St. Sophia. And only the revolution in Russia with the subsequent withdrawal from the war allowed Turkey to retain Istanbul and control over the straits.
At the Potsdam Conference, the Soviet Union demanded the creation of a Soviet military base in the Dardanelles and presented territorial claims to Turkey. In his memoirs, the then US ambassador to the USSR, Bedel Smith, writes about a conversation with Stalin.
Stalin looked at me and replied: “We will not go too far. I assured President Truman and said publicly that the Soviet Union did not intend to attack Turkey, there was no such intention, Stalin said. “But Turkey is weak, it doesn’t have enough strength to defend the straits. And the Soviet Union is fully aware of the danger that will arise if the straits come under the control of any foreign state. The Turkish government is not friendly to us. Therefore, the Soviet Union demanded a base in the Dardanelles. The issue is related to our own safety. “
In February 2014, Russia filed claims to Turkey, since the US Navy frigate USS Taylor spent 33 days in the Black Sea instead of the 21 allowed by the convention. And this despite the fact that there were purely technical reasons, during the call to the port of Istanbul, the frigate ran into stranded and damaged the screw.
Thus, the construction of the Istanbul Canal is not only economic. but also serious political tasks. If implemented, the role of Turkey in ensuring security in the Black Sea will increase.
However, the channel also has its negative sides. Opponents of the construction of the canal make mainly ecological arguments. Thus, the mayor of Istanbul Imamoglu believes that the construction of the canal will increase the risk of earthquakes. In response, the pro-government media reproaches the mayor that it was Imamoglu who later cut the budget to minimize the effects of earthquakes by 65%. Demographic problems are another argument. According to experts’ calculations, if the canal is built, the population of Istanbul will grow by 1.2 million people, which will inevitably create problems with traffic. In public transport, special videos were launched with anti-advertising of the canal construction. It is clear that this is an initiative of the Istanbul City Hall.
In general, it can be noted that despite the fact that the battles over the construction of the canal are in full swing, the central government is determined to implement the project, despite the economic crisis. caused by a global pandemic.
The covid-19 pandemic continues to be one of the main problems in Turkey. On December 4, the authorities were forced to introduce a 56-hour quarantine throughout the country, which ends only on Monday December 7 at 5 am. You can only go outside for groceries from 10 am to 5 pm. The Turkish newspaper Karar criticizes the government’s decision to purchase the Chinese vaccine “Corona Vac”, calling it expensive and questionable. Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said that vaccination of the republic’s population will begin on December 11. First of all, medical workers will be vaccinated. Turkey ranks 4th in the world for the growth of diseases.
Turkish police officers detained the journalists of the Russian television channel NTV near the building where the company specializing in the production of Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles is located Baykar Savunma. A Turkish citizen was also detained together with Russian journalists. Interestingly, this happened almost simultaneously with the fact that the Russian side entered into an agreement on the import of mobile anti-drone systems with the Turkish company Ulusal Harp Teknolojileri Savunma Sistemleri.
On December 3, a telephone conversation took place between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This was the first conversation after Pompeo’s visit to Turkey did not meet with his counterpart and President Erdogan, preferring to visit Istanbul rather than Ankara. According to unofficial sources, Pompeo’s choice was due to the need to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, with whom the US Secretary of State could discuss the autocephaly of the Macedonian Church. In a commentary on the conversation between the foreign ministers, Politico writes that Pompeo reproached Turkey for buying Russian C 400 complexes, and Cavusoglu for supporting Greece and the Kurdish YPG military formations in northern Syria.
The Turkish Defense Ministry announced the completion of technical negotiations on a joint Turkish-Russian center on Nagorno-Karabakh. The defense ministers of Russia and Turkey on November 11 signed a memorandum on the establishment of a joint peacekeeping center. Until now, negotiations were held in Moscow and Ankara. Today it became known that the parties agreed and signed an agreement.
In an interview with European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, Euronews correspondent Anna Lazaro touched upon the topic of Turkey – Turkey is not only present in many parts of the world, but also creates serious problems for the European Union in the Eastern Mediterranean. The European Union has set a deadline for itself until December 10 to decide whether to impose sanctions or not …
To this, the head of the foreign policy department noted that this is a possible revision of relations with Turkey, and not all countries want sanctions. Yes, there have been no major improvements in relations with Turkey, but this must be decided by the heads of state and government. I will confine myself to expressing my assessment of events.
Separately, Josep Borrell touched upon the migration agreement between the EU and Turkey – “Look, this agreement, which gave rise to many different assessments, put an end to the loss of life caused by the uncontrolled flow of migrants. And we have all seen dramatic footage of the consequences of an uncontrolled stream of people trying to cross the sea in dangerous ways. But Turkey has three million Syrian refugees, three or three and a half million. We, from the European Union, help these refugees with education, health care and food. The money goes almost in full, directly to them. Turkey keeps them on its territory. Which costs a lot of money. Imagine if in Spain we had to accept and care for three million people. Don’t you think this would be a problem for society? ”
In general, this week has been very active for Turkey’s foreign policy. The important news is the telephone conversation between President Erdogan and the King of Saudi Arabia Salman. The conversation was preceded by a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in the capital of Nigeria, Lagos, where they attended the summit of the countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Of course, it is clearly too early to talk about the resumption of a full-fledged strategic partnership between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but a positive trend is evident.
Another interesting news, Israeli political scientist Abraham Shmulevich writes that Turkish and Israeli media report (without reference to sources) that a cooperation agreement has been signed between the intelligence services of the two countries.
Turkey is holding secret talks with Israel to normalize relations, Israeli expert and journalist Ehud Yaari said. MIT intelligence chief Hakan Fidan acts as the main negotiator on the Turkish side, and high-ranking Mossad officials on the Israeli side. Turkish journalist Embryn Zaman, known for her sources in Ankara, reports that at least 3 meetings have already taken place between the parties. According to her, the possibility of normalizing relations is being considered, which began to deteriorate sharply after Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power and the operation of the Israel Defense Forces “Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip. During the talks, the parties also discussed the situation in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean and Libya. Israel demands from Turkey to terminate the activities of the Hamas operational headquarters on its territory. Turkey seeks a certain improvement in relations with Israel against the background of Ankara’s fears of an even greater cooling of relations with the United States after Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House, Abraham Shmulevich wrote in his blog.
That’s all for now. Next week will be just as interesting.
Gulsafa Bayramova, GSAC