Archive for category EU
Of the six countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP), Azerbaijan is the only one that has not chosen to definitively align itself with either the EU or Russia. With the signing of Association Agreements with the EU on June 27, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia declared their strategic choice to further integrate with the EU and, despite Russian opposition and aggression, stated full membership as their goal. Meanwhile, Belarus and Armenia have taken another path, choosing Russia’s Eurasian Union (EaU).
Azerbaijan, as Georgia and Armenia, is located at a very sensitive and volatile geopolitical crossroads, sandwiched between Russia, and Iran. However, unlike its neighbours, Baku has chosen a policy of “choosing not to choose”, having a cautious approach, not wanting to openly confront and create waves with Russia. Nevertheless, when analyzing Azerbaijan’s relationships with the West and Russia, it seems that Baku’s feet are increasingly under the West’s table. In fact, this engagement is nothing new. It began 20 years ago when former President Heydar Aliyev signed the “Contract of the Century” with a consortium of Western energy companies. Over the last two decades ties with Euro-Atlantic institutions have gradually deepened, although Azerbaijan has no aspirations to join either the EU or NATO. However, Baku wants Western “know-how” to work on modernizing the country including vocational training, best practices in sectors such as energy, science and technology and education.
For the EU Azerbaijan is an important and reliable partner. While energy is the backbone of relations, with Azerbaijan the enabler of the Southern Gas Corridor, there is a desire from both sides to broaden areas of cooperation. This was underlined during a recent speech, on 12 June, at Azerbaijan’s Diplomatic Academy, by President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. Today the two partners are moving ahead with a “Strategic Partnership for Modernization (SPM)” along with ongoing Association Agreement talks. THE SPM, which will act as a framework for cooperation, is almost ready for signature, with EU officials hoping this can be done before the end of the present European Commission in the autumn. However, with the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine and the ramifications this has had on the broader region it is not impossible that signature may take place at a later date, possibly at the 2015 EU EaP Riga Summit.
This relationship is also clearly not without difficulties. While on the one hand the EU would like to see Azerbaijan take more steps towards improving democracy and human rights, Baku on the other hand would like the EU to have a more credible and consistent approach towards recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, as it does with other EaP countries that have territorial disputes — Georgia, Moldova and most recently Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Unfortunately, the EU’s ambiguous approach towards Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is a thorn in relations. In fact in light of Russia’s revanchist ideas, the EU should give explicit support to the territorial integrity of all EaP countries, not only those with territorial disputes.
Despite the fact that Azerbaijan has not expressed a desire to join the EU, and because Azerbaijan is not a member of the WTO it is unable to have a deep trade agreement with the EU, with Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently fixated on “rebuilding” the Soviet Union, Baku has still come under increasing pressure from Moscow, to join the EaU. In recent weeks Moscow has significantly increased its diplomatic activity with a number of visits to Baku, including from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who arrived the day after Barroso left.
Azerbaijan wants good relations with Moscow, but it also wants to maintain full control over its foreign and economic policies. Joining the EaU would affect this independence. Not only would it have no added value for Azerbaijan economically – Azerbaijan’s economy, which is currently dominated by energy sector, is increasingly linked to the West – it would also impinge on Azerbaijan’s sovereignty.
There is also little appetite for closer ties with Russia from Azerbaijani society. There is a broad dislike and distrust of Russia’s leadership, something that has been exacerbated since the Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while deep resentment also continues to exist over the role that Russia has played in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia. Furthermore, and fortunately, because the majority of Azerbaijanis prefer to watch Turkish television rather than Russian, they have not been exposed to Russia’s extensive media propaganda campaign over Ukraine.
However, while Russia presently continues to be focused on Ukraine, as with the other EaP countries in the region, Moscow may also try to impact Baku’s foreign policy choices although its leverage on Azerbaijan is less than some of the other countries in the region. All the same, some 500,000 Azerbaijanis work in Russia; Azerbaijan is home to a Russian-speaking Lezgin ethnic minority that Moscow has tried in the past to create internal tension; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, where Russia is key to any settlement and uses for its own self-interest and Georgia. Georgia is important to Azerbaijan because it is the transit state for Azerbaijan hydrocarbons to European markets. Instability in Georgia could be disastrous for Baku.
Ultimately, while many people believe that Moscow may try to make Baku a very tempting offer, it is highly unlikely if not totally impossible that Azerbaijan will accept it. Nevertheless with such a resurgent Russia with a President that seems to have “no limits”, the ongoing climate of uncertainty and trepidation over what may be around the corner, over what Russia may or may not do next, is of significant concern and will probably keep Baku on a very cautious track. Moreover, the fact that there has been a significant failure from the EU (and the West more generally), to adequately respond to Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, is hardly reassuring to other countries in the region either.
(This article was originally published – in a shorter form – in Today’s Zaman)
Having already had Crimea occupied and annexed by Russia, Ukraine’s government is struggling to hold the rest of the country together as Russia uses covert actions and propaganda to drive unrest, violence and fear. Meanwhile the international community seems incapable of doing little more than making toothless statements of concern and placing weak sanctions which have so far been totally ineffective in deterring Russian President, Vladimir Putin from further aggression.
Earlier this week the Ukrainian authorities deployed an anti-terrorist operation following several days of unrest as pro-Russian armed groups carried out coordinated attacks taking-over police stations and government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. The operation is expected to last several days but success is far from guaranteed. The threat of Moscow ordering its forces massed at the border into Ukraine in response for Kyiv’s using force against the separatists’ is a real risk as there is a real possibility it could be used by Moscow as a green light to invade to “protect” Russian speaking citizens. However, Moscow’s approach is not proving to increase Russia’s popularity in the East. The vast majority of Ukraine’s southeastern citizens have remained indifferent or opposed to unification with Russia. In a poll taken on 9 April in Donetsk 65.7% stated they wanted to live in a unified Ukraine while only 18.2% said they would like to join Russia.
While Russia’s leadership continues to claim it has nothing to do with the unrest and is “deeply concerned”, Moscow is not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes. The world is fully aware that Russia is pulling the strings; that Special Forces are on the ground (little green men as the Ukrainian’s call them), deliberately provoking tensions. If this escalation continues there is a high risk that it will spread further; that the forthcoming 25 May Ukrainian Presidential elections will be derailed or the instability may prevent polling in the East/South East and Russia will declare the election result as illegitimate and Ukraine will sink further into crisis. It is crucially important that the presidential elections go ahead. The new President would have democratic legitimacy, thereby burying Russian claims that Ukraine has no legitimate or constitutional leadership.
Unfortunately, there is a serious security vacuum between Kyiv and these regions. Many of the police are corrupt and attached to the former Yanukovych regime. The Ukrainian authorities cannot control or secure the country and Russia knows this. Local populations have created self-defense units with citizens fighting to take back their occupied buildings and drive the separatists and “Russian tourists” out. During the recent visit of interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, demands were made for greater power and resources to address the needs of local residents. While decentralization does need to happen, this is a far cry from what Russia is talking about: Ukraine’s neutralization through its federalization – A group of mini states that are autonomous from Ukraine and closely linked to Moscow, giving Russia a significant stake in the country.
Meanwhile the international community continues to shy away from taking strong action. Kyiv now understands that despite strong messages of condemnation, the West does not seem to want to get really tough with Russia and the level of disappointment is high. Many Ukrainians believed they could count on the EU-US to support and help them. While nobody expected military support, they did hope that tough economic sanctions would be placed. So far this has not happened
The US has been quicker and stronger in its response than the EU. Washington has indicated a readiness to move up to the next level but want to do this in harmony with the EU. The EU is still resisting. One month ago the EU placed travel sanctions and assets freezes on 21 Russians, promising to move to stage three economic sanctions if Russia did not deescalate. Russia has not deescalated but rather escalated yet the EU has dithered over its next move. An EU Foreign Ministers meeting on 14 April extended these travel bans further but delayed taking a decision on further sanctions until after a meeting in Geneva later this week between Russia, the US and Ukraine, which is aimed at reducing tensions, and raising a number of key issues including the Ukrainian economy and energy security. After recent developments it is not clear what can come out of this meeting. The EU has stated that if the four-party talks fail to “persuade” or force Russia to back off in Ukraine, EU leaders may meet next week for a snap summit to discuss the sanction issue further. However, as Ukrainian Presidential candidate, Petro Poroshenko, states in a recent Wall Street Journal article – “talks for the sake of talks send a very wrong signal about the West’s commitment to sanctions”. Hence something concrete needs to come from Geneva.
The level and pace of response from the EU is not only frustrating and disappointing for Ukrainian’s, it is also frustrating for those member states that feel the time has come to move to level three sanctions that could include trade restrictions, an arms and other measures targeted at Russia’s elite,. Yet because EU decision-making is based on unanimity, that often equates to the lowest common denominator.
Some EU member states continue to resist placing tough economic sanctions fearing repercussions on their own economies at a time of economic hardship or fear that Moscow – as has been rumored – may try to nationalize EU business in Russia. In Ukraine, reality has hit home and there is now broad realization that they are on their own.
Beyond what the EU has talked about (there are other steps that could also be taken that would impact Russia. For example pressure through the banking sector. Today no country can separate its banking system from what the US now controls. Alternately, Saudi Arabia could increase it oil production so price would drop. Gas prices are inextricably linked to oil prices. Given the seriousness of the situation there is no reason why Russia should not have to face the sort of sanctions that were placed on Iran. Furthermore, in light of increased tensions on the ground and the forthcoming presidential elections, there is a need for larger number of international monitors/peacekeepers on the ground - UN, EU –in addition to those recently deployed by the OSCE, and as requested by Ukraine’s interim President, Olexandr Turchynov.
I am tired of hearing it is not the fault of the West. Yes it is not the fault of the West that Putin is at the helm in Russia. Nor is it the West’s fault he seems to have a gruesome grand strategy for Ukraine and Russia’s near abroad more generally. However, it is the fault of the West that their response to the most serious challenge to the world order and security of Europe since the end of the Cold War has been so wishy-washy and inadequate.
(This article in a shorter form was originally published in Today’s Zaman)
It is a well-established fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a deep-seated phobia of social media. He detests all of it: Facebook, YouTube and most particularly Twitter. Still his bird-brained decision to ban those little blue birds really exposed how desperate he is these days. You would have hoped that one of his “super smart” advisers could have told him, “Dear Mr. Prime Minister, such a decision is a waste of time because people will easily get around it and you will only end up further humiliating yourself.” Clearly, they did not.
What happened next is now well known. News of the ban spread like wildfire with an explosion of tweets. The hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #Turkey blockedTwitter became the top trending topics globally last Friday. A further explosion of Tweets explained that the ban could technically be bypassed. The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, became the first member of Erdoğan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP) to violate the ban. “I am able to tweet because my DNS settings allow it,” he wrote. Enraged that society was not as bird-brained as him or his advisers, a further step was taken to shut down the blue birds with Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) introducing IP-based bans, making it almost impossible to have access to Twitter simply by adjusting the DNS values. But Turks have gotten around that, too. In fact, there have been more tweets from Turkey since the government blocked Twitter than ever before. Turks will not succumb to authoritarian rule.
Clearly, his desperate attempt to try to stop more of his dirty laundry from being aired on Twitter has gone badly wrong. Erdoğan’s international reputation was already in tatters and is now well and truly at rock bottom. With this move, Erdoğan has shot himself not only in the foot, but his entire leg. As the vice president of the European Commission tweeted, the ban is “groundless, pointless and cowardly.” Does Erdoğan care? Apparently not. Does he not realize the damage that he has inflicted not only on himself, but also on his party? Does he not understand that he is isolating Turkey, that Ankara is being bypassed on key regional issues?
Worse were the excuses that followed. From Erdoğan one can now expect pointless hubris that only his most loyal or most brainwashed supporters believe, if they even know what Twitter is in the first place. What pains me is seeing people who know much better — including some government ministers — trying to defend the move when in reality this decision is not defendable. For example, when Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, who is a smart man, acknowledged during a BBC interview that banning Twitter “does not reflect well” on his government, he went on to defend Erdoğan, laying the blame on Twitter and its failure to follow through on a number of requests from the Turkish telecommunications watchdog demanding it remove the content of some tweets. With such a statement, he has not only damaged his image within Turkey but also internationally, which is a big shame because he has always been viewed extremely positively. Why he felt the need to comment, I do not know. I can only presume — and hope — there is some reason we are not aware of.
Now on to President Abdullah Gül, who has condemned the Twitter ban. While he should be praised for his strong statement rather than toeing Erdoğan’s line, at the same time Gül, too, had his role in the decision because he signed the new Internet law that paved the way for such a decision. Still, it is good that Gül has finally set himself so publicly at odds with Erdoğan. I would like to see much more of this.
I really wonder when the prime minister is going to wake up to the fact that Turks will not succumb to his increasingly authoritarian style of rule. He does represent the will of the nation, and he needs to stop thinking that just because the AKP had a big win in 2012, he can do what he wants. Majoritarianism has no connection with the term democracy. Erdoğan has failed to get his head around this. I hope that by this time next week – post the 30 April local elections – he will have understood what his policy has cost him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is escalating the Crimea crisis every day because he believes in three things. First that Ukraine is too weak to defend her own territory. Secondly, that the West is too feeble, divided and fearful to go beyond harsh rhetoric and half-hearted sanctions. And thirdly that he has impunity because of these reasons. Unless the West is able to shatter this belief, and show it is ready to respond to Russia in a robust an steadfast manner, clearly demonstrating that there is a price to pay for abusing the rules of international order we are going to find ourselves in increasingly hot water.
Putin acted towards Crimea just as Nazi Germany did towards Czechoslovakia in 1938 and, as with Hitler, there is a real possibility Putin may not stop with Crimea. The killing of the first Ukrainian soldier on Tuesday, and the storming of a Ukrainian military base on Wednesday shows that Russia has no qualms about using violence and further escalating the crisis. Over the last two days Russia has embarked on a Russification of Crimea. The Ukrainian Armed Forces, one of the last symbols of Ukraine, is now are now preparing to leave the peninsula following a day of Russian belligerence and antagonism. With their departure Russia’s takeover will be complete. Unfortunately, the West is still struggling to come to terms what has happened and adequately respond. The tough language we have heard in the UN Security Council needs to be followed with decisive and effective actions.
Unfortunately, prospects for bringing about a diplomatic solution seem to have evaporated. As UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, headed off to Moscow yesterday, there was little hope of a success. Rather Russia has upped the stakes, threatening serious consequences – including related to talks with Iran and Syria – if the West moves to place tough economic sanctions on Russia. While such threats should not be tolerated it is undeniable that Russia has the ability to complicate negotiations with both states due to its seat on the UN Security Council. While Russia has lost the moral, political, and legal right to remain as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), it would seem there is no appetite to try and launch a process to have Russia removed or its membership suspended, despite the fact that there are legal mechanisms (albeit quite complicated) available to do this.
EU leaders meeting today and Friday need to follow through on their threats and move to ‘stage three’ economic and trade sanctions, including sanctioning Russians who really matter, and not spend any more time thinking about the possible negative blow back from these actions. The lack of consensus between some states (including the UK and Germany, which both have significant economic ties to Russia) on the eve of the Summit, over how far economic sanctions should go, demonstrates the EU has a real “values” -v- “Interests” dilemma.
The West should implement a broad economic and political isolation of the Kremlin. These sanctions should be just as severe as the ones that were imposed on Iran. At the same time NATO needs to up its game, as Estonian President Toomas Ilves recently wrote, “send NATO military forces (ground forces, not just AWACS planes) to NATO allied territory bordering Ukraine to conduct military exercises a well as strengthening the air defense assets deployed to the Baltic States’. Russia’s actions represent the biggest threat to European Security since the Cold War, and need to be seriously countered.
Meanwhile, with the EU due to sign the political part of Ukraine’s Association Agreement this Friday, its needs to go much further. The EU should offer Ukraine a clear membership perspective and rapidly introduce visa-free travel. Technically, there is not a big difference in the level of preparedness between Moldova (which just received visa liberalization) and Ukraine. International monitors and peacekeepers are urgently needed. This could either be done by the UN, while the EU should also discuss sending a monitoring mission to Ukraine.
The EU, together with the US and the UK, Ukraine’s security guarantors under the Budapest Memorandum, as well as NATO should also invite Ukrainian troops to take part in an immediate military exercise. The Russian invasion shows one thing clearly: Ukraine, even if it adopts a neutral status, will never be safe until it enters under the aegis of NATO, one way or another. Hence the issue of a MAP for Ukraine needs to be put back on the table for discussion. Russia has never invaded a NATO member state.
Ukraine must also put its own house in order. First, it may hope for peace, but at the same time, be prepared for a long and difficult war. There should be full national mobilization and deployment in east and south Ukraine. If Russia is killing Ukrainian soldiers, they should defend themselves. Ukrainian Special Forces should sweep in and dismantle the separatist groups mushrooming, with Russian support, on the mainland.
At the same time, it is crucially important to create, as demanded by the EU, an inclusive political process and a national unity government. The new government could reconfirm the key elements of the 21 February deal, deflecting Russian criticism on its non-application. While former president Viktor Yanukovych cannot return as President, he should have the right to a fair trial for murder and corruption and could return from Russia under national or international security guarantees. While this could take place in Ukraine, it would have greater international legitimacy if it were to be held at the International Court in The Hague. In this respect Ukraine needs to urgently sign the Rome Statue.
Furthermore, reforms must not be postponed for the post-crisis/war period. They must be implemented now. Without administrative, budget, and healthcare reforms, as well as urgent anti-corruption measures, the government risks losing support inside the country. Constitutional reform remains the key issue for Ukraine and must be quick and credible. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Reform Commission created in the Rada some days ago has questionable credentials. Given that none of key experts on constitutional law or civil society representative were invited there is a growing suspicion that the review process will be marred by old-style horse-trading. Public and Western pressure must be placed on Ukraine’s leadership to make the review of the constitution not only quick but legitimate, credible, and transparent. A new constitution could be adopted quite quickly and then new parliamentary and possibly presidential elections which might fully restart the political system in Ukraine.
With the strengthening of Ukraine militarily, ties with NATO boosted a show of real muscle from the West and new political legitimacy in Kyiv, Russia may find itself in an increasingly tight corner which could push it to the negotiating table.
This article was jointly authored by Amanda Paul and Vasyl Filipchuk, Executive Director of the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv (where it was first published)
Ever since Russia occupied Crimea, Turkey’s leadership has been walking a fine line. Ankara is concerned about developments in Crimea, which lies 173 miles from the Turkish coast. It is home to an estimated 260,000 Tartars (some 15 percent of Crimea’s population), who are the ethnic and linguistic kin of Anatolian Turks. Crimean Tatars strongly oppose the actions of Russia in Crimea — not surprisingly, given that they were subjected to ethnic cleansing during Soviet times. The prospect of coming under Moscow’s rule again appalls them. Two have died, with several more being injured in anti-Russian rallies. While the Russians have sent “envoys” to try and win hearts and minds, the Tatars are not buying this. Tatar men have created neighborhood patrols, keeping an eye on overnight Russian military infiltration of their villages. Community leaders have also called for a boycott of the illegal (as recently stated by the OSCE) March 16 referendum on rejoining Russia. Others have fled Crimea to Western Ukraine.
However, despite Turkey wanting to protect and support its Tatar kin, Turkey does not want to damage its relationship with Moscow. Hence Ankara is trying to sit on the fence. Turkey is conscious of the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine. It is not just about the future of Crimea’s Tatar community, but the impact the end game of the crisis may have on Turkey’s broader regional policies. The recent images of Russian naval vessels sailing up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea were highly symbolic of the tricky situation that Turkey — a long-time NATO member — finds itself in. The more dirty and embedded this fight becomes, the more difficult it will be for Turkey to maintain this position.
Turkey is also home to a large Crimean Tatar diaspora of several million. Yet despite this and the fact that demonstrations are taking place in Turkey, protesting the Russian occupation of and aggression in Crimea, the Turkish government has not and will not condemn Moscow. Historically Turkey has always feared Russia and backs away from any sort of confrontation. Indeed, over the centuries, Turkey and Russia have fought almost 20 wars and on almost every occasion the victor was Russia. Turkey’s membership of NATO came in the aftermath of the former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, demanding that Turkey give the USSR a base on the Bosporus along with some Turkish territory. After joining NATO, Turkey believed it was safe from Russian aggression.
Today, Ankara enjoys good relations with Russia. It is said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have particularly cozy ties, despite some differences — for example, on Syria. With Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies, his style of governance increasingly resembles that of Putin. And of course they share a complex about the West, which both men frequently accuse of conspiring against them and of failing to recognize their respective nations as the global powers they consider themselves to be.
However, beyond the strange Putin-Erdoğan relationship, it is ultimately Turkey’s economic ties with Russia that Ankara is protecting. The two enjoy excellent trade relations with annual bilateral trade estimated to be some $40 billion. Turkey is dependent on Russia for around half of its natural gas — almost 60 percent of its natural gas and some 12 percent of its oil. Turkish industry relies heavily on this gas. Russia is also involved in a number of other energy projects in Turkey, while construction work by Turkish companies in Russia continues to rapidly rise. During a meeting at the Sochi Olympics, Putin stated that Turkey is the “primary partner” of Russia. Erdoğan does not want to pick a fight with Putin that may jeopardize this. Turkey took the same policy during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Ankara sat on the fence and was careful not to criticize Russia. Turkey also followed to the last comma the 1963 Monteux Convention which limits the access of non-littoral powers into the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits, including the Bosporus. Turkey has prevented the US, its NATO ally, from sending large naval ships into the Black Sea.
The situation may also fuel Turkey’s tempestuous domestic situation, with the government already fighting serious corruption charges, accused of stealing billions and of overturning democracy and the rule of law. Hence Turkey’s muted reaction to the Crimean crisis may further cost Erdoğan at the March 30 local elections.
(This Article first appeared in Today’ Zaman on 12 March)
This analysis was prepared for the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv by Vasyl Filipchuk, Olena Zakharova,and myself (Amanda Paul)
Russian aggression in Crimea and power play on the Ukrainian-Russian border has become a key issue of the international agenda today. Russian actions are aimed at making the world take into consideration its own geopolitical ambitions, enforcing the order of the post-Soviet region which would best fit its interests as well as solving a number of its internal problems.
The international community demonstrates an increasingly appropriate response to Russian aggression – it was the stance of global players that became a major counterbalance to the Russian pressure. However, further steps need to be taken by Ukraine’s new leadership to strengthening their institutional capacity in terms of responding to this serious challenge from their neighbour.
1. Russian aggression and international response
1.1. Positions of major global players
Insisting on the legitimacy of Viktor Yanukovych, Russia used him as a tool in achieving its goals in Crimea, while breaching a number of international treaties, namely:
•United Nations Charter;
•1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law;
•1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe;
•1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine;
•Agreement on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet stationing on the territory of Ukraine dated August 8th, 1997 (it was prolonged in April 2010).
Besides, refusal of the Russian Federation to carry out preliminary consultations with Ukraine and the countries, which are guarantors of its security and territorial integrity (Great Britain, USA and France), blatantly neglects international commitments enforced in the Budapest memorandum of 1994.
1.2. Geopolitical and economic interests of Russia
From geopolitical viewpoint, Crimean affairs are part of Russian foreign strategy and the means to enforce its geopolitical positions, predominantly in the region it considers to be its area of influence.
Through the campaign in Crimea Russia tries to attach the Crimean peninsula to a so-called “small security belt” which already includes Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Kaliningrad. At the same time it wants to increase the presence of its Navy in the Black Sea, which is perceived as a component of national security system and factor of regional stability in confrontation with NATO.
Besides, Russia tries to solve the following economic tasks:
•To ensure energy security through reducing the cost of South Stream which, in this case, would be constructed on the continental shelf of the Black Sea instead of deep international waters;
•To use gas pipelines to “tie” Crimea to Russia, whereas nowadays the former totally depends on Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and resources;
•To neutralize or take under the Russian control profitable projects of gas exploration and extraction in the Black Sea, which were initiated by Ukraine with the assistance of major European and American companies;
•To deprive “Ukraine without Crimea” of major territory of exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea etc.
1.3. Conspiracy theories
In order to explain the Russian logic, experts consider several conspiracy theories.
1.A Russian game to raise the stakes. Russia decided to use the vulnerability of the newly appointed Ukrainian government in order to raise the stakes in the negotiations on Ukrainian-Russian relations after Maidan. Such a step was aimed at preventing new Ukrainian officials from raising the issues of Kharkiv treaties denouncement or the withdrawal of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the territory of Ukraine. According to this scenario, after Russian power play, which would not transform into military conflict, the parties will start negotiations where Russia will insist on its terms for the conflict resolution. Russia needs a loyal Ukrainian government which would not enter NATO and would take into account Russian economic and military interests.
2.Russian reply to the US. Russia perceives Ukrainian Maidan exclusively as an American “special operation”, the first stage of post-Soviet “democratization” based on the scenario of the Arab spring. The Kremlin believes that events in Ukraine from November 2013 – February 2014 may serve as an example for weakening Putin’s regime in Russia. Therefore, after Yanukovych’s defeat Moscow decided to counterattack and fight the US on the Ukrainian territory. In this case it is unknown how far Russia would go; yet, considering the vulnerability of the newly appointed Ukrainian government, Moscow may try to split the country and return Viktor Yanukovych as a puppet leader of a quasi-state.
3.Oligarchs’ theory. Supporters of this theory believe that Viktor Yanukovych failed to ensure Russian interests in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin decided to return or introduce other individuals in Ukrainian politics. The scenario of aggression on the Crimean peninsula was used to regain control over the processes in the country and allow particular individuals to get power. In this case Moscow will start negotiations or make concessions when a pre-approved negotiator will be offered to whom Vladimir Putin will “grant the victory” – settlement of the conflict and return of control over Crimea.
4.Economic theory. According to this theory, the Russian leadership understands that their global positions have weakened due to end of the crisis in the EU, the start of economic growth in the US, considerable economic growth in the East and progress in the resolution of Iranian problem. It is believed that by the end of 2014 an irreversible processes will start in the Russian economic and financial system, and the Crimean affair was initiated to distract attention from the Russian economic problems and destabilize the global economic system.
5.Psychological theory. Certain experts believe that the actions of Russian political elite are sincere and they reflect psychological and moral traumas related to the demise of the USSR.
None of these theories are perfect. We do not fully know the motivation and logic of Russian leaders. It is possible that their actions were caused by a combination of factors.
At this point it is impossible to say whether Putin will move on to the “continental” phase of the conflict and how far Russia will go in case of this phase. Each of the possible options (1. Crimea; 2. Two or three eastern regions; 3. 6-7 regions of Russian-speaking South East; 4. Zbruch line, meaning the whole territory of Ukraine except for Western Ukraine) will depend on a number of factors, namely:
1.War-making capacity of Ukrainian army;
2.Kyiv’s control over regions and local population supporting the government;
3.Level of international support to Kyiv and pressure on Moscow;
4. Internal political and economic situation in Russia.
1.4. Restraints of Russian special operation
Though Russians form the majority in the Crimea (58.5%), there are also considerable minorities – Ukrainians (24.4%) and Crimean Tatars (12.1%), – who are against Crimea joining the Russian Federation and may form an alliance against the Russians.
Nevertheless, it was the response of international community that restrained Russia from further escalating the Crimea conflict. Furthermore, the NATO-Russia military ratio in the Black Sea is evaluated to be 5 to 1.
Conflict in Crimea will also activate Muslim factor inside Russia and may cause new terrorist attacks there.
Aggression in Crimea also negatively affected the Russian stock market and currency rate, which significantly influenced the calculations of the Russian government. However, at the same time there can be little doubt that political expediency will be the only factor which will define any further Russian steps.
1.5. Information war: Russia vs Maidan
Over the last few months Russia has carried out full-scale informational campaign to discredit Maidan in the West and eastern regions of Ukraine.
Special attention is paid to depicting Ukrainian protesters as extremists. In particular, considerable efforts are aimed at discrediting Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Praviy Sektor.
Another element of the Russian campaign is aggressive speculations over the issues of language and the rights of ethnic minorities, namely Russians in the Crimea. Thus, Russia delivers a message that Maidan is a revolution of Ukrainian nationalists, aimed against ethnic minorities.
Due to this fact, informational coverage of events in Crimea looked like a demonstration of power, rather than a military operation. Messages from the Russian mass media about Russian soldiers taking control over military facilities and panic among the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine were not true. The press conference of Viktor Yanukovych, organized on February 28th, 2014 in Rostov-na-Donu, is perceived as a part of the information campaign in which the former Ukrainian president is just a tool of Russian influence.
We may assume that the aim of this information campaign is to determine the reaction of Ukrainian citizens to the Kremlin’s steps in order to define the level to which Moscow may raise the stakes at the negotiations or the potential scale of military intervention.
At present Putin leaves himself space for manoeuvring in Crimean situation. For instance, it was done through a statement that the Resolution of the Council of Federation, which allows Putin to use army on the territory of Ukraine, was adopted based on the information, which was not confirmed.
In turn, since December 2013 Maidan was losing the information war in the West. For a long time Russian positions were strengthened by Ukrainian official diplomacy.
At the same time, actions taken by the new Ukrainian government (in particular, the decision of the Council of National Security and Defence of Ukraine on ensuring security and territorial integrity of Ukraine dated March 2nd, 2014 and parliamentary Resolution “On Appeal of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to parliaments of the countries which are security guarantors of Ukraine and international organizations” dated March 2nd, 2014), strengthened positions of Ukraine in future negotiations with Russia.
2. Plan of action for Ukraine
The Crimean affair showed the institutional vulnerability of the Ukrainian state machine, its inability to take preventative measures in conflict situations. When the information on Russian actions in Crimea appeared in mass media, representatives of the new government were focused on the distribution of positions instead of ensuring control over regions.
Russian aggression made the Ukrainian government face reality and act under extraordinary circumstances. Ukraine’s new leadership took positive steps. However, it is still necessary to strengthen positions for negotiations, which would make Moscow start negotiations and would raise Ukraine’s stakes in the process.
What steps may be taken? First of all, an adequate response to the military threat is needed. For instance, a state of emergency may be announced in certain regions; the Minister of Defence may start the mobilization of the army and inventorying its resources with a public report to Commander-in-Chief on the readiness to fight against the aggressor. It is necessary to use the Security Service of Ukraine and army units to strengthen and protect the eastern borders of the country. The government should arrest people, responsible for the destabilization of situation and block the borders so that agent provocateurs would not be able to come from Russia.
Steps were made to launch a patriotic information campaign; yet more proactive work with the international mass media is needed.
More importantly, a national coalition of people’s trust should be formed. It may be achieved through the transformation of the government headed by Batkivschyna into a government of national unity which will include professionals representing various regions and parties. Controversial and weak personalities should be eliminated from the government.
Instead of being an object for geopolitical games, Ukraine should become their subject. The country needs its own plan for solving the conflict and competent negotiators.
Ukraine should offer Russia and the international community a new memorandum which would become a compromise and basis for long-lasting peace and stability in the region. This Memorandum should grant Russia and other countries, which do not aim at entering the EU, the prospect of integration in European area with freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people. Such an opportunity would guarantee political independence of Russia while providing it with access to European advantages.
The Memorandum may offer security guarantees to Russia – for instance, the consent of Ukraine not to integrate with NATO if Russia withdraws its fleet in 2017 and provides effective international guarantees for the borders of Ukraine.
This Memorandum may also cover other issues, including language and humanitarian ones, and in the future it may complement Helsinki documents and become a mechanism for reforms within OSCE.
There may be many ideas and concepts in negotiations with Russia and the international community, yet it is important for Ukrainian government to have the institutional capacity to elaborate them and conduct negotiations with partners. A key task today is to appoint a professional negotiator, who could communicate with Russia on a par and have trust both on the part of the EU and the Russian Federation.
Russian aggression has become the largest challenge for modern Ukraine. At the same time it has offered a unique chance to review current architecture of Europe in which Ukraine does not take its due place. We shall see whether the government will use this opportunity.
By implementing military aggression in Crimea, Russia makes steps “to force Ukraine to conduct negotiations” on the part of the international community and major geopolitical players. Moscow sent a clear signal to the world community that it would not allow them to define the rules on post-Soviet territory without taking into consideration its interests. Russia leaves space for negotiations, but it clearly defined the USA and West, not the Ukrainian government, as a party in these negotiations.
The most important task for Ukrainian diplomacy is to restore direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow, which is the only way to prevent the final loss of international legal standing. That is why it is extremely important to appoint a competent negotiator to represent Ukraine. Discredited individuals who have political or pragmatic interest to use the conflict for their own sake should not become such negotiators.
Russia will raise the stakes in negotiations with the West to distribute spheres of influence and with Ukrainian government to consider interests of Kremlin in its future politics. Moscow will advance to the point to which Kyiv would allow it through insufficient control over eastern regions and institutional weakness of the government. It is only through its own actions that Kyiv may define the limit to which Moscow will advance, solving its geopolitical, energy and economic interests in the region.
Ensuring a strong national position in negotiations is a key task for Ukraine. This position should be based on the highest level of war-making capacity of the army, its mobilization, control over all regions in the country, consensus of the elites over major state issues till the conflict is solved. Ukraine should propose a large-scale document to settle the conflict, which may become a basis for a long-lasting European order.
On Feb. 11, almost a decade after the failure of the Annan plan, the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, Nicos Anastasiades and Derviş Eroğlu, respectively, began a new round of talks aimed at reunifying the island after nearly 40 years of division. The previous attempt, which began in 2008, ran aground in May 2012.
The talks, which are being facilitated by the United Nations, aim for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. So what are the chances of success, given that all other attempts have unfortunately failed? There are a number of reasons that make me feel more optimistic.
The fact that the leaders of the two communities have signed a joint declaration/communiqué, representing a framework for the talks seems positive, despite it taking four months to achieve this. The communiqué underlines the single sovereignty and international identity of the future federal state — something the Greek Cypriots wanted — while also underlining political equality and strong residual powers for the constituent states, which is important for the Turkish Cypriots.
The fact that there will be so-called cross-talks with Ankara and Athens is also something new. The Turkish Cypriot negotiator will visit Athens while his Greek Cypriot counterpart will travel to Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras have been particularly active in pushing for this new round of talks. Turkey in particular remains a key element in coming to a successful conclusion, hence any steps that can help build trust between Turkey and Greek Cypriots and that could reduce the fear and suspicion that Greek Cypriots have toward Turkey should be welcomed. Furthermore, the fact that Anastasiades is seeking a light federal solution represents a significant change from the past, and could make an eventual deal more digestible.
Not everybody liked the communiqué. Anastasiades’ coalition partner, the Democratic Party (DIKO), labeled it a “bad deal.” Head of the party, Nicolas Papadopoulos accused Anastasiades of “caving in” to international pressure and threatened to withdraw from the government — DIKO has five ministers. However, Papadopoulos does not have the full support of DIKO. There is a 60-40 split, which may make it more difficult. More positively, opposition Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) has thrown its support behind Anastasiades, as has Archbishop Chrysostomos II, which is important.
The choice of the two chief negotiators should also help the process. Andreas Mavroyiannis is a diplomat with considerable international experience. Having had many conversations with Mr. Mavroyiannis during his time as ambassador at Cyprus’ Permanent Representation in Brussels, I know him to be deeply committed to finding a solution. His counterpart on the Turkish Cypriot side, Kudret Özersay, also has many years of experience. He is very proactive and has acted as chief negotiator previously. Building a good working relationship will be key.
Another positive point is that the US has had a more active part, playing a key role in ironing out the difficulties in having the declaration signed, with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland visiting Cyprus. The sudden increase in US involvement caught many by surprise as Washington has been quite passive on the issue over the last few years. It could indicate that they see genuine commitment from the two sides. There is also the fact that US energy corporation Nobel is involved in the Cypriot natural gas extraction projects, which would become much easier with a solution.
Still, we should not expect a quick result. A lot of work lies ahead. There are many thorny problems to work out such as property and territory, as well as the issue of settlers. They will need to dig deep to find sufficient political will. I also hope both sides will have learned from previous mistakes and make this an “inclusive” process that bring in all stakeholders — including media, business, civil society and, crucially, Cypriot society.
A solution would not only bring peace and stability to the Eastern Mediterranean, it would give a much needed boost to the economy of the island, facilitate the transport of both Cypriot and Israeli natural gas to Europe and unblock Turkey’s accession process with the EU to a considerable extent. But perhaps most importantly it will help bury years of distrust and acrimonious relations.
* This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, remains the most powerful and charismatic man in Turkish politics today. Yet, despite the many positive steps he has taken during his term in office, with his increasing retreat from the path of democracy and growing disregard for freedoms and the rule of law, Erdoğan may well have pressed the self-destruct button on his own legacy.
Erdoğan has led the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to three consecutive election wins. This is no mean feat. On Nov. 3, 2002, after years of shambolic coalition governments, the elections ushered in a major realignment of the Turkish political landscape.
The three consecutive wins may be attributed to two main things: successful policymaking, in particular not only revamping the economy which has gone from being on skid row to a success story in a world of austerity and economic downturn, but also addressing key issues that were previously taboo, such as the Kurdish issue and putting Turkey in the spotlight on the international stage. The second thing is weak opposition forces, meaning the AKP has faced no serious competition. Turkey’s opposition misses real leadership and real policies. Hence they have helped Erdoğan far more than they have helped themselves or their supporters.
However, too much power intoxicates, and during this third period of AKP rule, Erdoğan developed an increasingly “Jekyll and Hyde” character. One moment he portrays himself as a reformer and a democrat, talking about equality and values and freedoms for all. A short time later, he will burst into a fit of anger and rage about just about anything he does not agree with. He has developed a number of particular pet peeves, including Twitter, famously stating: “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” Because he has progressively become a “loose cannon,” this has made Turkey an increasingly unpredictable partner.
Erdoğan has also developed a tendency to explain his actions by linking them to morality — how it is necessary to take such steps for the good of the people, to protect their virtue. When trying to defend (but clearly failing) a new draconian Internet law, not only did Erdoğan claim the law advanced Turkish democracy, he went further, stating it protected society from the “porn lobby” and “parallel state.”
A quote from George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm” seems to describe Erdoğan’s view of life: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Nowadays he is unable to embrace Turkish society as a whole because it seems he has a problem accepting that not everyone is going to support his ideology. The gestures that he makes are generally aimed at shoring up his own support, rather than genuine tolerance and acceptance that there is another way of life in Turkey other than his.
Erdoğan and his colleagues always boast about creating a “new Turkey,” that the old Turkey was a “sick” country with low levels of democracy and respect for human rights, where torture existed with impunity and where freedom of expression was strangled. While there are no longer military coups today and the military’s role in the country has, quite rightly, been neutered, many things that were problematic in the “old Turkey” have resurfaced in the “new Turkey.” Yet this is not that surprising. Turkey is not a consolidated democracy.
Rather, democracy is a fragile work in progress, with the modernization and democratization of Turkey being a long-term project. Turkey has never had an independent judiciary or fully functioning rule of law. Freedom of expression was problematic in the old Turkey and it still is. While Erdoğan may have started off taking steps to advance democracy, he is now going in the opposite direction, including trying to cover up corruption allegations and meddling with the judicial system. Yet for his core base, no matter what he does, it seems they will stick with him. It’s the “floaters” that Erdoğan needs to be concerned about. And it may be these floaters that could determine the outcome of the March local elections that will decide his political weight in the country.
*This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman
As the saying goes, “you reap what you sow” and Ukraine’s President seems set to face the consequence of the seeds of anger, resentment and disgust that he has sewn in Ukraine. Despite having spent the last few years eroding democracy, consolidating power and pilfering the country’s wealth, it was ultimately the fact that he misled the nation into believing he was committed to European integration that became the issue that broke the camel’s back. Peaceful protests against his geopolitical U-turn, led to the security forces killing, beating, jailing and torturing. Ukraine has changed forever. It is now a country with Martyrs – brave souls that have lost their lives in the fight for freedom.
One way or another Yanukovych‘s days as President of this great nation seem to be numbered. The question is how and when? Of course Yanukovych does not want to accept this fact. Yanukovych will never voluntarily relinquish power. He will try every maneuver and trick in the book to hold on to it, but the clock is ticking. The people in the streets are getting increasingly impatient as Yanukovych and his inner circle play games, stalling for time. Ukraine is literally teetering on edge of a cliff. As the political crisis deepens, Ukraine’s economic situation becomes more perilous with the chances of default on its debts steadily rising. In fact this could even happen as early as the next couple of weeks. This week the exchange rate of the Ukrainian Hryvnia dropped 17%!
There seem to be two main options on the table. First, accepting the EU-US financial aid package which is rumored to be more than $30 billion. EU foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton discussed this with Yanukovych today (Wednesday 4th). While this money will not hinge on Kyiv first agreeing upon a long-term International Monetary Fund agreement, whose financial conditions, Kyiv would find almost impossible to meet, it will come with a long list of other conditions which, despite the massive sum, make it a bitter pill for Yanukovych to swallow. Economic and Political reforms are key including urgently amending the Constitution in order to allow it to return to the 2004 model which would drain Yanukovych‘s powers. While this reform is crucial in order to bring the power back to the government/parliament, at the same time let’s not forget the ugly situation this constitutional arrangement created during the reign of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko. Despite the government having the right to take decisions, the President was still able to veto them. Hence it is necessary to have much deeper constitutional reform and it seems this would take longer to bring into place.
Only a comprehensive package, that can deliver what the EuroMaidan protestors have been asking, will bring an end to the crisis and protests, return the country to political stability and ease the dire economic situation. Elections, either next year – or earlier – would oust Yanukovych, although again crucial reforms to the electoral law would need to be pushed through beforehand. So far Yanukovych has shown no sign of being ready to make serious compromises. Over the last days his negative rhetoric has increased as the PoR has played a show in the Rada, bickering and trading insults with the opposition. Of course, if a shift was to take place in Parliament the picture could also change. If the some 60 Party of Regions members which are under the influence of two of Ukrainians major oligarchs, Renat Ahmetov and Dmitrii Firtash, who have recently shown an unwillingness to be hostages in the President’s game, or other non-aligned members move to join the opposition forces, this would change the picture and Yanukovych would have his hands tied. However, given that last week Yanukovych personally blocked such a move when he showed up at the Parliament and threatened MPs, such a shift not guaranteed.
The second option is to try and squeeze a new deal out of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, when Yanukovych meets him in Sochi at the end of this week. In effect he will be asking Russia to outbid the West. While Russia clearly wants to keep Ukraine at its side how far Putin is willing to go with this dead duck remain is questionable. Yanukovych will try to convince Putin that he can hold things together (with Russian assistance); can put together a strong pro-Russian government including possibly making Andrii Kluyev, who is allegedly a man of the Kremlin, Prime Minister, and possibly take further aggressive steps to clear out EuroMaidan, in order he can remain as President and avoid making the constitutional amendments. However, it also clear that Yanukovych has dug himself into a deep hole which is almost impossible to climb out of; he is not in control of the country and his own party of regions is rupturing. Hence Yanukovych is far from a good bet.
Moreover while Yanukovych may believe that he can still oppress the people in the streets, or that they will simply become tired of this battle and go home this would seem rather unlikely. Rejecting an EU deal, while pushing for a Russian one will only add fuel to this fire. This would be a serious gamble and probably one he will lose because all the signs are that Ukrainians are ready to fight to the end although that end could be very ugly indeed, including the breakup of the country, with an outflow of refugees to the EU. Some hot heads in Ukraine’s eastern regions such as Party of Region members, Oleg Tsariov and Vadim Kolesnichenko as well as the regional authorities in Kharkiv and Crimea, have already called for Russian engagement, which would allow Moscow to repeat what it did in 2008 in Georgia. Such a scenario would represent a serious challenge to the international community (as well as to Moscow), which is almost certainly not preparing to face such a reality. Only Poland seems to have made contingency plans to that end.
If Yanukovych continues to stall, thereby deepening the crisis, the EU needs to take tougher measures otherwise it risks losing all credibility, not to mention contradicting the principles on which the EU was founded – to bring stability and security to the European continent. As Member of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, recommended, the EU needs to be ready with a “loaded gun”: the freezing of assets of key political elites and oligarchs who have significant financial assets in a number of member states, targeted sanctions, as well as travel bans. While there is presently a division between member states on the topic sanctions, this needs to be overcome with the EU putting together a decisive, robust and credible strategy.
Furthermore, whichever new government eventually comes into power, Yanukovych‘s legacy is set to shadow them, irrelevant on when or how is leaves office. His successors will inherit a very muffled and difficult situation which will test them from the moment they come arrive in office. A new government seems set to pick up the Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU. However, unless we want to return to square one with Moscow, in terms of the punitive measures Russia has taken against Ukraine – and are still doing to today – , it is imperative that the EU engages with Moscow in parallel talks in order to find an amicable way out which satisfies Ukraine’s European integration aspirations, including deep trade, but at the same time is able to pacify Moscow over its cited economic concerns.
There are also many other questions that need to be addressed. Do the opposition forces have any real strategy for the future, including how they will deal with Russia, including paying back the debt, because they simply cannot ignore their big neighbour? What could be the consequences when Yulia Tymoshenko is released from prison? How will she fit into the picture? And probably most important do they have the political will and conviction to do what virtually all other Ukrainian political elites have failed to do until now: namely put the country, society and Ukraine’s modernization and democratization before their own interests? – Слава Україні!
Freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by a despotic government. Indeed media freedom levels are a good test of the democratic health of a nation.
Turkey is in very poor health, with the government continuing to muzzle free media. The latest effort is related to the Internet. If proposed amendments to the Internet law, which are expected to go to Parliament this week, are adopted, it would further restrict free expression. The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will be given the right to request and collect data on any Internet user without judicial oversight.
Is it acceptable that the government empowers the TİB to censor electronic media outlets as well as the personal blogs of parliamentarians, while claiming all the while to be abiding with the principles of democratic governance? In fact the authorities have already been meddling. Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) member Umut Oran published a parliamentary inquiry (as he always does) on his website on bribery and fraud allegations regarding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family. He received a message from the TİB that his website would be shut down if he did not remove the content. A year ago, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Turkey’s existing Internet law already contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and freedom of expression.
Winston Churchill once said, “I am always in favor of the free press but sometimes they say quite nasty things.” Regrettably, Erdoğan does not think along the same lines as his government has taken more and more steps to muzzle what they perceive as “nasty press.” While initially there was a tweak here and there, more recently it is being done in a more blatant manner.
Self-censorship has become more common as more journalists are hounded for criticizing the government. The government has also been taking control of or co-opting numerous media outlets. Thereby more and more newspapers that were once rather critical of the government have become more or less government mouthpieces. The fact that a large number of Turkish newspapers are in the hands of industrial bigwigs who have very extensive interests has led to widespread self-censorship by these media owners. It was particularly noticeable that much of the mainstream media did not widely report on the June 2013 Gezi Park protests. Several journalists and columnists were fired as a consequence of their reporting.
The most recent wave is a consequence of a corruption scandal that has plagued the government since Dec. 17. Some 100 journalists have lost their jobs, either being made redundant or resigning after being harassed.
Sentencing journalists to life imprisonment is also common. In November of 2013, Füsun Erdoğan, Ziya Ulusoy, Bayram Namaz, Ibrahim Cicek and Sedat Şenoğlu were accused of being members of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), which is banned under Turkish anti-terrorism laws. All were given life sentences, with the exception of Şenoğlu, who received just over seven years. The anti-terrorism law has been systematically used to silence critical voices. Along with the terrorism law, it allows for the arrest, detention and sentencing of journalists on terrorism charges for doing their work.
Another case is that of Muharrem Erbrey, a writer, lawyer and human rights activist from Diyarbakır who has been in pre-trial detention since 2009. He is accused of attempting to humiliate the Turkish state in speeches given in the Swedish, Belgian and UK parliaments, of being Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir’s lawyer, of attempting to humiliate Turkish security forces — the list goes on. His detainment has been heavily criticized by Amnesty International and other international organizations
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey is now the world-leading jailer of journalists, with some 40 (many of them Kurdish) in prison as of December 2013, with others facing very long pre-trial detentions. Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index ranks Turkey 154th out of 178. A further report, released earlier this week by Freedom House, accuses Turkey of a “frantic crackdown” on the media. Yet, according to government officials, not a single one of those in prison is being detained or tried for something they have written.
While the international community has criticized Ankara, it has had little impact. More needs to be done to stop this ugly trend.
This Article was first published in Todays Zaman