by Anatoly Karlin
July 16, 2016
ANATOMY OF A COUP
The initial regime response was to blame the [followers of exiled imam/politician Fetullah Gulen] Gulenists, but it is clear now that it is in fact a [founding father Kemal Ataturk] Kemalist faction within the military (their branding of themselves as a "peace at home council" is a direct allusion to Kemal Ataturkís foreign policy).
A key question going forwards is to what extent the military is united against Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, or whether it is just the officer ranks taking the lead (in which case rumors of Erdoganís demise might be "highly exaggerated"). That the head of the General Staff, instead of making statements as the coup leader, has instead been detained, suggests that the second interpretation is closer to the mark.
However, itís well known that Erdogan had replaced the upper ranks of the General Staff with his own loyalists. The question then becomes to what extent the changes percolated down the ranks.
It appears they havenít - not enough, at any rate, to avert the seventh Turkish military coup since 1913. At 3 a.m. EST, Ankara and Istanbul are apparently under military control, as are most of the airports and state television channels.
The military has surrounded government buildings across Turkey, including the Parliament and the Presidential Palace, in what currently appears to be an extremely well-executed coup that could not have been carried out if the military had truly been significantly divided.
The F-16s seen in the air indicate that the Air Force supports the Army. Erdogan has been reduced to calling on social media for people to go out into the streets, even though the AKP ruling party itself had ironically repeatedly banned both social media and street protests in the past.
Even as he calls for these supporters to go out into the streets, the latest rumors have Erdogan asking for asylum in Berlin and/or London (there are jokes on Runet that he could soon be the Professorís (deposed Ukrainian President Victor Yukhanov) new neighbor in the Russiab political prison Rostov).
The next key question, then, is what will be the response of the other actors in Turkish society and abroad: The people, military units stationed outside Istanbul/Ankara, the Kurds, and the "international community" (aka the US and its allies).
Despite the well-publicized problems of its tourist sector, as the Russians boycotted Turkish beaches after the Su-24 shootdown and Europeans increasingly stayed away out of terrorism fears, the wider Turkish economy has not been doing at all badly - growth was 4% in 2015, rising to 4.8% in Q1 2016.
In contrast, the last coup in 1980 had been preceded by one of the worst crises in Turkish economic history, featuring a multi-year recession and digit inflation. Erdoganís approval rating in 2015, at 39%, was still quite respectable, even if significantly down from 62% in 2013.
It was also higher than Yanukovychís 28% approval rating on the eve of his uster. It is reasonable to expect a large level of popular opposition to this - though given the overt violence and military curfews, we might not see the sort of mass marches in support of Erdogan that helped return Charles de Gaulle to power after the insurrections of 1968 (who had in the meantime fled to a French military base in Germany in a curious parallel to Erdoganís rumored asylum request).
Although a low-intensity civil war against the pro-Kurdish PKK has reignited under Erdogan, so far as official politics are concerned, the Kurds remain supportive of Erdogan. He, at least, stresses a more inclusive Islamic "many-national" identity for Turkish citizens (much like official Putinism with regards to Russian minorities) as opposed to the more overtly Turkish civic nationalist Kemalists who oppose him.
Finally, Turkey is a member of NATO, and friends look out for each other. Obama has already stated that all parties in Turkey should "support the democratically elected government of Turkey," a sentiment that was conspicuously lacking during the takeover of Eastern Ukraine, even though Yanukovych was just as democratically elected as Erdogan and not any more corrupt. But unlike the Turkish strongman, he imprisoned zero journalists to Erdoganís dozens, wasnít anywhere near as violent at breaking up protests, and hasnít had family members implicated in buying oil from ISIS.
But US double standards as to which regimes deserve color revolutions and which do not are hardly breaking news. but a long-time, well-known and banal reality. And it matters as well. In the event that the coup ends up succeeding, with Turkeyís financial indicators now cliff-diving, the position of the military junta will be precaurious and isolated, which might well lead it to strongly reaffirm its loyalty to its Western allies and supranational institutions.
Which probably means that, understandable as it might be for Russia to celebrate, doing so might be premature. The obvious reason is that the success of the coup is not yet a done deal (indeed, even as I write this, omentum seems to have shifted again as compared with several paragraphs previously).
But another reason is that a Kemalist military junta will not necessarily be any better for Russia (and Syria, and quite ssibly, worse.
Up until the Syrian Civil War, there was a lot of triumphalist fanfare over strengthening ties between Turkey and Russia, expressed in Russian tourism to the beaches of Antalya, burgeoning gas projects, and nuclear power plant construction.
These sentiments completely reversed after the Turks shot down a Su-24 for crossing into its borders for a few seconds.
In recent weeks, however, it appears the Turkish and Russian leadership agreed to bury their differences, with Erdogan sending his apology(-but-not-really) letter to Putin, and Russia lifting the ban on charter holidays to Turkey. And as if on cue, Kremlin propagandists have gone from a "remove kebab" mode to hailing yet another victory of Putin and waxing lyrical about the prospects for renewed cooperation.
Observed on a longer timescale, relations between Putinís Russia and Erdoganís Turkey have been characterized by pragmatism, considering the absurdly large scope - regardless of which particular faction rules either country.
Consider the following contested spheres of influence:
Indeed, it is rather curious that this "Khaki Revolution" has come at the precise time when we are seeing a sort of "Erdosliv," or the apparent surrender of Turkeyís Neo-Ottoman and Turanian pretensions in Syria (the Turkish equivalent of Putinsliv, the much prophesied but as yet unrealized Russian betrayal of the Ukeaine), which took the form of the restoration of ties with Russia, followed by making up with Israel and amazingly, Syria itself in recent days.
Now, if Erdogan was to be replaced by a military junta, the new regime will find itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not much is known about the motivations of the coup plotters, but let us play a thought experiment.
An easy way of (re)gaining favor with the West, as well as appeasing hostile sentiment within Turkey itself, would be, ironically, to reverse that very same Erdosliv, bearing in mind that the Turkish State Department hawks themselves have been in no rush to normalize relations with Syria's President Assad.
In the short term, this might involve reopening munitions supplies to the rebels in Aleppo and Idlib, making the planned Syrian AA offensive against them untenable.
Once Hillary Clinton and her R2P/humanitarian bombing clique comes to power, even more daring - and perhaps outright apocalyptic - provocations might ensue against Russian forces in Syria.
Or maybe - even probably - not.
Even so, this particular conjunction between Turkish foreign policy developments and the coup against Erdogan is probably not a complete coincidence.
And while it is tempting to celebrate unreservedly the troubles of a man who has become close to universally disliked outside Turkey - for his human rights abuses by liberals, his support of ISIS by conservatives, the downing of the Su-24 by Russians, his support for Islamists among Syrians - it is worth looking closely at to what the alternatives to him would entail.
Ultimately, there is a reason that the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire fought a war pretty much every other decade. Exchanging Sultans and Tsars for Presidents is probably not going to alter the underlying geopolitical faultlines. Now to be sure, Turkeyís Neo-Ottoman stance after Erdogan gave up on FM Ahmet Davutogluís "zero problems with neighbors" policy did lead to competition with Russia along many fronts. But if Turkey was to change in a more Eurasian direction, unlikely as the prospect might be, tensions might diminish over the Balkans (more centered around religion) but also might instead intensify over Azerbaijan and Central Asia (more centered around ethno-cultural identity).
And if Turkey were to become more explicitly tied to Washington and NATO, especially under a Clinton Presidency, then that might be the worst outcome of them all for Russia, for Syria, and for world
After all, even a hostile but independent Turkey can be played off against a hostile West, whereas a "nationalist" Turkey in thrall to the neocon globalist agenda might end up turning out to be but a copy, if a more powerful one, of Maidanist (Eastern) Ukraine to the north.
Six hours now (6 a.m. EST) after the coup began, it looks like the coup has failed.
The critical moment appears to have been the failure to arrest President Erdogan and other senior members of the government from the outset (though since many of the coup plotters were officers, not generals, they presumably just didnít have the necessary high level acce).
They did apparently bomb his hotel, but by that time he had already left. And, as I suspected, Erdoganís not insubstantial popularity played its role as well, with crowds coming out to protect him with their bodies, while the conscripts doing the grunt work of the coup were unwilling to get too bloody.
I suspect that Erdogan will now simply be too consumed with domestic factors to pay much heed to foreign policy in the months ahead. This is probably good.
Anatoly Karlin is a Russian blogger