What can we expect next from Turkey? Although, elements of the coup are still holding out in Ankara, the coup leadership has allegedly fled Turkey by helicopter to Greece and asked for asylum. All indications now are that Erdogan will remain in power and the coup failed. This is bad news for Turkey and the rest of the world.
The immediate aftermath is clear. Erdogan’s security forces are now busy arresting a massive number of military personnel that are believed to have supported the coup. Once complete, this will consolidate Erdogan’s power over the military, which is has already deeply purged. Further, the failure of the coup due to “popular support” will only increase his power, which will accelerate Turkey’s descent into a Islamic State. In short, the idea of a secular Turkey died last night with the failed coup.
Geopolitically a non-secular Turkey will not integrate into Europe and will instead become a nation that threatens Europe’s security and stability. The refugee crisis will only be worsen as Turkey becomes even more resolute in flooding Europe with refugees. This will cause a rapid deterioration of relations with the EU. The infighting over the refugees will also hasten the breakup of the EU and the rise of populist sentiments in core EU nations. The future feasibility of maintaining US bases in Turkey will also be called into question. US military personnel, equipment, and strategic weapons all could be jeopardized if Turkey takes a radical turn or populist Islamic sentiment sweeps the nation. Turkey’s inclusion in NATO will also become a question worth revisiting. At this time, the US has quite a lot of invested strategic interests in Turkey as a military partner, but Erdogan’s post coup actions may lead to a time where the costs of maintaining it in NATO significantly outweigh its benefits.
What I fear the most is now that Erdogan has survived this coup, he will reassert his power through military operations. Turkey will oppress the Kurdish minority even more brutally and is guaranteed to intervene more extensively in Syria. On the Kurdish front, the brutality will breed more conflict. As the Kurds consolidate Northern Iraq and parts of Syria into a greater Kurdistan, they will become more powerful. Turkey sees this as an existential threat and will take military action against it. This means more instability and bloodshed across the region, which will put the US in a tough spot of supporting the Kurds against ISIS/ISIL using air bases in Turkey while our “ally” Turkey is fighting the Kurds. I warned of this years in advance, but the US government didn’t have the foresight to head off the problem when it was still an option (See: http://www.lastminutesurvival.com/2013/08/27/al-qaeda-rebels-in-syria-begin-killing-kurds/).
Erdogan’s consolidation of power is great news for the Islamic State and associated radical Islamist groups like Al Nusra currently fighting the government forces of Syrian President Assad. ISIS/ISIL has greatly benefited from Turkey’s purchase of their black market oil and covert support. This means that the bloodshed and suffering will continue in Syria and Iraq much longer than was necessary. If Erdogan was removed, this financial and military support would have likely diminished or stopped. Erdogan’s retention of power is no doubt bad news for Syria and Iraq and anyone else actually serious about trying to destroy ISIS/ISIL’s young terrorist state.
Putin was certainly laughing last night as Russia may have had a covert hand in the failed coup, which many are saying had long odds of success from the start. If true, it was a brilliant last ditch effort to avert future major conflict with Turkey over Syria by removing Erdogan. It also sent a message that if Turkey wants to try to overthrow nations, other nations can play the same game in Turkey. Even though it failed, it is important to point out it was still beneficial for Russia. Russia can be sure Erdogan will take Turkey further away from a secular state. This forces Turkey away from the European sphere and complicates its NATO relationship. Further, it makes it even less likely the rest of the European “community” will ever raise armies to fight along side Turkey if it manages to pick a fight with Russia. This weakens Erdogan’s position in Syria and makes it more likely he will have to concede to Russian policy goals. All of this is a positive geopolitical outcome from Putin’s perspective.
Unfortunately, the coup still failed. If it had succeeded, Russia would also have gotten the double benefit of removing one of the primary sources resisting its policy in Syria and would have made it easier to defeat ISIS/ISIL in Syria. Instead, the status quo situation remains where Russia and Turkey are destined to clash again over Syria. I have repeatedly warned that the inevitable clash could rapidly escalate into a full scale war between Russia and Turkey before the phones even ring in Washington. The condensed timeline makes strategic deescalation difficult to impossible once the first salvo is fired. However, my guess is that Russia isn’t done exhausting asymmetric approaches to countering Turkey to avert a major state on state war. I outlined some of Russia’s options in the following article from 2015 where coincidentally, I alluded to creating the conditions in Turkey like Turkey created in Syria in its attempt to force Assad from power (See: http://www.lastminutesurvival.com/2015/12/06/while-we-were-distracted-wwiii-draws-closer-thanks-to-turkey-some-advice-for-russia/). If correct, then Russia’s hope now to avoid a major war with Turkey over Syria is to continue political dialogue while it covertly pressures Turkey using Kurdish proxies to destabilize it. Either way, peace and stability are sadly not in the future cards.
By Guiles Hendrik
July 16, 2016