West is appeasing Erdoğan just like Putin – Cengiz Aktar

Western powers are making the mistake of appeasing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan just as they have appeased another strongman, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Cengiz Atar, a professor of political science at the University of Athens.

Erdoğan is blocking the expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden, who are requesting to join the security block at a key moment in Western efforts to deal with Russia and its invasion of Ukraine. The Turkish leader says that the two countries are not protecting his country’s security by either harbouring Kurdish terrorists or supporting them.

“Western powers once again make excuses for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, understanding Turkey’s mysterious “legitimate security concerns,” which often equates to a license to kill,” Aktar said in an article for Politico on Monday. “But by appeasing him for the sake of “keeping” the country within NATO, they miss the point that the Turkish leader is not so different from Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that once again, a policy of appeasement simply won’t work.”

Turkey has continued to play Russia and the West against each other during the war in Ukraine, delivering armed drones to Ukraine ordered before the conflict while refusing to impose sanctions on Russia and opposing NATO’s expansion, Aktar said. At the same time it has sought to raise its international profile by arranging peace talks to help end the war.

“But as pointless offers to broker peace by Turkey’s president have “convinced” the West of Ankara’s “strategic value,” Erdoğan -- “the dictator we need,” to quote Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi -- is back on the global stage once more,” Aktar said. “Even United States President Joe Biden’s administration has started lobbying lawmakers to agree to the delivery of fighter jets to Ankara.”

Erdoğan is asking the United States to approve the purchase of the latest version of the F-16 fighter jet and modernisation kits for its existing fleet after Washington threw his country out of a programme to purchase F-35 stealth fighters for acquiring Russian air defence missiles. Biden’s administration has told Congress that the purchase is in U.S. and NATO interests.

“The similarities between Russia and Turkey today, as well as the strongmen who have shaped them, draw an obvious and ominous parallel that should be noted by Western leaders,” Aktar said. He pointed to Erdoğan and Putin’s disregard for the rule of law, development of oligarchs and undemocratic policies that render elections neither free nor fair.   

“In both Russia and Turkey, the opposition -- or what remains of it -- is systematically hounded and repressed, its leaders attacked or jailed, as in the cases of Alexei Navalny and Selahattin Demirtaş. And there still exist large crowds who recklessly support “their” regimes,” he said.

“In Europe, Germany has played a central role in appeasing these dictators over the years. And while the country’s elite has started some timid soul-searching about its policy toward Russia in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion, it remains wedded to appeasement and engagement with Turkey.” 

The EU has followed an appeasement policy since 2015 initiated and led by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Aktar said.

“And Ankara’s pro-EU utterances, its empty rhetoric on reforms and tactical retreats from confrontation are systematically taken for granted by the pro-Ankara axis,” he said.

“This cynical agenda is driven by the fear of losing “NATO partner Turkey” to Russia. In addition, Europeans have been avoiding jeopardising their economic interests in Turkey and are fearful of placing their refugee deal with Ankara at risk,” Aktar said.

“The more the EU and the West appease, the more brazen and entrenched Erdoğan becomes, and the more insolent and dangerous he is for others. Exactly like Putin.”

The rules of war employed by Putin and Erdoğan are also very similar, Aktar said.

“Both armies outdo others’ war crimes against civilians. Putin targets Ukrainian grain warehouses; Erdoğan steals the olive oil of Syrian Kurds; and both have cut water supplies,” he said. “Forced relocation and ethnic cleansing have been common practice in both countries. In Turkish-occupied northern Syria, the Kurdish language is banned in official institutions and schools and replaced by Turkish, much like in occupied Ukrainian land, where Russian has ousted the Ukrainian and Turkish Tatar languages.”

But the West is continuing to indulge in its illusions about Turkey despite the stark similarities to Putin’s Russia, according to Aktar.

“Appeasers fail to understand that Western standards, values and principles are obstacles to the functioning of these regimes,” he said. “Thus, they cannot be engaged through values and rules-based approaches but need to be treated as what they are — security threats.”

(A full version of the article can be found here.)

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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