Ankara Assassination Puts Erdogan at Putin’s Feet

The assassination in Ankara should come as no surprise amid the security chaos of Recep Erdogan's Turkey and the internal conflicts he has sown. In my last blog, I pointed out how Erdogan himself has stoked the confusion with his U-turns and mixed signals. First Israel is the great enemy, now the indispensable ally. Then Moscow gets the same treatment. Currently, it's NATO's turn in the sin bin, for allegedly abetting the failed coup in July. On the domestic front, the cleric Fethullah Gulen's profile went from silent partner to all-purpose terror master. Military officers and police brass and intelligence personnel can't tell who's friend or foe from one day to the next. No wonder, then, that all manner of armed individuals and groups with affiliations to various dark currents now coursing through Turkey appear to operate unimpeded.

Erdogan enabled such groups in the first place and then removed institutional state resistance to their operations. He allowed neo-Ottomanist militias to spring up ready to martyr themselves for the great leader, a phenomenon akin to Chavez's Bolivarian Circles in Venezuela. He let jihadis pass through unmonitored while allowing three million Syrian refugees to settle without adequate filtration process. Earlier this year, in the city of Gaziantep near the Syria border, I interviewed anti-Assad/anti-ISIS journalist exiles who published daily news from Aleppo and elsewhere. They were being assassinated one by one—in Turkey. They received constant threats from ISIS which they reported to the Turkish police. The police simply told them to go home and forget the matter. Then they were killed in broad daylight and the killers casually walked away, and were never apprehended. Usually ISIS got blamed but in a shadowy environment of blurry rootless goings-on false flag operations abounded.

Now with this latest outrage in the country's capital Erdogan finds himself trapped in his own machinations at the mercy of far cannier, deadlier, allies than his Western ones. He may not see it that way, or not yet at least. He is likely to think that such crises will only advance his campaign to shift state power from Parliament to his hands as President—the greater the chaos, the greater the yearning for strongman rule. But, once there, he will find himself in hock to outside powers for upholding his rule much as the last Sultan Abdulhamid did during the years of Turkey as “sick man of Europe”. When you reawaken archaic forces such as religion and empire you're likely to soon find yourself returned to the old dialectic where geography and history equal destiny. Erdogan is spurning the West only to find himself in Moscow's bear embrace.

Consider Erdogan's predicament. The Kremlin will want a very substantial act of contrition. And a substantial sop-to-cerberus offer. What can Erdogan offer the Kremlin's thugs that they haven't already achieved? They have Syria and Aleppo. They have humiliated and marginalized Erdogan by stripping him of any claim that he leads the region's Sunnis. Erdogan has already been forced to publicly renege on his former enmity with Putin. Erdogan has pushed NATO aside and dispatched envoys to Moscow to discuss Syria's future with Iran and Assad's men at the table. At this point, he will have to ask them what he can offer. Think about that. Because that's a glimpse of his future. Putin is nothing if not a grand strategist. He has Erdogan where he wants him and is not about to change course over the hiccup in Ankara. He will help Erdogan amass power provided said power operates at Putin's disposal. Putin will even permit him to drown the country in ever-more-suffocating Islamic restrictions—just as the Czars did with vassal Muslim rulers in Central Asia. It kept the region tightly controlled and vertically aligned to Moscow. For a contemporary model, look no further than Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov.

Observers on social media have already started asking if this assassination might compare to Archduke Ferdinand's as a trigger to global conflict. The answer is no—because the West won't turn up for the fight. Obama never had the stomach for it, and Trump is no counterweight to Putin. The real Archduke Ferdinand moment might come if ever Erdogan himself is assassinated. Turkey leaderless and without stabilizing institutions caught in a tug-of-war between east and west, north and south, might indeed spark an all-in struggle. The fear of that is exactly what Erdogan is banking on to keep him in power.

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