Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brinkmanship over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO has put Turkey back at the top of the news. I provided some background, including a scoop on Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s bullying of his Swedish counterpart Anna Linde over her support for the US-backed Syrian Kurdish group which Turkey labels terrorist during a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.
The latest dustup is part of a pattern of Turkey seeking to extract maximum concessions in exchange for “favors” for the West. In this case Turkey says it will not wield its veto power within the alliance if Sweden, in particular, stops supporting the Syrian Kurds and extradites various Turkish nationals Turkey says are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Fethullah Gulen movement. There are suggestions this is a cry for attention from Erdogan who wants President Joe Biden to give him a call and massage his ego. But if anything, Turkish obduracy is frittering away any credit Ankara clocked up in the early days of the Ukraine crisis.
None of this has stopped Turkey from continuing its salvos against Sweden, leaving many guessing just how far Turkey is going to push this line.
Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, took a further swipe at Linde after she reminded Ankara that Sweden was among the first countries to designate the PKK a terrorist organization and continues to do so.
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal was in Washington for talks with administration officials ahead of Cavusoglu’s meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York on Wednesday. Turkey’s relations with Washington aren’t in great shape either over the latter’s support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Onal’s meeting with Colin Kahl, undersecretary for defense policy at the Pentagon, was something of a cold shower I heard. Kahl told him and Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Murat Mercan, that US forces would continue to support the SDF. Onal failed to get a meeting with the NSC and Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, was laid up with Covid-19.
The readout of Cavusoglu’s meeting with Blinken with its bland niceties made it clear that nothing much has changed.
Turkey’s hissy fit over Sweden will have only stiffened Congress’ resolve to continue to block the sale of F-16 components and aircraft that the State Department said should be authorized.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish Peace Institute, a brand new think tank opened its doors in Washington this week. I interviewed its director, Giran Ozcan, who has never made any secret of his admiration for Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. He believes that Ocalan alone can bring an end to the PKK 38 year-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state.
That view was shared by Erdogan — for a while — when he ordered his government to speak directly with Ocalan, leading to a surge in Kurdish support for his ruling Justice and Development Party. There are fresh rumors that Erdogan is going to launch a new charm offensive in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast region ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections that are due to be held by June 2023. It’s unclear how he can pull that off while continuing to rain bombs on the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and to criminalize the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.