Erdogan’s Forgiveness Game

Donald Trump had said that even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue at noon, nothing would happen to him. And as it turned out, he was right. The same – and worse – applies to Turkey. Whatever acts of betrayal Ankara does to the detriment of the West, the time comes when it will wade through the Pool of Siloam, be washed clean, and be declared a valuable – temporarily – ally again. In a sequel to the role that it played as the ‘evasive neutral’ actor in World War II, Turkey is once again trying to be on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. Instead of being condemned for its stance, Turkey is being heartily welcomed as a mediator between the two sides. It seems that the world is moving towards forgiving Turkey for its past transgressions and it is becoming more apparent daily.

At first, various criticisms that were leveled at Ankara until recently just stopped. While everyone condemns the censorship imposed by Putin, the misinformation, and the threat of extermination of those who disagree with him – and rightly so – the more than 100,000 opponents of the Erdogan regime and the thousands of journalists rotting in prisons have been forgotten.

Still, Western countries’ support for Ukraine is based on the solid legal and moral argument that Russia has invaded an independent, sovereign, UN member state. However, they conceal the fact that Turkey did exactly the same in Cyprus.

Secondly, there are many praiseworthy reports in the print and the online press about Turkey’s contribution to the defense of Ukraine, especially about the drones it sold to Ukraine – which are proving to be effective on the battlefield. And they also find various excuses to explain Turkey’s relationship with Russia. Only the excuses that are invoked – that Turkey has important economic ties to Russia – are such that any country can claim them, including of course Greece, which by adhering to the sanctions on Russia, is hurting its own economy. But Athens is not playing a double game to protect itself.

The Wall Street Journal, a newspaper that until recently strongly criticized Erdogan, has played a key role in the operation to restore Erdogan’s image in American public opinion and to restore U.S.-Turkish relations. Indicatively, I mention a recent article from Constantinople Istanbul, which starts as follows:

“Russia’s war on Ukraine has Turkish leaders engaged in a balancing act, weighing a desire to help Kyiv defend itself while still maintaining enough commercial ties with Moscow to keep Turkey’s own struggling economy afloat.”
The writer continues: “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has supplied Ukraine with armed drones that have played a role in blunting Russia’s offensive. Turkey has also said it blocked some Russian warships from passing through the Bosporus into the Black Sea… Turkey has supplied drones to Ukraine but President Erdogan is holding back from sanctions on Russia as he eyes elections next year.”

And in an opinion article in the same newspaper – its author is the director of the Intelligence Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affair and was a Central Intelligence Agency operations officer for 25 years – suggested that Turkey give the S-400 missile system it purchased from Russia to Ukraine. He says, “delivering Turkish S-400s to Ukraine would help Ukraine, NATO, the U.S, and Turkey and would harm only Russia. Using Russian-made S-400s, sold to Turkey with the goal of dividing NATO, to shoot down Russian jets bombing Ukrainian cities would be poetic justice.”

“This would be,” he continues, “a way to solve the dispute between Washington and Ankara and do poetic justice in the process.”

We all understand that the West is fighting to stop Putin and avoid a third – and last – World War, and therefore will forgive some of Erdogan’s dishonorable behavior. The big question is how far the West’s accommodation of Turkey will go, and what conclusions Erdogan will draw from it.


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