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Turkey detains former navy commanders, what’s Erdogan’s plan exactly?

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Treaties and conventions are like ground rules that ensure fair play. But if you’re a rogue leader like Turkish President Erdogan, then treaties are nothing but chains. They dent your global ambitions.

Last month Erdogan abandoned a treaty on gender violence. Apparently, women’s safety is a distraction in power plays. But he isn’t done yet.

Erdogan is planning to violate another treaty. This one was signed in 1936 during the world war. Under this agreement the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits were given to Turkey.

Turkey had control. But with a caveat. Only civilian ships would sail through these waters. The Bosporus would not be militarised. That was the rule.

But rules have seldom stopped Erdogan. He has devised a workaround. Since he can’t militarise the Bosporus, he is planning to create a completely new waterway.

In effect a second Bosporus. It is expected to be a 45 kilometer long canal to the west of the natural route.

But why is Erdogan building it? The canal is one of the president’s grand projects. A re-imagination of 21st century Turkey.

It has already bankrupted the economy. And made a laughing stock of the national currency the Lira. But the president will do anything for a return to the glory days.

Turkish officials say the new canal will reduce traffic on the Bosporus. They also say that the old convention will not apply. But Turkey’s battle-hardened veterans disagree.

104 former navy officers signed an open letter against President Erdogan. They say the canal project is a violation of the treaty. And that it will harm regional security.

But all the president heard was the warning bell of a coup. The response was swift. 10 retired admirals have been arrested.

The charges? Conspiring against state security and constitutional order.

This is how Erdogan’s spokesman defended the arrest.

“A group of retired soldiers are putting themselves into a laughable and miserable position with their statement that echoes military coup times.”

Sums up what’s happening in Turkey. Free speech is laughable. And dissent equals attempted coup.

Since 2016, Erdogan sees a hostile takeover everywhere. It’s the classic sign of a leader insecure about public support.

The new canal project is a destabilising act.

For instance, The black sea has been historically dominated by Russia. But what if American warships enter the waters? Erdogan loves playing allies and rivals.

It’s something he has perfected in his dealings with the European Union.

We could get a glimpse of it on Tuesday. Top officials of the EU Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel are due in Ankara.

They are hoping to find a solution to the Turkish problem.

Here’s the issue, Turkey is a candidate for EU membership. But it has disputes with existing members like Greece. And an abhorrent record on human rights to boot.

So what are the EU officials hoping to achieve? Brussels is ready to engage. But only if Erdogan takes positive steps.

So let’s recount what the president has done in the last few weeks. He abandoned a treaty on gender violence. He detained dozens of university students for protesting. He approved a plan that violates an 85-year old treaty. And he arrested retired officers who opposed the move. If this is Erdogan’s idea of wooing Brussels there is no hope.

There is a wide chasm between what the Turkish president says and what he does. Last year, he talked about Turkey’s European destiny.

But he continues to alienate the EU with aggressive posturing. Many say Turkey’s future is linked to Europe’s. That’s what the country’s founder Kemal Ataturk believed.

But Kemal Ataturk was a statesman. He believed in International Law.

Erdogan on the other hand is what many call self-styled. His style being disruptive, intolerant and ruthless. So if geopolitics were a sport Erdogan would never qualify as a sportsman.

 

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