In part one, I explained why Turkey was right to shoot down Russia’s warplane in November.
This, however does not mean that Turkey’s government deserves support on most other issues. Erdogan’s rule is in fact little different from Putin’s, and both leaders pursue an anti-Western and expansionist policy.
The main difference is that whilst Putin is mixing nationalism, Christian orthodoxy and nostalgia for the USSR in order to resurrect the old Tsarist/Soviet “empire” and establish a dictatorship, Erdogan is using Islam and the idea of resurrecting the Caliphate to establish an authoritarian religious rule in Turkey.
In the summer of 2013, when Erdogan was Turkey’s prime minister, the government violently dispersed pro-secular protesters, most notably at the Taksim square in Istanbul. These protests were largely a response to the growing Islamisation and authoritarianism in the country.
Islam has become a dominant factor in Erdogan’s policy. For example, since 2002, 17,000 new mosques have been built in Turkey.
Other anti-secular policies include regulations on alcohol, a ban on public kissing, the abolition of the ban on wearing head-scarfs in public, Erdogan’s call to “raise a religious youth” and many others.
To impose Islamisation upon Turkey, Erdogan needs to suppress its secular and pro-Western opposition, which requires a transformation of the democratic system into an authoritarian one. For this reason, he conducted the judicial reform in 2014, removing pro-secular officials and political opponents. Intimidation and imprisonment of journalists, censorship, fraudulent elections, and now his efforts to replace parliamentary government with an executive presidency, all constitute a transformation to a dictatorship. In the conflict in Syria, moreover, Erdogan is bombing one of his main political opponents, the Kurdish fighters.
All these policies are similar to what is going on in Russia: imposing an anti-Western and anti-secular ideology and building of a dictatorship that precludes any opponents from influencing the autocrat’s decisions.
Putin and Erdogan, before the shooting of the SU-24, had very close ties and exceptionally friendly relations. They met very frequently, and even as late as September of this year, Erdogan visited Moscow for the opening of one of the biggest mosques in Europe, where the two leaders, along Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, praised each other and talked about developing strong economic relations.
Both leaders have resorted to very similar strategies in building their political systems. Particularly in 2014, after Erdogan suppressed the protests and became Turkey’s 12th president, many observers accurately compared Erdogan and Putin, underlining their hostility towards the West and their methods of establishing autocracy.
Economic relations also contributed to the two countries’ closeness. Turkey is the second largest importer of Russian natural gas in Europe after Germany. In addition, Putin was planning to build a gas pipeline to Europe through Turkey instead of Bulgaria. Roughly 3 million Russian tourists have travelled to Turkey annually in the past years. Russia had previously imported a considerable amount of fruits and vegetables from Turkey.
By banning trade with Turkey, Putin is not only hurting Turkey’s economy, but Russia’s own. The food prices in Russia have been rising rapidly in the last year (over 17%) mainly because of Putin’s ban on EU food imports to Russia, his long term mismanagement of a corrupt economy, and the expenditures on the war in Ukraine and Syria.
After banning Russians from travelling to Egypt after the recent Airbus crash, the ban on travelling to Turkey leaves Russian tourists only to the more expensive countries, which many of them cannot afford as the rouble falls. The resulting bankruptcies of many travel businesses in Russia, constituted a major blow to the Russian economy and job market.
Putin’s imperialist ambitions, his impudent violation of Turkish airspace, and the sanctions he imposed against Turkey, his former close ally, are contributing to Russia’s isolation and economic collapse. We in the West can only watch these two anti-Western autocratic states hurting each other, and hope they will be replaced by secular, peaceful and civilised governments.
Russia is an aggressive neo-Soviet regime, headed by an unpredictable and hostile leader with nuclear weapons. At the same time, Turkey's transformation into an openly religious Islamist and anti-Western power, whilst being a NATO member, would be disastrous.
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