July 19, 2016
The real putsch in Turkey is happening now
The aftermath of the Turkish putsch has confirmed our worst fears within 24 hours: the likely return of the death penalty, the EU unlikely to stand up to Turkey because of refugee deal, a possible weakening of Nato, likely destabilisation in the region, and a new rapprochement with Russia. This is the last thing the EU needed after Brexit and the French terror attacks. The EU's unprincipled policy stance towards Turkey has come back to haunt policymakers in a very short period of time.
European foreign ministers warned Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respect the rule of law in the crackdown on the perpetrators. One of the most notable comments came from Johannes Hahn, the commissioner for neighbourhood policy and enlargement, who expressed concern that the swift removal of thousands of people not directly involved in the coup suggests lists of arrests were previously prepared to be used at an appropriate moment, which "is exactly what we feared".
Federica Mogherini said the death penalty is a definitive red line for EU membership, while US secretary of state John Kerry said Nato also has a requirement of respect for democracy. With this, the Western foreign policy leadership appears to be putting its association with Turkey on the line, but we doubt that these threats are for real. EU membership is, of course, off the table, but the EU is too weak and to divided to agree an effective response. The situation is, obviously, accident-prone.
Meanwhile, Erdogan will meet Putin in the first week of August, according to reports. Though this is not something that has been decided since the weekend, it acquires new significance. There had been reports of a thaw in Turkish-Russian relations in June after Erdogan sent his condolences to the family of the Russian pilot that died when his plane was downed by Turkey on the Syrian border. Following this, Russia had lifted a ban on Russian tourist flights to Turkey. Then at the start of July there were reports that a meeting between the two leaders in Sochi had been arranged for early August. Putin is reported to have spoken with Erdogan after the coup attempt, ostensibly to interest himself in the safety of Russian tourists in Turkey. There have been no such contacts with Obama.
The potential geopolitical implications of the coup are major. We know Erdogan has for some time tried to assert Turkey as a regional power less dependent on Western support. This has been reflected in Turkey's Syria policy, and the downing of the Russian jet may have been an unintentional consequence of the more assertive and gung-ho stance. Which way Turkey will turn after the coup will affect all the neighbouring regions of Turkey: the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Black Sea.
In a comment for FAZ, Berthold Kohler also notes that the arrest lists must have been prepared in advance, as the removal of thousands of people in a weekend puts to shame "the most efficient police state". The NY Times reported yesterday that the purged numbers exceed 18,000 in the police, military and judiciary. A further 13,000 public servants have been suspended, and we have seen reports of a foreign travel ban for those public servants that have not been suspended. Kohler notes that Erdogan could easily hurt Western interests in the Black Sea and in Syria and Iraq. But especially Merkel's refugee policy hangs on the EU's deal with Turkey, which Kohler says nobody dares to question even in the face of Turkish fantasising about reinstating the death penalty. He writes the German government has already said the refugee deal is separate from all the rest. But Kohler warns Erdogan that he can only use his trump card once, though he may feel invincible like other autocrats before him.