Turkey

Though Turkey’s engagement in the war in Syria has resulted in a series of attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) over the course of the past year, the most recent attack on a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Day will only harden the Turkish government’s resolve to defeat the Islamist group, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“I think these attacks have pushed the Turks to conclude that this [war against ISIS] is something we have to finish,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “In that sense, it’s focusing anti-ISIS efforts, not disrupting them,” he added.

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The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey on December 19, while a tragic incident, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the diplomatic relationship between Moscow and Ankara that has been forged over priorities in Syria, according to two Atlantic Council analysts.

“This incident, in theory, could be a pretext for the Russians to do something against the Turks, but there is no interest in Moscow to do that,” said John. E. Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council.

“This is one of those spectacular incidents that is a one-off,” he added.

Aaron Stein, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said: “Russia has every incentive to express its displeasure at the incident and express sorrow at the tragedy that took place, but also to manage it.”

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At an art exhibition opening on Monday evening, right across the street from the US embassy in Ankara, an assassin shot dead Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov. The shooter, identified as 22-year-old Mevlüt Mert Altinas, was a Turkish policeman according to statements made by the mayor of Ankara. 

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Turkish-European relations have declined considerably in recent years, with little progress made on the accession of Turkey to the European Union (EU) since formal negotiations began in 2005. Turkey’s actions following the failed July coup attempt and the rise of right-wing nationalist populism in the west further damaged any prospects of improving relations. The matter reached a new low when, in November, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution to temporarily freeze Turkey’s accession process.

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US representative to the OSCE, Daniel B. Baer, responds to European call for arms control talks with Moscow

The United States shares European concerns about the erosion of Russian compliance with international treaties, but “it is not self-evident that the way forward is new commitments,” as has been proposed by the foreign ministers of fourteen European nations, said Daniel B. Baer, the US representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Baer said that the United States favors a dialogue at the level of all fifty-seven OSCE member states, including Russia. “In such a dialogue, we would expect to talk about threat perceptions and emerging challenges, and then, once we have done a stocktaking, figure out what is the most appropriate way to move forward,” he said.

The fact that Russia has withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which led to the destruction of heavy weapons systems in Europe, is just one example of the erosion of Moscow’s international commitments. Russia has also violated by the terms of the Minsk Protocol, which seeks to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

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The international media often describes the city of Mosul, the capital of Ninawa province, as the Islamic State’s (ISIS) last remaining stronghold in Iraq. However, there is another major stronghold that may soon be a flashpoint between rival factions of the anti-ISIS coalition. In late October, Iraq’s Shia militias opened a new front in the military campaign against the Islamic State, aiming to liberate the city of Tal Afar, about 35 miles west of Mosul. The entrance of pro-government Shia militias—known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU)—prompted a Turkish warning that it may intervene to protect Sunnis in Tal Afar from potential revenge killings at the hands of Shia militia forces.

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Donald Trump’s electoral victory has been welcomed in pro-government circles in Turkey. This is not surprising when one takes into account the US president-elect’s past comments on Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Following the attempted coup in Turkey in July, Trump, in an interview with the New York Times, described Erdoğan as a strong leader and credited him with rallying his supporters to fend off the putschists. He also emphasized the larger role Turkey can play in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

In his comments on Trump’s victory, Erdoğan said that “a new era has begun in the United States” and added that he hoped that the American people’s choice of Trump will “bring favorable developments.”

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Russia’s decision to go ahead with Turkish Stream, an offshore pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Turkey, cements its dominance of the Turkish gas market.

In political terms, the revival of Turkish Stream—or TurkStream as Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, now terms the project—epitomizes the entente developing between Moscow and Ankara, a relationship that is of crucial importance given their differences in recent years, particularly over the war in Syria.

In strictly practical terms, however, TurkStream ensures that Russia will maintain its grip on the Turkish gas market. The project’s success will send a signal that Russia is still looking to find a way to supply gas to customers in Southern Europe that—if and when it stops using Ukraine as a supply route—it may not be able to reach by way of its controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea.

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Turkey’s Iraq policy changed considerably in the past half-decade. Turkey has implicitly broken with its “one Iraq” policy and, since 2010, has taken steps to deepen alliances with political actors, committed to the further decentralization—and, in the longer term, break-up—of the Iraqi state. This policy is a sharp departure from Turkey’s history of advocacy for a strong, centralized Iraqi state, without an independent and strong Kurdish region.

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Offshore natural gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean have created critical opportunities for cooperation among countries in the region, especially Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey.

Of these five countries, Cyprus and Israel have discovered more gas than either can consume over the next thirty years. Turkey and Jordan have no indigenous gas and need to import all of their needs, and while Egypt used to be a net gas exporter, it can no longer meet its own needs.

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