Erdogan’s Game With Nato Over Finland And Sweden: What He Really Wants

Everyone’s wondering what on earth Erdogan is up to – first he impedes the Nato accession of Finland and Sweden, then he gives the go-ahead after apparently winning concessions on Kurdish terror allegedly hatched by expat Kurds in those countries. Or so it seems. The same Erdogan who defied Russia by selling those devastating drones to Ukraine. Is he pro-West or pro-Moscow? What’s his game? He manifestly used the Finland/Sweden accession issue as bargaining leverage. What does he really hope to squeeze from Nato? For the answers, you won’t get any real help from authentic Turkish pundits trotted out by big news orgs like the BBC. If they’re based in Turkey, they can’t be too candid for fear of being persecuted under Erdogan’s repressive anti-media laws. And the on-site foreign reporters aren’t much better since their HUMINT contacts are watched and the news media they read locally is muzzled.

So, does Erdogan’s noisemaking about Kurds reflect his genuine concerns? Yes and no. Mostly no. Anyway, neither Finland or Sweden will hand over anybody that Erdogan asks for extra-judicially with trumped-up accusations – as the BBC outlines. More about the Kurds later. Erdogan has bigger concerns, chief among which is the consolidation of his regime in a time of galloping inflation and economic meltdown at home. With a parliamentary general election coming up in the new year, his party is heading for a major loss. In reality, what Erdogan really wants is a pledge of non-interference from Western democracies in his internal affairs. Likely because he intends to keep power in his hands through various authoritarian maneuvers. In effect, he stays as President and maintains state capture from there. He is saying to the West, ‘You need me to co-ordinate on Nato actions? Don’t subvert my hold on power and don’t be championing political prisoners like Osman Kavala, or any number of jailed journalists and Kurdish politicians. Don’t oppose my upcoming anti-democratic ruses.’ That’s his main condition. But there’s more.

Nobody asks why Erdogan strained so hard to acquire Russian S-400 missiles, so much so that Turkey virtually split from Nato. This column has dwelt on that issue multiple times. Answer: the Nato-trained and equipped Turkish air force was the only arm of the military he couldn’t neutralize during the so-called attempted coup against him of July 2016. He had no defense against his own air force: Nato anti-aircraft weaponry, not to mention personnel, need thorough reprogramming to shoot down Turkish pilots in Nato jets. Erdogan’s long-term solution was to acquire Russian missile batteries along with Russian training for Turkish operators loyal to him. He doesn’t want to go through that again – especially now that he has alienated Putin. So he will demand guarantees from Biden and allies that they won’t abet military resistance to his rule. With that in place, Turkey’s air assets will fully rejoin the Nato fold.

Erdogan pursues the grandiose policy formula of most authoritarians – feeding his populace imperial nostalgia in place of prosperity, freedom and rule of law. Hence…

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