Turkey: Washington's geopolitical pivot
By F William Engdahl
The recent visit of United States President Barack Obama to Turkey was far more
significant than the president's speech would suggest. For Washington, Turkey
today has become a geopolitical "pivot state" that is in a position to tilt the
Eurasian power equation towards Washington or significantly away from it,
depending on how Turkey develops its ties with Moscow and its role regarding
key energy pipelines.
If Ankara decides to collaborate more closely with Russia, Georgia's position
is precarious and Azerbaijan's natural gas pipeline route to Europe, the
so-called Nabucco Pipeline, is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States
and manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under US auspices, the
Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for
natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.
For Washington, the key to bringing Germany into closer cooperation with the US
is to weaken German dependence on Russian energy flows. Twice in the past three
winters, Washington has covertly incited its hand-picked president in Ukraine,
Viktor Yushchenko, to arrange an arbitrary cut off of Russian gas flows to
Germany and other European Union (EU) destinations. The only purpose of the
actions was to convince EU governments that Russia was not a reliable energy
partner. Now, with the Obama visit to Ankara, Washington is attempting to win
Turkish support for its alternative and troubled Nabucco gas pipeline through
Turkey from Azerbaijan, which would theoretically at least lessen EU dependence
on Russian gas.
The Turkish-EU problem
However willing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan might be to
accommodate Obama, the question of Turkish relations with the EU is
inextricably linked with the troublesome issue of Turkish membership of the EU,
a move vehemently opposed by France and less openly by Germany.
Turkey is one of few routes by which energy from new sources can cross to
Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey - which
has considerable influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle
East and the Balkans - is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on
the defensive and German ties to Russia weaken considerably. If Turkey decides
to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is
dependent on Russian energy.
Since it became clear in Moscow that US strategy was to extend the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Russia's front door via Ukraine and
Georgia, Russia has moved to use its economic "carrot", its vast natural gas
resources, to at the very least neutralize Western Europe, especially Germany,
towards Russia. It is notable in that regard that the man chosen as Russia's
president in December 1999 had spent a significant part of his KGB career in
Turkey and the US game
It is becoming clear that Obama and Washington are playing a deeper game. A few
weeks before meetings of the European Union in Prague and NATO in Strasbourg,
when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the
issues that concerned the United States, such as troops for Afghanistan or more
economic stimulus, Obama scheduled the trip to Turkey.
During the EU meeting, Obama actively backed Turkey's application for EU
membership knowing well that that put especially France and Germany in a
difficult position as EU membership would allow free migration, which many EU
countries fear. Obama deliberately confronted EU states with this knowing he
was playing with geopolitical fire, especially as the US is no member of the
EU. It was a deliberate and cheap way to score points with the Erdogan
government of Turkey.
During the NATO meeting, a key item on the agenda was the selection of a new
NATO secretary-general. The favorite was former Danish prime minister Anders
Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey opposed him because of his defense of cartoons depicting
the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish magazine. NATO operates on
consensus, so any one member can block Rasmussen. The Turks backed off the
veto, and in return won two key positions in the organization, including that
of deputy secretary-general.
Turkey thereby boosted its standing in NATO and got Obama to vigorously defend
the Turkish application for membership in the European Union. Obama then went
to Turkey for a key meeting that will allow him to further position the United
States in relation to Islam.
The Russian dimension
During US-Russian talks there had been no fundamental shift by Obama from the
earlier position of the George W Bush Administration. Russia rejects
Washington's idea of pressuring Iran on their nuclear program in return for a
bargain of an undefined nature with Washington over US planned missile and
radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The US claimed it need not rely on Russia to bring military and other supplies
into Afghanistan, claiming it had reached agreement with Ukraine to transship
military supplies, a move designed by Washington to increase friction between
Moscow and Kiev. Moreover, the NATO communique did not abandon the idea of
Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO. The key geopolitical prize for
Washington remains Moscow but clearly Turkey is being wooed by Obama to play a
role in that game.
Germany will clearly not join Obama in blocking Russia. Not only does Germany
depend on Russia for energy supplies. Germany has no desire to confront a
Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat. For Berlin, at least now,
it is not going to address the Russian question.
At the same time, an extremely important event between Turkey and Armenia is
shaping up. Armenians had long held Turkey responsible for the mass murder of
Armenians during and after World War I, a charge the Turks have denied. The US
Congress is considering a provocative resolution condemning "Turkish genocide"
Turkey is highly sensitive to these charges, and Congressional passage of such
a resolution would have meant a Turkish break in diplomatic relations with
Washington. Since the Obama visit, Ankara has begun to discuss an agreement
with Armenia including diplomatic relations which would eliminate the impact of
any potential US Congress resolution.
A Turkish opening to Armenia would alter the balance of power in the entire
region. Since the August 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict, the Caucasus, a
strategically vital area to Moscow has been unstable. Russian troops remain in
South Ossetia. Russia also has troops in Armenia meaning Russia has Georgia
Turkey is the key link in this complex game of geopolitical balance of power
between Washington and Moscow. If Turkey decides to collaborate with Russia,
Georgia's position becomes very insecure and Azerbaijan's possible pipeline
route to Europe is blocked. If Turkey decides to cooperate with Washington and
at the same time reaches a stable agreement with Armenia under US guidance,
Russia's entire position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route
for natural gas to Europe becomes available, reducing Russian leverage against
Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama
chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of
options. Instead, the president completed his trip by going to Turkey to
discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to
play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing
Russia's junior partner.
The most important Obama speech in his European tour came after Turkey won key
posts in the NATO political structure with US backing. In his speech, Obama
sided with Turkey against the EU and in effect showed Turkey that Washington
was behind it. Obama's speech addressed Turkey as an emerging regional power,
which was well received in Ankara. The sweet words will cost Turkey dearly if
it acts on them.
Moscow is not sitting passively by as Washington woos Turkey. Turkish President
Abdullah Gul paid a four-day visit to the Russian Federation this February,
where he met with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and
also traveled to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where he discussed joint
investments. Gul was accompanied by his minister for foreign trade and minister
of energy, as well as a large delegation of Turkish businessmen.
The stakes in this complex three-way Great Game for domination of Eurasia have
been raised significantly following the Obama trip to Ankara. Turkey imports
65% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia. Therefore, Turkey is
also developing a growing dependency on Russian energy resources, including
On March 27, 2009, a memorandum was signed between the Azerbaijani oil company
SOCAR and Russia's Gazprom. The memorandum includes a statement of deliveries,
beginning in January 2010, of Azerbaijani natural gas to Russia.
Gazprom was particularly interested in signing such an agreement with
Azerbaijan, not the least because Azerbaijan is the only state outside Iran or
Turkmenistan, both of which are problematic, that could supply gas to the
planned EU Nabucco pipeline, for transporting natural gas from Azerbaijan and
the Central Asia states through Turkey to south-eastern Europe.
In reality, gas may come only from Azerbaijan. Russia has proposed an
alternative to Nabucco project, South Stream, also in need of Azerbaijani gas,
so in effect Russia weakens the chances of realization of Nabucco. Obama
strategy is clearly not less confrontational with Russia. It is merely playing
with a slightly different deck of cards than that used by former vice president
Dick Cheney and president George W Bush.
F William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American
Oil Politics and the New World Order; and Seeds of Destruction: The
Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation (www.globalresearch.ca). His newest book,
Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order (Third
Millennium Press) is due out at end of April. He may be reached through his