Russia’s Syria Congress is over: what’s next?

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Russia’s Sochi on January 28-29 was aimed to boost the process for building a peaceful future for Syrian people in a war-devastated country and to define the country’s political compass for the next years. The Congress, sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey, gathered over 1,500 participants from various groups of Syrian society, including representatives from political parties, opposition groups and ethnic and confessional communities.

While the Congress itself did not aim to achieve the immediate political reconciliation over Syria, its main focus was to revive Geneva talks. According to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the forum was expected to “create conditions for staging fruitful Geneva process”.

Besides, the Congress was some kind of alert to boycotting countries and their procrastination to reinforce the 2254 UN Security Council Resolution for Peace Process in Syria, adopted in 2015. According to the resolution, the future of Syria should be determined by its people. However, the country has experienced forced intervention and external interference that prevented it from paving ways for a peaceful future ever since.

Ironically it may seem, the so-called peace process for Syria that has been joined by many countries pursuing different strategies including diametrically opposite approaches of Russia and the United States, became a fruitful soil for radically oriented groups that eroded the country’s sovereignty. The delay in reinforcing the 2254 UN Security Resolution by international community can lead to further monetization of Syria’s natural resources by terrorist organizations and cause major security threats for the entire international community.

Perhaps, the most important result of the Sochi Congress has been an agreement of all participants to consolidate their efforts in stabilizing the Syria’s future and to secure the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. The concerns of the Syrian opposition claiming the Sochi Congress would, on the contrary, hazard the international peace process could not be more baseless since the Congress was supported by the UN, the main sponsor of the Geneva talks.

Russia-Turkey: a new era of strategic partnership?

Russian-Turkish relations have experienced such rocky times in the last couple of years that it would have been almost impossible to predict the further development of the partnership in the foreseeable future. Yet, since the beginning of 2017 the relationship between the two countries have started to warm up as both leaders, Putin and Erdogan have managed to find some important touch points to strengthen the sustainable economic ties with strategic political cooperation.

The recovery of the diplomatic relations has been gained much due to the Turkey’s collaboration with Russia and Iran over Syria and their further fight against terrorism and the ISIS in the region. The successful development of the Astana process led by Russia, Turkey and Iran and the perspectives of hosting the National Dialogue Congress in Russia’s Sochi have raised a wave of anxiety in Washington as the United States were counting much on Ankara’s support in pursuing its military plans in Syria. Provided that Turkey’s decision to join Russia and Iran and its engagement in the Astana process met some serious controversies and tensions with the United States and the European Union one cannot help but ask the question if Turkey is shifting away from NATO toward the East.

The facts speak for themselves: since the beginning of 2017 Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayip Erdogan have held eight face-to-face meetings not to mention multiple visits of Russian and Turkish diplomatic representatives and military officers in both ways.

Apart from the cooperation over Syria and the joint fight against terrorism, the renewal of business, trade and economic relations as well as the prospective cooperation in the energy sector might launch a new era of partnership for both Russia and Turkey not only at the international or at federal levels but also at the regional levels as well.

On December, 13-14, Husseyin Dirioz, Ambassador of the Turkish Republic to Russia visited the city of Yekaterinburg, situated in the Urals and known as the country’s industrial hub. During his meeting with the local government authorities Mr. Dirioz expressed the intention to strengthen the mutual collaboration in such industries as machine building, oil and gas, construction and development, pharmacy and chemical sector as well as in the spheres of tourism, science and education.

 

 

However, a closer partnership with Russia is pulling Ankara in quite a confusing situation in which Turkey will have to make bigger efforts to keep the balance with the U.S. and the EU. While the European Union continues to remain the major region for Turkish exports Ankara still benefits from holding the NATO membership on some political and military matters. Given that, the United States will likely to start manipulating Turkey’s vulnerable position and take the target the Turkey’s most sensitive issues. For instance, Washington has reportedly been encouraging Syrian Kurds for military interventions to the territories on the East bank and further overtaking the key Syrian natural resources fields. The move, explained by the United States as an effort to create a Syrian Kurdish autonomy, has been highly criticized by Ankara as a driving force for the U.S. that will enable Washington to take control over Ankara and Damask.

But despite both leaders Recep Tayip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin look at the mutual partnership through the prism of their domestic interests which sometimes causes some structural controversies in such questions as pursuing policies towards the U.S. and the E.U, the possibility of a fast development of Turkey-Russia cooperation into a strategic partnership is very high.  What’s bringing together Turkey and Russia today is perhaps the common mistrust of the Western policies. The emotional statements by U.S President Donald Trump such as announcement of Jerusalem as an Israel’s capital, the U.S. support of Syrian Kurds (that directly crosses the Ankara policy towards the Kurds) consolidate the strategic collaboration between Moscow and Ankara against “moody” President Trump and unfold incredible opportunities for expansion of economic and trade relations between Turkey and Russia. Moreover, with Turkey’s recognition of the Crimea as a Russian territory Moscow will open the “green corridor” for Turkish companies that will also let Turkey pursue its policy towards the Crimean-Tatar community in the peninsula.

As the historical experience proves, the strong partnerships are created by those countries who have manage to resolve the most controversial and unwanted situations between each other. The common historical background, strong cultural and ethnic ties and the geographic proximity can become a solid ground for Russia and Turkey to build a strong alliance.

Central Asia Faces New Future: between Turkey, Iran, China and Russia

Central Asian leaders are known for their absolute power and life-long immunity from prosecution. The tradition that was started by the late Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov who held the title Turkmenbashi (The Leader of All Turkmen) until his death in 2006, later followed by his successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, 77 and finally the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, 64, has been well enjoyed by its followers for over 20 years by now.

However, the leaders are getting old and the region just might be on the threshold of the new era. The recent death of the Uzbek President Islam Karimov has marked the beginning of inevitable changes and has made the issue a public debate. The Central Asia is of great interest of its strong neighbors: Turkey, Iran, Russia and, finally, China. Each of the country is eagerly waiting to gain its own geopolitical goals and ambitions there. It’s only a matter of time now. In the long-term scenario, as seen by political analysts, China will most likely strengthen its political and economic development, while Turkey will likely become more stable economically. Finally, Iran might recover its power due to its nuclear program agreement.

The key factor might be played by migrant workers. Though China is the huge labor pool that offers low-cost migrant workers it still cannot compete with Russia when it comes to the Central Asia: most of the people’s income in this region is coming from Russia as there are more jobs to Central Asian migrant workers than in any other country. Nevertheless, the competition between Turkey and Iran will most likely continue to grow. Considering the fact that some Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are highly vulnerable due to terrorism threats and geographic proximity with Afghanistan, Turkey, if it keeps its stable economic growth, has all chances to confront terrorism by taking the leading control in the region in the long run.

Meanwhile, the current Central Asian leaders keeping in mind all the dangers coming to them struggle to extend their authoritarian leadership as longer as possible by empowering their children and by filling all the important government positions with their family members. One of the brightest examples of such practice may be found in Tajikistan. Earlier last year Emomali Rahmon’s daughter, Ozoda Rahmon has been appointed as his chief of staff while her husband, Jamoliddin Nuraliev, the First Deputy Chairman of the National Bank of Tajikistan is one of the strongest candidates for the President elections in 2020 along with the President’s son, Rustam Rahmon. But due to the recent scandal that put Jamoliddin Nuraliev in the spotlight as he has been regularly seen in public together with Takhmina Bagirova in Austria (where Bagirova lives) and other countries during the holiday season, Nuraliev might soon be off the game leaving Rustam Rahmon the only real candidate for the President.  But whether the current leaders’ successors be able to be as powerful as their fathers or their presidency will mark the end of the authoritarian power in the region the Central Asia’s new wave of development is inevitable. As the pro-Moscow leaders will go, the region this will most likely be the platform of disputes between Iran, Turkey and China.

 

Scottish police investigate PKK funding claims BBC Reports

Counter-terror police in Edinburgh are carrying out a major investigation into fears a Kurdish rebel group is being financed from the city.

According to BBC, Officers are investigating claims a number of individuals have been linked to the financing of Kurdish militia.

The probe is reportedly being centred on the PKK, known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is based in Turkey and Iraq.

Police said they have carried out a number of raids as part of the inquiry.

The investigation is examining allegations of fraud and immigration offenses.

The PKK has led an armed struggle against the Turkish government on and off for the past 30 years and is considered a terrorist organisation by the UK.

A senior anti-terror officer has reassured the Scottish public that no-one was in danger at any time.

Det Ch Sup Gerry McLean, head of the Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “As part of a police investigation along with partner agencies, we executed a number of search warrants in relation to financial investigation and suspected fraud.

“Matters have now been reported to the procurator fiscal, and as such it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

“I would like to reassure the public that there was no danger to them at any time.”

The Herald newspaper reported on Saturday that a formal written briefing has been issued by Police Scotland to the Scottish Police Authority, outlining the investigation so far.

Immigration offences

The letter states: “Elite organised crime and the counter terrorism units are leading a multi-agency investigation into individuals assessed to be fundraising for a proscribed terrorist organisation.

“Executive action in collaboration with several partnership agencies was conducted in the east of Scotland.

“Locations were searched under the Customs and Excise Management Act, Common Law Fraud and the Terrorism Act.

“Subsequent investigation identified additional immigration act offences, with a significant sum of money potentially eligible for Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation.

“This operation has provided investigative opportunities to allow continued collaboration with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Trading Standards and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.”

A report has now been sent to the procurator fiscal to assess whether to charge the individuals identified by the police.

Britain could be like Turkey and remain part of the customs union after leaving the EU, says Liam Fox in first TV interview since promotion

According to The Telegraph Britain could be like Turkey and stay part of the customs union after leaving the European Union, Liam Fox has said in first broadcast interview since his promotion to Cabinet.

The news came as George Osborne, the former Chancellor, said that Mrs. May should not to have “red lines” on issues like immigration in her Brexit negotiations.

The customs union includes all 28 EU member states, alongside Turkey, Monaco, San Marino, Andorra and non-EU UK territories such as the Channel Islands.

Turkey’s customs union only covers goods, but not services or finance which is a large part of the UK’s GDP. Crucially there is also no freedom of movement between Turkey and the EU.

Pressed on the Andrew Marr programme, Dr Fox, the international trade secretary, said: “We want to look at all the different things, it’s not binary.

“I hear people talking about hard Brexit and soft Brexit as though it’s a boiled egg we’re talking about.

“It’s a little more complex. So Turkey, for example, is in parts of the customs union, but not in other parts.”

When asked whether he was open to staying inside the customs union, Dr Fox said: “I’ll argue my case inside Cabinet, rather than on the programme. I remain… instinctively a free trader.”

“The Government will come to a collective view on this once we’ve looked at all the issues.

“It’s correct that we do so, because we can’t go for a quick result, we have to get the right result.

“Whatever result we do come to, we have to be able to put in front of the British people the reasoning for coming to that result.”

He also indicated that the Government would pursue a transitional arrangement with EU officials to preserve single market access before striking a fresh trade deal with the bloc, saying “we can’t go for a quick result”.

Last week Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, lent his support for Britain to agree a transitional trade deal with the European Union after Brexit.

He said it would be “generally helpful” to have a longer period than the two years afforded under the Article 50 process to hammer out future trade arrangements.

On the same programme, Mr Osborne Britain needed a “hard-headed assessment” about issues such as whether to leave the customs unions.

Mr Osborne – who was one of the leaders of the failed Remain campaign ahead of the EU referendum – told the Andrew Marr programme: “I would not go into this negotiation necessarily drawing red lines.

“I would say we are leaving the EU – that’s the only red line I would draw – let’s go in there and try and get the best deal for Britain.”

Mr Osborne urged the Government not to discard existing free trade deals in Europe in the search for new ones elsewhere.

He said: “You can’t say we are a beacon of free trade in the world and the main thing you achieve is a huge act of protectionism, the biggest in British industry.”

Mr Osborne also criticised the target Mrs May agreed to as Home Secretary to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, which he said should not include students.

He said: “When I was the chancellor I thought it was not sensible to include them in the figures. But that’s got to be a collective decision.”

He warned jobs in the financial sector could move to New York if Britain gets its Brexit negotiations wrong.