Turkey, Washington’s Geopolitical Pivot

F. William Engdahl

Online Journal Contributing Writer
Apr 17, 2009, 00:13

The recent visit of US President Obama to Turkey was far more
significant than the president’s speech would suggest. For Washington,
Turkey today has become a geopolitical "pivot state" which is in the
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 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’s visit to Ankara, Washington is attempting to win
Turkish support for its troubled Nabucco alternative 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 Erdogan might be to accommodate
Obama, the question of Turkish relations with the EU is inextricably
linked with the troublesome issue of Turkish membership to the EU,
a move vehemently opposed by France and also less openly by Germany.

Turkey is one of the only routes 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 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 Preside nt in December 1999 had spent a
significant part of his KGB career in Germany.

Turkey and the US game

It is becoming clear that Obama and Washington are playing a deeper
game. A few weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that
the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues, such as troops
for Afghanistan or more economic stimulus, that concerned the United
States, Obama scheduled the trip to Turkey.

During the recent EU meetings in Prague, 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 alliance 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 NATO, including that of deputy secretary-general.

Turkey, thereby, boosted its sta nding in NATO and got Obama to
vigorously defend the Turkish application for membership in the
European Union, which of course the United States does not belong
to. Obama then went to Turkey for a key international 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 Bush administration. Russia rejects
Washington’s idea of pressuring Iran on its 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 Kiew. 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. She has no desire to
confront a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to
Germany. For Berlin, at least now, they are not going to address the
Rus sian 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" against Armenians. Turkey is highly sensitive to
these charges, and congressional passage of such a resolution would
mean a Turkish break in diplomatic relations with Washington. Now
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 surrounded.

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
Western Europe.

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, Obama 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 Washington was behind her. 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 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 Grea t Game for domination of
Eurasia have been raised significantly following the Obama trip to
Ankara. Turkey imports 65 percent of its natural gas and 25 percent
of its oil from Russia. Therefore, Turkey is also developing a growing
dependency on Russian energy resources, including coal.

On March 27, 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 southeastern 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 did
Cheney and Bush.

F. William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American
Oil Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press), and Seeds
of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation
(www.globalresearch.c a). His latest book, Full Spectrum Dominance:
Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order (Third Millennium
Press) is due in late April. He may be reached via his website,