Tuesday 11 July 2023

Erdogan: the Transactional Turk

Erdogan has really excelled himself this time, the major obvious casualty of his machinations being Putin and his ever more flimsy stature & general political dignity.  Drones, Sweden, Azov, ... what is the full nature of the Turkish "trade package"?  Does he have it in writing (from Biden / Ukraine / NATO / EU)?  Or is he just positioning himself for a Cunning Plan he has in mind?

(1) Transactional politics has upsides - and downsides

As I've written before, in some political spheres - foreign policy generally being one of them - the 'lines of logistics' can be incredibly short: unlike most domestic policy-making, it can be stroke-of-a-pen stuff instead of months & years of hard, practical grind, with all the attendant implementational friction & risks of material long-term projects.  (Thus, to take one of a million examples, Lenin took Russia out of WW1 in a morning.)  Some politicians, indeed some human beings in general, heavily lean this way: there's no situation they won't try to deal their way out of (negative) or into (positive). 'Transactionality' is one facet of this type of approach: Sadiq Khan is perhaps the most prominent UK exponent right now.   

The upsides are clear.  A stroke of the pen requires far less blood-and-treasure to resolve a dispute than 'going to war' or its analogues, & gets quicker results, too.

The downsides are there, too.  Obviously, transactionalism appeals not least to politicians of the bone-idle tendency.  Ditto, the heavily-overlapping subset of politicians who have no principles or red lines whatever.

And what can be done at the stoke of a pen can be undone just as fast.  Sometimes, "with one bound he was free" clever-cleverness doesn't cut it: a fundamental solution is needed, the hard yards can't be dodged**.  To give a foreign-policy example:  what could be more convenient for NATO backsliders like Germany than a neat, stroke-of-a-pen "resolution" on Ukraine that would mean they didn't need to restore defence spending to prudent levels?  Very neat, yeah.

(2) Downside for Erdogan?  Oh yes there is

I'll give you at least one.  Turkey is essentially 100% dependent on Russia for gas (as well as a lot of oil).  It gets very cold there in winter.

Less obviously, since the economic recession Erdogan foisted on his country Turkey has been having the utmost difficulty in taking all the gas they've contractually committed to.  They owe Gazprom a bunch of money.  Thus far, it's been forgiven ... That's on top of a cold winter in Turkey.

Transactions, transactions.



** Also, the Clever Stroke often leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth:  in the Claudius novels, Graves writes of how on a particular campaign, Claudius engineered a lightning victory by having his men take the enemy camp at night by crawling up silently through the undergrowth, with total success.  The 'victorious' Roman troops hated it:  they wanted a proper conventional scrap in the morning.  Their triumph-by-subterfuge "smelled of the candle".  


Anonymous said...

I have to admit to a grudging respect for the wily Turk - he doesn't trust ANYONE and is imho quite right not to.

The deal is presumably accelerated EU entry in exchange for Swedish NATO membership and a promise of "a look at terrorism" - so much for "Brexiters lied about Turkish entry".

He's already survived one US-inspired Maidan from the Gulenistas and is presumably keeping a close eye on NGO activity. Must have nerves of steel. Just look at the plates he's keeping in the air.

Turkstream/Bluestream, the new Rosatom-run nuke station on the Med.

NATO membership.

Turkish snaffling of a chunk of Syria.

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict where he supports Azeris.

And the Pan-Turkic agenda.

jim said...

I thought it was Messalina, Claudius's wife who 'smelled of the lamp' after her nights moonlighting in Rome's brothels.

Perhaps Mr Erdogan can start building hotels and houses using something other than chicken wire as reinforcing. All that crumpled concrete - bad for business. Lacks a certain solidity does Mr Erdogan.

andrew said...

From what I can see it was Demosthenes?

from plutarch's lives
For this, many of the popular leaders used to rail at him, and Pytheas, in particular, once told him scoffingly that his arguments smelt of lamp-wicks. To him, then, Demosthenes made a sharp answer. “Indeed,” said he, “thy lamp and mine, O Pytheas, are not privy to the same pursuits.”

(c) Google. No i have not read it either.

dearieme said...

Given that Geriatric Joe has confessed on camera that the US has run out of artillery ammunition, it might be an odd time for Erdogan to nail his colours to that particular mast. We shall see.

My own ignorant guess was that once the war had settled down into a static Western Front affair, the side with more artillery would win. Guns with no ammo don't count as artillery.

Anonymous said...

OT but I wondered what the Capitalists make of this piece - it's only what James Dyson and Eamonn Fingleton have been saying for 20 years, but it's still important.

We exported our inflation to China for 25+ years, or in other words we kept prices down. Just say we "did a Russia" to China sanctions-wise, we'd be missing a lot of things that we just couldn't make any more, and other things we can make would go through the roof.


"And then Apple. In an article I read about their screw woes a couple of years ago, someone was quoted saying that you can get all sorts of precision parts made on demand in Shenzhen, but you can’t do it anywhere in America anymore. Southern China is the workshop of the world. These lines of hard-earned knowledge have largely gone extinct in America.

The thing is, you can’t just go from a world-class tool-and-die landscape to a tiny industry that can output a few screws when needed. The capacity to make the tiny screws grows out of a much larger industrial picture. The engineers and related industries and firms retire or move on. Think of how hard it is to remember where exactly you were in a task after getting interrupted for a few minutes. That’s a tiny taste of what it’s like to try to revive a mothballed industry."

Just imagine if China decided to make, say, armed swarming drones - but on the scale they make DJI Mavic 3s or iPads. Sure, BAE or MDD could do the same, but at what cost compared to China?

Anonymous said...

The USA has not run out of ammunition.

Like Russia, it has run out of reserve stocks. Which is the point of reserve stocks.

The shortage appears to be in both the regular 155mm and 155mm Himars ammunition.
The reason being, the USA has had a massive procurement balls up in the development of the successor to both. Which are almost Putin levels of ancient. The 155mm towed artillery was a WW2 vintage weapon. Still in use today. The tracked version is still the main US artillery piece. As it is for much of NATO. But its days are numbered.
The 155 offered and still offers the best option between weight, power and range.
The Russians were always an artillery heavy army. Using much heavier and many more guns than NATO.

The invention of modern guided ammunition means the old stocks won’t be required in the future. But for now, they are.

US own stocks have a readiness level. The US military must hold enough ammunition within the USA, to fight for xxx days. In part this comes about from WW2. When after Pearl harbour the USA realised more Browning Machine guns were en route to the UK, than were in the USA. And more had been pledged than could be made in two years. This all caused big problems for USA and Uk and USSR in early part of 1942.

The cluster munitions is in plentiful supply. As few countries still use it. It also doesn’t seem to count towards supply limits as it is a dead end ammo. Not going to suddenly be needed to come into production. So it can be send to Ukraine.
It’s going to be scrapped at some point anyway. So why not?

The arms to Ukraine is a chance to send old stuff out, to get new in at home, and severely weaken Putin’s aggression.
Guess the USA hadn’t planned on having to continue supplying beyond existing excess reserve stocks.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Russian and Turkish relations have always been transactional under Erdogan - there are a pile of things they're in bed together with, and downing a Russian plane didn't do much to interfere with those.

It's been pretty clear of late Erdogan considers himself higher ranking than Putin - repaying Putin's measured lateness the other year with his own, something a few years back he'd not have dared to do.

Add in the collapse of Russian exports, and in the near term it's more important for Russia to have a dependant neighbour than not - if they had to shift more gas and oil via the non-Western markets, I'm pretty sure that'd attract steeper discounts.

I suspect Erdogan is betting on being around a lot longer than Putin, and whoever follows will want good access to a friendly NATO member who knows how to play at the table, and will be willing to pay the kind of fee Erdogan will want for his "friendship."

And if rumours are correct, and OPEC are getting weary of Putin and Russian deceit over production levels, Putin may want to worry about just what Arab money can buy in Russia. How much does a Chechan warlord go for these days?

Anonymous said...

CH is living in a fantasy world. I'm sure Erdogan will continue to play both sides against each other. Equally I'm sure the global shift away from the dollar will be a long war, and the battle fronts will move to and fro.

"the collapse of Russian exports" - if you want to see a nation whose exports have collapsed, just look around you. AFAIK Russia has a healthy trade surplus. The US relies on exporting Treasuries.

"if they had to shift more gas and oil via the non-Western markets"

Is India non-western? Cos that's where their oil is going, and then we buy it from India after they've had their markup. "You know it makes sense".


Why give employment to Brit refineries, and give Brits cheaper oil, when Indian middlemen can profit and Brits be made poorer?

Caeser Hēméra said...

@anon - perhaps you should look at some the latest data coming out of Russia (https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/currencies/russia-economy-trade-current-account-surplus-plunges-93-energy-exports-2023-7)

Russia has a commodity based export setup, and currently has to soak up deep discounts and longer lines of supply ensuring it's margins are paper thin, and what functioning private industry remains has to pay extra taxes to fund the longest three days in history.

The Russian Bank has done an admirable job of defying gravity - post-war we might want to look at giving Nabullina a job running the BofE - but gravity has a habit of re-asserting itself.

As for the grey market, it's inevitable, quite a few Western goods find their way to Russia too, also at a markup by the middleman. Global markets are almost impossible to police once you start using indirect routes.

The additional costs are the price of friction, and whilst the sanctions have taken their sweet time to kick in, it's getting increasingly difficult for Russia to accommodate them.

China will doubtlessly step in for some items, as they already to an extent - but when they can maximise what they can extract in return. Putin does not seem to learn that dragons regard bears as snacks.

Anonymous said...

I see you didn't address my points - we all know that when oil prices go down, so will Russia's surplus.

"dragons regard bears as snacks"

A brilliant metaphor, or The Jackanory Theory Of History?

Chine is 100% behind Russia. Whether that will change when China is world #1 who knows? There's some way to go before then. But the US/UK financial attack on Russia has accelerated the use of other currencies in world trade, just as SWIFT sanctions accelerated China's CIPS payment system.

Wildgoose said...

American overconfidence in their financial attacks on Russia has permanently wrecked trust in the US$.


Caeser Hēméra said...

@anon - your points tend to be deflections to any Russian problems, so unless they're a good one I don't feel particularly compelled to play your game of whataboutary.

I'm quite well aware of issues in the West though, but it's the current Russian pigheaded destruction of it's economy, young men, military power and opinion of it's strength to try and save Putin's backside that's at the fore currently.

I'm sure we'll get back to West's managed decline once Russia unmanaged one has settled down.