by instituDE, published on 20 May 2024


"How Turkey became Putin’s ‘pit stop’ for selling camouflaged fuel to the EU" by Victor Jack, Politico

According to research from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) think tanks, as well as independent reporting from POLITICO. Russian oil, it seems, is arriving en masse to the EU via Turkey.

And it’s all legal. The scheme is possible because of a workaround in Brussels sanctions that allows “blended” fuels into the EU if they're labeled as non-Russian. It’s a lucrative loophole, with research showing it generated up to €3 billion for Moscow from three ports alone in the 12 months after the EU banned Russia’s fuels in February 2023.

“Turkey has emerged as a strategic pit stop for Russian fuel products rerouted to the EU, generating hundreds of millions in tax revenues for the Kremlin's war chest,” said Martin Vladimirov, a senior energy analyst at CSD.

“We must tighten our clamps and find ways to prevent the circumvention of sanctions,” Estonia’s Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna told POLITICO. “Third countries, especially our NATO allies [like Turkey], should align with our sanctions as much as possible.”

For Turkey, poor compliance with Brussels sanctions makes sense if the country feels it has nothing to lose with the EU, said Amanda Paul, a senior analyst and Turkey specialist at the European Policy Centre think tank. 

With Ankara’s efforts to join the bloc at a standstill, “there doesn't seem to be very much hope that this relationship is going to improve,” she said, while adding that imports and re-exports of cheaper Russian oil have “been very beneficial for Turkey” as the country combats sky-high inflation and a plummeting currency.

“Over 70 lawmakers urge Biden to hold Turkey accountable for Sheridan Circle violence” by Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor

More than 70 US lawmakers have signed a letter urging the State Department to press Turkey for justice and accountability over the 2017 attack by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail in Washington, Al-Monitor's Amberin Zaman was first to report. 

The crackdown on protesters gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Sheridan Circle resulted in scores of injuries, with at least one person suffering brain damage after being kicked in the head. 

“We call upon the State Department, acting on behalf of the United States government and respecting the will of Congress to press this matter with President Erdogan and Turkish authorities as an essential element for relations between our two countries,” the signees wrote. At the time, the late Republican Sen. John McCain demanded that Turkey’s ambassador be kicked out of the United States.

The letter, signed by Democratic heavyweights, seeks to remind the State Department that Congress isn’t willing to let this act of thuggery against protesters, most of whom were Kurdish, slide on American soil. 

But the letter comes at a delicate time in US-Turkey relations: After bilateral ties appeared to hit rock bottom in recent years, things were on the up after Turkey stopped stonewalling Sweden’s bid to join NATO. The United States in turn agreed to allow Ankara to purchase F-16 fighter jets. But things turned south again when Erdogan, whose consistent praise of Hamas has not endeared him to the Biden administration, announced that he would not attend a planned visit to the White House earlier this month.

"Turkey recruits Syrians to fight in Africa under supervision of Sultan Murad Division" by Hassan Ibrahim, Enab Baladi

Niger, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria in West Africa have become destinations for fighters from Syria, after Ankara began recruiting them through factions in the Syrian National Army (SNA), transporting them from northern Syria to these countries in exchange for financial sums.

Under the banner of the Sultan Murad Division in the National Army, the recruitment and inclusion of fighters and civilians from areas in northwestern Syria take place, then they enter Turkish territory, and from there to West Africa.

About seven months ago, the Sultan Murad Division led by Fahim Issa began working on sending fighters from northern Syria to these countries via Turkey, for financial sums ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 USD, according to families of fighters who spoke to Enab Baladi.

The mission is unclear to the fighter, as there are two narratives according to the information he has. The first is to protect the Turkish bases in Africa, or to guard Turkish exploration teams that have signed contracts with those countries for gold mining there, and the second narrative is fighting.

A source in the Sultan Murad Division told Enab Baladi that the division signs contracts with the elements for durations of six months, one year, and one and a half years, and the destination is Niger, without confirming the existence of other destinations for the fighters, and that the primary purpose is to protect the Turkish bases there.

Previously, factions of the Syrian National Army sponsored by Turkey, sent elements to fight alongside the forces of the Government of National Accord in Libya, against the forces of General Khalifa Haftar.

"Pro-Turkey Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash" by Layal Abou Rahal, Al-Monitor

Like hundreds of other pro-Turkish fighters, Omar left northern Syria for mineral-rich Niger last year, joining Syrian mercenaries sent to the West African nation by a private Turkish military company.

Analysts say Ankara has strong ties with the new military regime in Niamey, in power since a July 2023 coup.

And in recent months, at least 1,000 fighters have been sent to Niger "to protect Turkish projects and interests," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Tens of thousands of young men have joined the ranks of jihadist factions and others loyal to Ankara in Syria's north and northwest, where four million people, half of them displaced, live in desperate conditions.

They said they had signed six-month contracts at the Sultan Murad faction's headquarters with private firm SADAT International Defense Consultancy.

The company is widely seen as Ankara's secret weapon in wars across North Africa and the Middle East, although its chief denied the allegation in a 2021 interview with AFP.

Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Turkey was "exploiting" impoverished men in areas under its control "to recruit them as mercenaries in military operations" serving Ankara's foreign interests.

Abdul Rahman noted reports that about 50 Syrian fighters had been killed in Niger, mostly after they were attacked by jihadists, but he said his organization had only verified nine deaths, with four bodies having been repatriated.

A source within a faction whose members have been dispatched to Niger said about 50 bodies were expected to return in the coming days.

"Will Turkish offensive direct ‘PKK drones’ at Iraq’s Turkmen?" by Mehmet Alaca, Amwaj.media

In late March, an Iraqi Turkmen tribal leader was slain in a mysterious blast in Kifri, a disputed region approximately 125 km (80 miles) southeast of Kirkuk. 

As Turkey is set to launch a summer offensive against the PKK inside Iraq, Alloush’s death has escalated fears among some Turkmen. There are genuine concerns that the minority community’s political leaders may be systematically targeted.

Following the killing of Alloush, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani ordered the formation of an investigative committee, with no word on the outcome. If the PKK was indeed involved, and especially if a drone was used, it would signal a consequential shift in the group’s military strategy and capabilities. Furthermore, such a move could indicate a dangerous widening of the PKK-Turkey conflict to involve Iraq’s Turkmen.

Successive Turkish military campaigns since 2019 have focused on border areas, leading the PKK to increasingly relocate southwards. The group is now known to operate in areas surrounding Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, which are home to significant Turkmen populations.

Turkey has long been at odds with the PUK—an ally of Iran—over its claimed support for the PKK. The accusations that Talabani is allegedly involved in transferring drones to the PKK could herald increasing Turkish pressure on the Sulaimaniyah-based Iraqi Kurdish party. 

If the PKK did kill Alloush, the decision to do so in PUK-controlled territory could indicate a desire to scuttle any move by Talabani towards warmer relations with Turkey. 


Ankara Court Issues Lengthy Sentences to Kurdish Politicians in Kobani Trial

An Ankara court on May 16 issued lengthy prison sentences to dozens of Kurdish politicians in the Kobani trial, including imprisoned leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag. The trial, which lasted nearly three years, involved 108 former HDP politicians over the 2014 Kobani protests.

Demirtaş received 42 years, reduced from an aggravated life sentence, and Yüksekdağ was sentenced to 30 years, three months. Ahmet Turk, Ali Urkut, Alp Altinors, Aynur Asan, Ayla Akat Ata, Bulent Parmaksiz, and Cihan Erdal also received various sentences. Some were acquitted, including Altan Tan, Ayhan Bilgen, and Aysel Tugluk. 

Several politicians, such as former HDP deputy Sebahat Tuncel, were released considering the time served. Five of the 18 imprisoned defendants were released, including Gultan Kisanak and Ayla Akat Ata.

Main Opposition Leader Skeptical of Talks on New Constitution with Ruling Party

The main opposition leader stated that he is not considering talks with President Erdogan's ruling party regarding a new constitution due to the president's failure to adhere to the existing one. 

At the CHP headquarters in Ankara on May 17, the chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, mentioned that discussing a new constitution would be futile while there are significant violations of the current one by the ruling party. Ozel emphasized that discussions on a new constitution could only happen if the ruling party respects the current constitution, but currently, they are far from that point. 

Regarding government efforts to tackle inflation, he criticized the cost-cutting plan, stating that the savings would be cosmetic and inefficient compared to the central bank's significant losses.

Investigation Launched Against Pro-Kurdish Mayor for Terrorist Propaganda

Turkish prosecutors have launched an investigation into Cevdet Konak, the mayor of Tunceli from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), for allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda. Konak, who was elected on March 31 with 40 percent of the vote, is being accused due to speeches he made before the local elections.


Turkey Unveils Three-Year Austerity Plan to Combat High Inflation

On May 13, Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek announced a three-year austerity plan to tackle soaring inflation, which hit nearly 70 percent year-on-year in April. The government introduced the "Savings and Efficiency Package in the Public Sector" at a news conference in Ankara. 

The plan includes cuts to public-sector hiring, pausing new purchases or rentals of vehicles, furniture, and office equipment by public institutions, except for essential needs in health, security, and defense sectors. 

Additionally, there will be a 25 percent cut in promotion and representation funds for state agencies in 2024, along with restrictions on overseas promotional activities. 

The salaries of public servants serving as executive board members of state-run companies will be capped. 

Additionally, the use of imported vehicles in the public sector will cease. Other measures include a 10 percent reduction in public spending on goods and services and a 15 percent cut in investments, except for areas affected by the 2023 earthquakes.

EU Funds Back Pro-Erdoğan Foundations and Think Tanks

The European Union has been financing projects for foundations and think tanks that support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. 

Investigative journalist Metin Cihan revealed on X that EU funds have been allocated to organizations closely associated with the Turkish government, such as the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), the Service for Youth and Education Foundation of Turkey (TÜRGEV), the pro-AKP think tank Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), and the Önder Foundation of Science, Culture, and Social Services. State broadcaster TRT and the World Ethnosport Confederation, headed by Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, are also among the recipients.

Cihan's investigation also highlights how these foundations have utilized EU funding for various projects.

New Bill Redirects Visa Revenues to State by Empowering Foreign Affairs Ministry

The bill to establish the “Foundation for Strengthening Foreign Ministry Organization” was submitted to parliament on May 14 and approved by parliament’s Planning and Budget Committee on May 15. It will grant the Ministry of Foreign Affairs new powers, including buying and selling real estate and establishing and operating companies. 

With the new regulation, the Foundation can earn revenue through donations and aid. The bill also shifts visa processing responsibilities to the Foundation. 

Last year, companies handling visa transactions generated 5.5 billion lira, with 1.1 billion lira going to the Treasury. Under the new regulation, the Foundation can establish a company and offer visa brokerage services, with most revenues going directly to the state. 

Turkey and World Bank Sign $1 Billion Agreement for Renewable Energy Expansion

On May 16, Turkey and the World Bank signed an agreement for a $1 billion program aimed at supporting the expansion of renewable energy. The program aims to develop and enhance Turkey's distributed solar energy market and pilot a battery storage initiative, as outlined in the bank's statement. 

Implementation of the program will be carried out by Turkey's Development and Investment Bank (TKYB) and Industrial Development Bank (TSKB), the bank said.

Turkey Fines Google for Non-Compliance with Local Search Service Obligations

On May 16, the Turkish competition authority announced it would fine Google for failing to meet requirements related to its local search services. Starting from April 15, Google will be fined daily at a rate of five ten-thousandths of its 2023 revenues until it complies with the competition board's decisions. 

The board said the fine was imposed because Google’s previous measures failed to address concerns about hotel inquiries in its local search services.

Turkish Minister Announces Advanced Talks with Chinese Electric Car Manufacturers 

Turkish Minister of Industry and Technology Mehmet Fatih Kacir announced that they are having advanced talks with Chinese electric car manufacturers BYD and Chery about investing in Turkey. 

Speaking to Bloomberg, Kacir revealed that negotiations are ongoing with four Chinese brands for production in Turkey, with two of them in the final stages. The companies mentioned include BYD, Chery, MG, and Great Wall Motor. 

Discussions also involve deciding investment sites and incentives for greenfield projects, he added. Kacir hinted that the investing company might also consider battery investment.

Turkish Birth Rates Drop Alarmingly Over Two Decades 

New data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) reveals a worrying decline in the country's total fertility rate between 2001 and 2023. The fertility rate, which was 2.38 children per woman in 2001, fell to just 1.51 children per woman by 2023, remaining below the population replacement level of 2.1. This decline has persisted since 2016, with no increase recorded since 2001. 

Additionally, the crude birth rate, indicating live births per thousand people, dropped from 20.3 in 2001 to 11.2 per thousand people by 2023, as per TurkStat data. In 2023, Turkey recorded 958,408 live births, compared to 1,323,000 in 2001.


Turkey Escalates Crackdown on Gulen Movement: 544 Detainees 

Turkey has ramped up its crackdown on people allegedly linked to the Gulen movement, detaining 544 individuals across the country. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced the detentions on X, stating that the operations were conducted in 62 out of 81 provinces. 

The operation targeted those believed to be affiliated with the movement, and the suspects are accused of taking part in public service exams under the Gulen movement's orders and using the ByLock messaging app, considered a covert communication tool among its members.

Draft Law Proposes Jail Terms for Journalists Working for Foreign Interests

Draft legislation in Turkey aims to jail journalists and researchers working for foreign interests, according to AFP.

The proposed amendment to Turkey’s penal code includes prison terms of three to seven years for those convicted. It targets anyone conducting research on Turkish citizens and institutions with the intent of acting against the state's security or interests on behalf of a foreign organization or state. 

Feti Yıldız, deputy chairman of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), stated it would cover areas like the economy, finance, the military, national defense, public health, security, technology, culture, and more.

Erdoğan Pardons Retired Generals Involved in 1997 Military Intervention

Turkish President Erdoğan has pardoned seven retired generals who were serving life sentences for their roles in the 1997 military intervention known as the February 28 postmodern coup. The decision, announced in the Official Gazette on May 17, was made based on reports from the Council of Forensic Medicine citing the generals' advanced age and constant state of illness. 

The generals — Cevik Bir, Cetin Dogan, Fevzi Turkeri, Yildirim Turker, Aydan Erol, Erol Ozkasnak and Cevat Temel Ozkaynak had been behind bars since August 2021 after Turkey's top appeals court upheld their convictions in July 2021. 

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Ozgur Ozel described the move as a 'belated but a right step' on X.


Turkish and Greek Leaders Meet, Emphasize Dialogue and Cooperation

On May 13, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan welcomed Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Ankara. During talks, Erdoğan assured Mitsotakis that there were "no unsolvable problems" between their countries. Both leaders emphasized maintaining open dialogue channels and focusing on a positive agenda despite disagreements. 

Mitsotakis noted the importance of frequent meetings in establishing mutual understanding as a productive normality between neighbours. 

Both leaders agreed to enhance trade, maintain communication channels, implement military confidence-building measures to reduce tensions and address longstanding issues.

Erdogan Says Hamas Members Treated in Turkey Amid Reports of Secret Outpost Plans

At a joint press conference in Ankara on May 13, Greek Prime Minister Kiryakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Erdogan clashed over their views on Hamas. Mitsotakis labeled Hamas as a "terrorist organization," while Erdogan called it a "resistance organization" and mentioned that nearly 1,000 Hamas members were receiving treatment in Turkey. 

Speaking to Reuters after the press conference, a Turkish official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Erdogan "used a wrong statement" and meant that around 1,000 Gazans, not Hamas members, were treated in Turkey. Despite this clarification, the Directorate of Communications said in its X account that Hamas members are being treated in Turkish hospitals. 

The Times reported on May 14 that Hamas intended to establish a secret outpost in Turkey to launch assaults on Israeli targets. Documents titled 'Founding a base in Turkey' were discovered at the residence of Hamza Abu Shanab, chief of staff to Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, according to The Times. 

The three-year plan outlined the establishment of military cells and safehouses in multiple countries, along with training in sabotage and assassination tactics. Targets included Mossad officers, influential Israelis, Israeli naval vessels, and plans for kidnappings.

On May 15, President Erdogan claimed that if Israel defeats Hamas in Gaza, it will target Turkey next. Speaking to his party lawmakers in parliament, Erdoğan warned, 'Do not think that Israel will stop in Gaza. Unless it’s stopped, this rogue and terrorist state will set its sights on Anatolia sooner or later.' 

Fidan: Turkey to Intervene in South Africa's Genocide Case Against Israel

On May 14, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan announced that Turkey would formally intervene in South Africa's genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). 

He made the statement during a press conference with his Austrian counterpart, condemning Israel's actions in Palestine as crimes against humanity and attempted genocide.

Israel Plans to End Free Trade Agreement with Turkey

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced on May 16 that Israel will end its free trade agreement with Turkey and impose a 100% tariff on Turkish imports in response to Turkish President Erdogan's move to halt exports to Israel. 

Smotrich's plan will be presented to the cabinet for approval. It involves eliminating reduced customs rates on Turkish imports and imposing a 100% tariff on all goods imported from Turkey to Israel, in addition to existing duties.