by instituDE, published on 25 December 2023


"Attacks on Ships Going to Israel in the Red Sea and Operation Welfare Guards" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

The Houthi attacks on ships carrying cargo to Israel in the Red Sea have the potential to have an asymmetric effect on the world economy. Without the need for very sophisticated methods, the Houthis are attacking ships trading with Israel with cheap drones and ballistic missiles. Similar to Somali pirates, they land on the ship by helicopter and seize the ship. These attacks threaten the safety of navigation in the Red Sea, one of the world's critical maritime routes.

The Houthi attacks have also affected Turkish companies, especially those that continue to trade with Israel. For instance, the shipping company in which President Erdogan's son, Burak Erdogan, is a partner had to turn off its tracking systems and deploy armed guards on board while traversing the Red Sea due to its ongoing business with Israel. However, there is no concrete information regarding Turkey's involvement in Operation Welfare Guardian. On the other hand, Turkey had previously participated in Operation Ocean Shield, organized by NATO countries between 2009 and 2016, targeting Somali pirates in the same region.

"A Secluded Runway, a Turkish Spymaster and No Guns: the New World of Hostage Exchanges" by Joe Parkinson, Drew Hinshaw, James Marson and Aruna Viswanatha, The Wall Street Journals

A former army officer who studied politics and administrative science at the University of Maryland, Fidan became Turkey’s youngest-ever intelligence chief in 2010 at 42. Low-key and softly spoken, he has rarely given interviews. Former CIA officers who worked with Fidan said he built a network that traversed geopolitical fault lines, fostering close contacts in Washing-ton and Moscow.

Last year, when Russian and U.S. intelligence officials discussed which country could host a prisoner trade given many countries’ travel restrictions on Russian officials, both sides agreed they could trust Turkey.

The April 27, 2022, handover, described in exclusive detail by Turkish and American officials and another person present, was the first of several hostage exchanges that Turkey has hosted—among them a prisoner-of-war swap between Ukraine and Russia in September of last year which was the most important and sensitive since Moscow’s invasion. Turkey has more recently helped Qatar mediate between Israel and Hamas to try to extract the estimated 200 Israeli and foreign hostages, including around a dozen Americans, abducted during the militants’ incursion from Gaza. 

The diplomatic shift also throws into stark relief the limits of a central foreign-policy plank of the Biden administration, which broadly views the U.S. in a contest between democracies against authoritarian governments. In reality, America’s dependence on Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the U.A.E. to help resolve hostage crises and other disputes have put those countries’ human-rights records or their booming trade with Russia on the back burner. Before the war, Biden pointedly excluded Turkey from its 2021 Summit for Democracy, and had warned that its relationship with the U.S. would depend on its freedoms it extended at home.

Turkish officials say they are standing by should Washington need their services in cutting a deal for any future American hostages.

"Turkey’s ‘disinformation law’ weaponized to target journalists: int’l NGOs", Stockholm Center for Freedom

A new report released jointly by several international NGOs details the worsening press freedom environment in Turkey, accusing the government of instrumentalizing the recently passed “disinformation law” to harass and silence journalists, according to the Evrensel newspaper.

Titled “Turkey: Press Freedom Crisis Deepens Amid Earthquake and National Elections,” the report was prepared by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT).

Enacted in October 2022, the law criminalizes the dissemination of “false or misleading information” and has led to more than 30 investigations against journalists. Eight journalists were faced with lawsuits, six journalists were detained and five were arrested.

The report said the law provided a framework for extensive censorship of online information and the criminalization of journalism, which enabled the government to further subdue and control public debate in the lead up to the country’s general elections in May 2023.

Another legal instrument widely used against journalists in Turkey is the anti-terror law whose broad and ambiguous nature allows the interpretation of news reports and social media commentary as terrorist propaganda. Terrorism-related accusations frequently target Kurdish journalists or others reporting on the situation of the Kurdish minority or covering pro-Kurdish politics. 

The report also highlighted the role of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, in restricting visual media such as TV channels and streaming platforms.

The agency has imposed restrictions based on its ambiguous provisions such as “national values” and “general morality.”

In the first 11 months of 2023, RTUK imposed a total of TL 22 million ($750,000) in fines, mostly against outlets critical of the government.

"Turkey saves $2 billion on Russian oil as imports soar despite sanctions", Reuters

Turkey and Turkish companies have saved around $2 billion on energy bills in 2023 by raising imports of discounted Russian oil and refined products, Reuters calculation based on LSEG data and traders' estimates showed, and Ankara wants to buy more from its neighbour despite Western sanctions.

Turkey became the biggest importer of Russian energy in the Western hemisphere after Russia's invasion of Ukraine triggered European countries to halt most imports of Russian oil and gas. 

Russian Urals crude oil shipments to Turkey rose to an all-time high of 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in November 2023, accounting for some 14% of Russia's overall seaborne oil exports last month, LSEG data and Reuters calculations showed.

Supplies to Turkey are expected to rise further in the coming months after private Russian oil producer Lukoil signed a deal with Azeri firm SOCAR to refine up to 200,000-barrel-per-day of its oil at Socar’s Turkish STAR refinery, trading sources said.

Turkey has been paying between $25 and $150 less for a ton ($3.3-20 per barrel) of Russia diesel this year compared to prices for similar grades in the Mediterranean, according to traders. For crude, it had discounts of between $5-20 per barrel. Cheaper energy imports have helped Ankara narrow its trade deficit and lessen pressure on its currency, which devalued 30% so far this year.

Turkey has also increased exports of diesel over the same period by 120% to 6.03 million tons from 2.75 million in January-November 2023, according to LSEG data.

Multiple activists and supporters of Ukraine have accused Turkey of effectively helping Russia channel its products to Europe bypassing sanctions. The country denies the accusations and says it is exporting fuels refined from various types of crude.


CHP announces mayoral candidates in nine provinces ahead of local elections

The spokesperson for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Yucel, revealed the party's mayoral candidates for 126 districts in nine provinces on December 21 for the upcoming local elections in March. The candidates, initially recommended by the Central Executive Board (MYK) under the leadership of party chairman Ozgur Ozel, underwent a vote during a party council meeting.

Business association criticizes Education Minister's collaboration with religious sects 

On December 20, the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD) criticized Education Minister Yusuf Tekin for his pledge to continue collaborating with religious sects in education until 2024. In a statement, TUSIAD emphasized the need to avoid religious sects in the education system, considering past experiences.

TUSIAD called for a modern education transformation, stating that the current approach contradicts modern education and hinders Turkey's economic and social development goals. The association urged the implementation of science-based education policies and emphasized the importance of a forward-looking educational system.

Tekin had mentioned ongoing collaborations with Islamic sects during parliamentary budget meetings, noting ten protocols with such organizations among a total of 2,709.

Good Party faces further lawmaker resignation over independent run in local elections 

The Good Party's decision to run independently in the upcoming local elections in March has resulted in the resignation of its fifth lawmaker since November. On December 21, Ankara MP Yuksel Arslan announced his departure through a written statement on Twitter. 

He expressed his support for the current mayor of the capital, Mansur Yavas, citing their longstanding connection. Arslan also mentioned that he would continue his membership in parliament as an independent deputy, expressing his view that the party's decision to run independently in the mayoral elections in Ankara was not "appropriate."

On the same day, Meral Aksener, the Chair of the Good Party, characterized the actions of some party members engaging in backdoor talks with the CHP after the decision to enter the upcoming local elections without an alliance as a "declaration of war." Aksener accused Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Mansur Yavas, without naming them, of "cowardice" for not entering the presidential election.


WTO Panel rules against Turkey's additional duties on US steel and aluminum

A World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute panel ruled on December 19 that Turkey must repeal additional duties imposed on the United States in response to U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs. The panel found Turkey's measure "inconsistent" with WTO policy and recommended that Turkey align its actions with its obligations. 

The dispute arose after Washington imposed a 25% duty on steel and a 10% duty on aluminum imports in March 2018, prompting retaliatory measures by Turkey. The United States initiated dispute settlement proceedings against Turkey, as well as against the European Union, Canada, Russia, and other countries for their own retaliatory measures.

Turkey's Central Bank raises key interest rate to 42.5%

On December 21, Turkey's central bank increased its key interest rate by 250 basis points to 42.5%, in line with expectations, to tackle persistent inflation. Indicating a potential conclusion to the tightening cycle, the bank expressed its intention to "complete the tightening cycle as soon as possible." Emphasizing the commitment to maintaining monetary tightness for sustained price stability, the bank stated that policy was "significantly close to the level required to establish the disinflation course." 

Since June, the central bank has raised its one-week repo rate by 3,400 basis points.

Despite seven consecutive months of tightening, some analysts suggested the possibility of one more rate hike in the future. 

Goldman Sachs says that the most recent rate hike would mark the conclusion of the ongoing tightening cycle, distinguishing its outlook from other banks that believe monetary tightening is not yet completed, as reported by Bloomberg.

Gross foreign exchange reserves increase while net reserves decline

The Weekly Money and Banking Statistics, released by the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey (CBRT) on December 15, revealed an increase in the Central Bank's gross foreign exchange reserves, surging by 890 million dollars and reaching 95 billion 399 million dollars.

However, a contrasting trend was observed in net reserves, experiencing a decline from 38.2 billion dollars to 37.2 billion dollars.

Specifically, net reserves excluding swaps, which involve foreign exchange acquired from other countries and are to be repaid with interest upon maturity, registered a negative value of 39.2 billion dollars, marking a decrease compared to the preceding week’s minus 42.1 billion dollars.


Turkey's Top court reiterates violation of rights for jailed lawmaker Atalay

On December 21, Turkey's top court ruled for the second time that the rights of jailed lawmaker Can Atalay, elected to parliament in May, had been violated. The Constitutional Court, in a majority vote, concluded that Atalay's constitutional rights to be elected, engage in political activities, and his right to liberty and security were violated. 

In October, the court had ruled that Atalay was entitled to immunity from prosecution, but the appeals court refused to comply, leading to a criminal complaint against the Constitutional Court judges who voted in favor of Atalay's release.

Syrian journalists sentenced to six years in Turkey for spreading “false news”

Two Syrian journalists, Alaa Farhat and Ahmed Rihawi, have been sentenced to six years and a month in jail in Turkey on charges of spreading false news, inciting against the Turkish state, and spreading hate. 

The sentences follow an interview conducted by Rihawi earlier this year for Syrian broadcaster Orient, managed by Farhat. In the interview, Rihawi mentioned a figure regarding Syrians allegedly killed at the border by Turkish forces, deemed offensive to the Turkish state and military. 

The journalists have appealed the verdict and are yet to be imprisoned.

"Documentary 'Siren' explores impact of closed corruption probes

On December 20, a documentary titled "Siren," directed by Turkish journalist Adem Seneman, premiered on YouTube. The film delves into the repercussions of the closure of corruption probes in December 2013. These investigations led to the arrest of high-ranking government officials' sons and contributed to the deterioration of the Turkish police over the subsequent ten years. 

The documentary examines the decline in law enforcement, the lack of justice and the rule of law, and police involvement in illegal activities. It critiques the government's manipulation of the justice system to conceal corruption. 

The film also references a UNODC 2023 report highlighting Turkey's role in the global cocaine trade and notes a doubling in the number of children involved in crime over the last decade.


Erdogan seeks deeper ties with Hungary, signs strategic partnership declaration

On December 18, Turkish President Erdogan expressed his intent to strengthen ties with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during his second visit to the country in four months. 

The visit coincides with the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The leaders signed a joint political declaration, elevating their relations to an "advanced strategic partnership level." 

Erdogan emphasized the desire to enhance cooperation in defense and energy, aiming to raise the trade volume from the current $4 billion to $6 billion. 

Discussions also included NATO enlargement, as noted by Hungarian President Katalin Novak, who met with Erdogan. But, there was no comment on Sweden's NATO bid during the leaders' address to reporters. 

As a gift exchange, Orban presented Erdogan with a Nonius horse, and in return, Orban received an electric car, TOGG, manufactured in Turkey.

Turkey finds no financial system abuse in company sanctioned by US for allegedly Hamas ties

On December 18, the Turkish Treasury said financial authorities examined the financial activities of a company whose shareholders were sanctioned by the United States for allegedly aiding Hamas and found no evidence of financial system abuse. 

The U.S. imposed sanctions on three major shareholders of the Turkish real estate investment fund Trend GYO on October 27. Turkey's Treasury announced that the country's authorities carefully reviewed the financial activities and status of relevant entities, concluding that there was no abuse of the nation's financial system. 

The Treasury's statement also noted that Turkish officials shared these findings with their U.S. counterparts, including Treasury Undersecretary Brian Nelson, during his recent visit to Ankara. The statement added that the U.S. officials presented no evidence challenging Turkey's findings during the visit.

Erdogan once again links Turkey's NATO support for Sweden to U.S. approval of F-16s

Erdogan announced that Turkey's parliamentary approval of Sweden's NATO membership depends on the U.S. Congress approving Turkey's request to buy F-16 fighter jets. He urged both legislatures to act "simultaneously," emphasizing the interconnection of the two issues. 

Speaking on late December 18 while returning from a visit to Hungary, Erdogan also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes imposed on Turkey. He highlighted that positive developments from the U.S. on the F-16 matter and Canada keeping its promises would expedite Turkey's parliamentary support for Sweden's NATO membership. Erdogan also mentioned that Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan raised the issue of simultaneous approvals during discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The Turkish parliament is set to resume discussions on approving Sweden's NATO membership request on December 26. The Foreign Affairs Committee has placed the accession protocol back on its agenda, and Committee members will convene at 15:00.

President Erdogan congratulates Egyptian counterpart on his re-election

On December 20, Turkish President Erdogan called Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to congratulate him on his third term re-election, as announced by the Presidential Communications Directorate. Erdogan conveyed his best wishes for al-Sisi's success in the new term, expressing hopes for advancing bilateral relations between Egypt and Turkey. 

The leaders also engaged in discussions on the ongoing Israeli attacks in Gaza and efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the people of the Palestinian enclave, according to the communications directorate.

Turkey engages in talks with EU on visa facilitation

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Mehmet Kemal Bozay revealed ongoing discussions between Turkish and EU officials regarding visa facilitation for Turkish citizens. Bozay mentioned talks focused on easing current rules, with Turkey advocating for a streamlined Schengen visa process for specific groups such as students, businesspeople, artists, academics, and media professionals.

While the EU has not issued an official statement, Bozay expressed optimism, expecting positive news soon. He noted a modest improvement in Schengen visa application processing in certain regions, reducing appointment wait times from four weeks to two.

Turkish security forces conduct nationwide raids, detain 304 suspects linked to ISIS

Turkish security forces carried out simultaneous raids across the country, detaining 304 people suspected of having ties to the Islamic State extremist group, announced Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya on December 22. 

The arrests occurred in 32 provinces, with the majority concentrated in Turkey's three largest cities -Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. The operation, named "Heroes-34," was a collaborative effort between police intelligence and counter-terrorism squads, as revealed by Yerlikaya on the social media platform X.

Twelve Turkish soldiers lost their lives in attacks in Northern Iraq

Twelve Turkish soldiers lost their lives in separate attacks on bases in northern Iraq, as reported by Turkey's defense ministry on December 23. 

Initially, Ankara reported the deaths of six soldiers in a clash with terrorists. Later, an additional six soldiers were confirmed to have lost their lives in northern Iraq, attributed to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and many Western countries.

Turkish President Erdogan called for retaliation against "terrorists" in northern Iraq and Syria, leading to a retaliatory military operation involving airstrikes in the region.