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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Inscrutable Turk

Very little has been mentioned of Turkey in the outpouring of news and commentary about Russia’s rape of Georgia during the last two weeks. This is strange. For centuries, Russia’s drive to extend its authority to the south was premised in good part upon the need to contain Turkish power and to permit access to warm water ports. For all that Russia’s obsession with great power status has been depicted at the root of its latest campaign, many outsiders overlook the relative nature of their obsession. Russia’s rulers have sought not only to best the Germans, British and other European rivals but also, and more importantly in this case, have imagined themselves to be supreme over the Turks, Persians and other lesser infidels to their south and east.

Georgia and the other small nations of the South Caucasus have had an uneasy but generally workable relationship with Turkey, except of course for the Armenians, who historically have borne the brunt of Turkey's own drive for regional mastery. So how do the Turks regard Russia’s latest move?

There answer is something of a riddle. The Turkish government had been busy preparing for a visit by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of all people, at the time of the invasion. It has since reportedly blocked passage of an American ship bringing aid to the Georgians. Otherwise it is playing its cards close to its vest. But there may come a day in the foreseeable future when the Americans and the Europeans will need Turkey if they really do aim to punish Russia for its Georgian adventure and deter it from further beligerence. No doubt the Turks will demand a high price.


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“ surtout, pas trop de zèle “



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