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Ukraine conflict confirms Turkey ‘mouth cavity blisters’

When the United States said it, the rest of the world — except Russia itself as one would have expected -– kept quiet. It was like a for-your-eyes-read-only text. But, unnegotiable as time is, the answer has been provided. It has happened; Russia has invaded Ukraine – implications and repercussions of which one has to sort out from the barrage of information, misinformation and disinformation flash and background news lines from the usually independent, the so-called independent and interested ally and opposing sides.

Casting an eye squint on the Ukraine-Russia development, which has been assuming all sorts of names as it unfolds — the likes of a conflict, confrontation, crisis, breach of national sovereignty and international law, and now, even war –I found myself focused on the place of Turkey in the fatal game that has spared nobody from a Russian army general to an innocent Ukrainian child. In Africa we say “the rat trap catches even the unconcerned.” It does not choose.

I configured Turkey having succumbed to the African indigenous knowledge caution of “obunula bubili bwokya amatama” – literal translation, “having a go at two tasty hot dishes leads to mouth cavity blisters”.

I imagined President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts of trying to impress upon the world that he is plying the democratic path in Turkey devoid of an independent parliament, the judiciary, executive and media operating within in the disenabling environment of intolerance, discrimination and repressions. What a case of taking two hot tasty dishes at the same time!

Focus on the country’s foreign policy and practice scene does not produce anything better. Taking the current Ukraine-Russia conflict as a case in the view, what kind of cloak do I end up stitching together for Erdogan’s Turkey? 

The Erdogan regime has had a simultaneous go at many hot tasty social, economic, domestic and foreign cuisine dishes beyond the African indigenous concept, leading to loss of trust. Take the case of   the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Turkey finds itself a ‘friend’ of Ukraine and Russia – the two major warrying parties. Turkey supplies drones which Ukraine uses to counter Russian attacks. At the same, it offers to sponsor talks for finding a diplomatic solution. Turkey has also been one of the European countries sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine with some promising even military support.

Looked at from a broader base, Turkey, a prominent participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defense programme, is the same country that decided to acquire Russia’s (rival) S-400 sophisticated war defense systems. This frustrated the Western programme under the leadership of the U.S.  On this one alone, by destabilizing or threatening the defense programme of the West, Turkey took a ‘friendly’ action to Russia.

The resultant action of the U.S. removing Turkey from participating in the next stage of F-35 joint strike fighter production program was better news for Russia. It increased chances of Turkey deciding to acquire more S-400 missiles and for this, Russia could not take Turkey as an adversary in the final analysis.

Russia and Turkey seem to have somehow developed a type of mutual distrust that has seen both countries support opposing forces in a war and still operate smoothly.  Taking on opposing sides in Syria, Armenia-Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Libya constitute typical examples. But Russia seems to be more advanced in this game.

During the Kagera War in the 1970s in East Africa between Tanzania and Uganda, it supplied arms to both countries. Tanzania won the war but its economy has never really fully recovered from the effects judging from subsequent painful debt conversion exercises to settle the Russian arms’ purchase debt. But today, Russia is a friend of Tanzania as it is of Uganda.

Turkey does not seem to have acquired this Russian acumen.  In Libya, Erdogan has managed to align himself with the UN-recognized government. But he is also on record for recruiting mercenaries who are definitely not working in the UN interests and the world is not happy about it.

Turkey has supplied drones to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed translating into Addis Ababa fighting against its own people (itself). Abiy is happy, but the people he is fighting aren’t. These have targeted Turkey in their small way forcing Erdogan to transfer the Turkish embassy operations to Nairobi in Kenya.

Back to the Ukraine conflict, Turkey is the custodian of the Montreux Convention of 1936 which spells complex rules governing the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits during peace and war times. The rules allow Turkey to close the straits. This constitutes a dilemma. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has recognized the Ukraine situation as a war. Ukraine’s ambassador to Ankara has filed an official request to Turkey to close the straits to Russian warships. Article 19 bans passage to warships belonging to belligerent powers in times of war. Article 20 allows it if Turkey is part of the war.

What will Turkey do? No doubt it is facing a tough balancing act. Whatever action it takes will be indicative of having taken sides in the dispute. Turkey has already abstained from voting on suspending Russia from the Council of Europe, attracting criticism even from Turkish opposition that this is something “history will not forget…”

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor A. A. Khan (QC) announced that he had decided to proceed with opening an investigation into the situation in Ukraine. The country is not party to the Rome Statute but about 40 member countries have taken a significant step toward ensuring documentation of crimes against humanity in the country since the 2013 protests against a Russian-friendly government in Kyiv. 

The ICC should make independent investigations and establish real activities fitting in the war crimes against humanity category and take action. Within eight days after the invasion, people fleeing from Russian bombings were estimated by the respective UN Refugee agency to cross the one-million-mark. This is not a small figure.

Turkey has already had enough “mouth cavity blisters” and ought to be more careful. It has one leg in New York and another in controversial Joe Biden’s Washington. It has one hand in invading Moscow and another in invaded Kyiv. It has a bone to pick with the European Court for Human Rights. It has a quarrel with the people of Ethiopia and some other African countries.

All said, one can argue that the country has lost trust. And this is all due to its without frontier, insatiable appetite going to the extent of tasting two hot dishes at the same time resulting in its current mouth cavity multi-blisters as observed by the African indigenous knowledge. Enough is enough.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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