On a State Visit to Berlin

BERLIN/ANKARA (Own report) - Turkish President Recep Tayyig Erdoğan's arrival in Berlin on a state visit amid media reports of arms cooperation with his country and of state-sponsored denunciation, using a smartphone app of those - also in Germany - critical of his government. Erdoğan will be received with all protocolary state honors, since the German government wants to strengthen its ties to Ankara at all costs. There is a growing risk that Ankara will turn its back on the West. Germany seeks to strengthen these ties because of Turkey's contribution to warding off refugees and particularly for geostrategic motives. Turkey is regarded as the indispensable isthmus to Germany gaining the much-coveted influence in Central Asia and the Middle East. Ankara is also facilitating the participation of Berlin in achieving an alignment in Syria, together with Moscow - but with the exclusion of Washington. Expansion of German-Turkish cooperation involves contracts in the billions for German companies and German participation in the development of Turkey's own arms industry.

Isthmus to the Middle East

There are several reasons for the German government granting the state visit of Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdoğan, who arrives in Berlin Thursday. It is generally aimed at strengthening Turkey's ties to Germany and to the EU. Erdoğan will also be received with military honors and given a state diner. He will be received by the German President and will meet twice with the Chancellor for comprehensive talks. The German government is seriously worried that Ankara may withdraw from the Refugee Pact and therefore allow many more refugees from the war zones and other crisis areas of the Middle East to come to Europe. To forestall such a decision, the EU is regularly wiring large sums of money to Ankara. It was reported that last Tuesday, the Budget Committee of the German Bundestag had earmarked €215.8 million to be paid to Turkey. The fact that for years Ankara has been orienting its view eastward - toward Russia and China - and ultimately even entering close cooperation with Moscow, has heightened fears that Turkey could eventually turn its back on the EU completely. From Berlin's point of view, this would result in a geostrategic disaster. For the planers in Berlin's ministerial bureaucracy, Turkey is an indispensable isthmus not only to the Caucasus and Central Asia, but also to the Middle East, without which, they conclude that having an effective influence in these regions of the world would be difficult to achieve. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1])

Berlin, Rather than Washington

On top of that, opportunities are emerging for Berlin from the growing tensions between Ankara and Washington. Tensions were already evident during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and again escalated in the conflict over the imprisonment of a US preacher in Turkey. The Trump administration doubled its punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey. Even before that dispute escalated, Washington had begun to use military bases in Greece to a larger extent - contrary to official denials, to have alternative bases to those it was using at the time in Turkey, particularly Incirlik, in case the conflict between the two countries should escalate too much further.[2] The tensions are also apparent in the fact that Ankara is currently cooperating with Moscow to establish a group of four powers - excluding Washington - to reach an alignment on Syria's future and reconstruction. Germany and France are supposed to join this quartet format - but not the USA.[3] September 14, leading advisors of the heads of states and governments of the 4 convened in Istanbul, to seek solutions to the war over Idlib. Ibrahim Kalin, one of Erdoğan's most influential advisors, and Jan Hecker, Chancellor Merkel's foreign policy advisor also participated in the meeting. A summit of the four powers is in consideration.

Billions in Orders for Siemens

Turkey's current crisis is seen as an opportunity for strengthening its ties to Germany and the EU. Since the beginning of the year, the Turkish lira had lost 40 percent of its value in relationship to the US dollar and the euro, causing immense problems for numerous Turkish companies, who are indebted in dollars. In the wings of the UN General Assembly in New York, Erdoğan sought to reduce tensions with the United States, to avoid US punitive tariffs. In Berlin, he now seeks more business with German companies for Turkey, which is why he will also meet with Dieter Kempf, President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). Already last week, Turkey*s Minister of Finances, Berat Albayrak was in Berlin to promote an intensive expansion of business cooperation and to herald in a "new era" in relations with Germany.[4] Albayrak is Erdoğan's son-in-law, which is considered very significant in Ankara. The German government seeks to take advantage of the opportunities now opening. It has been announced that Germany's Minister of Economics Peter Altmeier will be traveling to Turkey October 25 - 26. He will be accompanied by an approx. 80 member business delegation, and will preside over the first meeting of the Turkish-German Economic and Trade Commission, which has been in planning for years and now will finally begin to function.[5] In the meantime, German companies have already had their first success. Siemens, which had landed a contract in April for the delivery of ten high-speed trains to Turkey's national TCDD railway company - worth around €340 million - is now, according to reports, to take charge of a consortium that will modernize and expand Turkey's railway system. This contract is estimated at €35 billion.[6]

Tanks for Turkey

German efforts to profit from Turkey's creation of a domestic arms industry, are also making progress. Since some time, Turkey has sought to break its strong dependence on arms sales from other NATO countries, which is why it has begun to buy combat material from Russia and China. For example, it seeks to buy Russia's highly effective S-400 missile defense system, while simultaneously seeking to establish its own weapons manufacturing industry. Last but not least, Turkey wants to construct its own battle tank, whose Altay prototype uses an MTU (Friedrichshafen) diesel motor as well as a smoothbore cannon (Rheinmetall). The contract for the construction of the first 250 Altay battle tanks was allotted last spring to Turkey's BMC company, which does not yet have expertise in tank construction, but cooperates in an ad hoc (Rheinmetall BMC Savunma Sanayi, Rheinmetall BMC Defense Industry, RBSS) joint venture founded with Rheinmetall.[7] In addition, the Turkish military's Leopard 2A4 battle tanks will be modernized with the help of Rheinmetal to include enhanced mine protection as well as a fire control system. According to recent reports, the modernization has already begun - evidently with Rheinmetall not having waited for an official permit. This is allegedly allowed, even though the export of arms technology, including blueprints must have a permit. But it does not apply to the use of experts, who are merely rendering technical support abroad.[8]

The Denunciator App

President Erdoğan's government is notorious for its brutal, wide-ranging repression of any dissent. Recently hundreds of employees were arrested for having gone on strike against the horrible working conditions at the construction site of Istanbul's new major airport. According to reports, up to 400 workers have already lost their lives at the site. The strike was repressed with extreme brutality.[9] Recently it became known that, in order to crack down on government opponents abroad, Ankara has made available a smartphone app, which allows President Erdoğan's supporters around the world to comfortably denounce government dissidents online to the police. They only have to furnish the name, other personal data of the accused and the alleged political dissents. Using this app, which is said to have been downloaded on more than 100,000 smartphones, and used by government supporters also in Germany, one can also denounce objectionable comments on social networks such as Facebook. This year alone, statements critical of the government on social networks have already led to more than 20,000 criminal cases in Turkey, many on the basis of complaints by denunciators.[10] Erdoğan is quoted saying, "no matter where our people are, if someone observes or hears of someone not doing the right thing or something similar, they should let our security forces know about it." "That is a big help to us. It makes our job easier."[11] The Turkish president will be received on a state visit in Berlin.


[1] See also Brücke und Bollwerk.

[2] Nancy A. Youssef: U.S. Eyes Military Expansion in Greece Amid Strains With Turkey. wsj.com 11.09.2018.

[3] See also Reconstruction in Syria (II).

[4] Finanzminister Albayrak spricht von "neuer Ära" mit Deutschland. trt.net.tr 22.09.2018.

[5] Peter Altmaier reist mit 80-köpfiger Delegation in die Türkei. tagesspiegel.de 02.08.2018.

[6] Dinah Deckstein, Maximilian Popp, Christoph Schult, Gerald Traufetter, Severin Weiland: Freie Bahn für Erdoğan - mit deutschem Geld? spiegel.de 07.09.2018.

[7] Hans-Martin Tillack, Margherita Bettoni: Rüstungskonzern Rheinmetall kann auf Panzerbau in Türkei hoffen. stern.de 04.05.2018. See also Panzer für die Türkei.

[8] Hans-Martin Tillack, Ahmet Senyurt: Werden jetzt schon mit deutscher Hilfe türkische Panzer nachgerüstet? stern.de 26.09.2018.

[9] Susanne Güsten: Erdogans Fluchhafen. tagesspiegel.de 17.09.2018.

[10] Erdogan-Kritiker in Deutschland werden via Smartphone-App bei türkischen Behörden denunziert. swr.de 25.09.2018.

[11] Denunziation per Spitzel-App. swr.de 26.09.2018.