European Council on Foreign Relations

Turkey, Syria and vicious circles


Hardly a day passes without a new development in the Turkey-Syrian saga. Last evening, as I was flying from Istanbul to Sofia, Turkish airforce intercepted a Syrian Air passenger plane over suspicions it was carrying weapons from Moscow to Damascus. This comes after a tense week which saw Turkey’s military shelling Syrian army’s positions across the common border several times in retaliation for mortar fire killing Turkish civilians.

Turkey is in a really tough spot of late. Full-blown military action against Assad’s regime is unthinkable. The German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends Survey suggests that up to 57% of Turks are opposed to any military action, even if sanctioned by a UN Security Council Resolution. The government’s critics sense a danger that Syria could become Turkey’s Afghanistan should an intervention take place. Turkey would be bogged down, caught in the

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Opera in Algiers: the EU & Algeria Act II


This time last year I was in Algiers as part of research for ECFR policy brief “A reset with Algeria: the Russia to the EU’s South”. At the time, Algerian policymakers seemed to reply fairly uniformly to the question of why Algeria needed to bother with EU relations. Algeria had its own resources, other options for trade, and was following its own path politically which didn’t coincide with the sorts of reforms which the EU would want to put into ENP action plans - or so the argument ran. Though privately officials might have been unsettled by the sounds of the Arab Spring reverberating through all its neighbouring countries, officially they were unconcerned – just by virtue of being in the same region, they reasoned, they didn’t automatically face the same internal pressures as Tunisia and Egypt. The EU was struggling to forge the strong relations that it wanted with Algeria in

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Putin under siege

The Journal of Democracy has just published a special issue on ‘Putinism under Siege‘ with contributions from Lilia Shevtsova, Ivan Krastev & Stephen Holmes, Denis Volkov, Sharon Wolchik and myself. My piece is on The Strange Alliance of Democrats and Nationalists .

The article looks at three broad themes:

1) How Russian nationalism is evolving from an expansionist, Eurasian, anti-Western, imperial version into something that is primarily anti-immigrant, defensive and sometimes non-expansionist.

2) How nationalists started to adopt some democratic rhetoric in the belief that a more democratic system based on majority-rule would way state policies closer to their policy prescriptions.

3) How some Russian democrats sometimes entered into ad hoc alliances with nationalist groups on an anti-Putinist platform, but also how a much deeper fusion of democratic and nationalist views

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Sofia View: Democracy questioned in Romania

A fierce political war is raging in Romania after Prime Minister Victor Ponta, leader of the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), used his parliamentary majority to force the suspension of President Traian Basescu, who is close to the centre-right opposition Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), over alleged abuse of power. 

Basescu now faces a referendum on 29 July to decide whether his suspension should be permanent, which, say observers, he is likely to lose. That would consolidate the hold on power of the ruling Social Liberal Union (USL), which is dominated by Ponta's Socialists and already controls the two houses of parliament as well as most of the municipalities.

Ironically, it was Basescu who appointed Ponta as prime minister, pending elections in November, after the centre-right lost its majority in parliament. Since then relations have deteriorated to outright enmity.

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Sofia view: Where is enlargement heading?

Where is EU enlargement heading?  How is the Balkans faring in the current crisis and what role does as ambitious a power as Turkey, a country that is part of the region, impact on the politics of this corner of Europe. On 18 June ECFR Sofia co-hosted a one-day conference together with the Centre for Strategic Research, the in-house think tank of Turkey’s MFA.  We also had the pleasure to have the Balkan Studies Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Diplomatic Institute at the Bulgarian MFA amongst the organisers.

The crisis is a welcome moment to take stock of the achievements and prospects of regional cooperation in the Balkans. Not least because greater integration is often cast as the path for boosting growth and development. One key point raised was the need to adopt a more inclusive definition of South East Europe, beyond the Western Balkans which comes in

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