Connecting the Dots: Cyber-Meddling and Russia’s Grand Strategy

To understand the motivation behind the seemingly indiscriminate nature of Russia’s cyber-meddling operations, it is essential to contextualise them within the evolution of Russia’s grand strategy.

 

In 1989, Vladimir Putin, a young KGB officer stationed in East Germany, witnessed first-hand the power of popular uprising and the infectious nature of chaos as a destabilising agent against established authority. Putin’s lesson in the destructive power of general disarray and the communicability of popular dissent represents the genesis of Russia’s contemporary grand strategy. However, to fully understand the rise of Putin’s Russia, discussion of a man by the name of Aleksandr Dugin is essential.

 

At first glance, Aleksandr Dugin, an occult fascist, seems an unlikely ally of a former KGB operative such as Putin. However, Dugin’s philosophical influence on Putin would further crystallise Russia’s contemporary approach to foreign policy.

 

In 1997, Dugin published Foundations of Geopolitics. The book draws heavily on the work of Halford Mackinder’s who recognised the strategic advantages of occupying the Heartland of Russia and that whoever controlled it would control the world. However, Dugin revises Mackinder’s work and reframes it into a strategy of perpetual conflict as an enduring foreign policy strategy.

 

Dugin’s influence on Putin’s strategy also comes from their shared belief that popular chaos and instability are as potent as military force in the game of power. For Dugin, maintaining a permanent condition of conflict with the West is essential to Russian political power, and the key to this play is the ceaseless subversion of its heartland by sewing internal chaos.

 

In George Orwell’s 1984, the world exists in a state of perpetual and unwinnable conflict within a tripolar global divide. In Dugin’s theory, Eurasia, a name that Orwell borrowed from Mackinder, is at war not with Oceania, but the Atlanticist alliance led by the United States. According to Dugin: “The Eurasian Empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, the strategic control of the USA.”

 

Understanding that Putin’s Russia is not pursuing the unlikely goal of singular world domination, rather the maintenance of a constant condition of Cold War-style tension, so that Russia can hold on to its relative power is key to understanding contemporary its foreign policy. So too is the practical operative strategy to foment domestic imbalance within the Atlanticist heartland in order to realise and maintain a global equilibrium.

 

Echoing 1984, Russia seeks an enduring conflict to divide and contain, rather than one to divide and conquer. This Machiavellian strategy is grounded in the subversion of their enemy’s core through infecting them with domestic disorder. By introducing a virus that attacks the social and political values of its foe, Russia hopes to unleash an epidemic of internal suspicion and agitation that will weaken interior power structures and, in turn, deteriorate their external strength. According to Dugin, for Russia to maintain its power globally, it must continuously erode America’s role as a superpower from within. In doing so, Russia is enacting Dugin’s argument that, “it is important to provoke all forms of instability and separatism within the borders of the United States.”

 

Considering the power held by America and its Atlanticist allies, and the rising might of China, which anchors the globe’s third tripolar sphere, it makes sense Russia has developed its grand strategy around relatively inexpensive arms-length cyber destabilisation campaigns. By focusing on remote subversion, Russia can punch far above its military and economic weight to maintain its position as a global power. Cyberwarfare, hacking, leaks, trolling, and bot-spread disinformation operations represent Moscow’s frontline tactics in its drive to weaken Atlanticist democratic society by influencing its citizens’ thought and warping perspectives.

 

Russia’s most infamous cyberattack to influence the result of the 2016 presidential election was a mission designed to infect the United States with the disease of internal division, suspicion, and chaotic paranoia. To Russia, President Trump is a useful idiot, an unwitting dupe in fulfilling Dugin’s plan to energise “extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilising internal political processes in the U.S.” Even Trump’s America First policy affirms Dugin’s desire “to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

 

Contextualising Russia’s wide range of targets within the narrative of its grand strategy connects the dots between the seemingly unrelated actions being directed by Moscow. Each headline issue that includes Russian cyber-meddling demonstrates the relatively inexpensive yet massively effective techniques Moscow is employing to destabilise its enemies and maintain global influence. Unlike the costly version of permanent military warfare in Orwell’s 1984, Russia’s cynical approach to ensuring a perpetual global stalemate is being waged by contaminating the hearts and minds of its enemy’s population. And so far, the plan to sustain an enduring condition of septic chaos within the West appears to be meeting little meaningful resistance.

Britain should play an active role in helping Ukraine

 

One aspect of the Brexit process is establishing a role as a global player outside the EU. Ironically Britain might play a major, mutually beneficial role, for one country that is actually desperately trying to join the EU: Ukraine.

 

Ukraine has had a torrid time since the collapse of the USSR, whereas other central-eastern European countries have, with some difficultly, found their way into the European Union and the markets that membership affords. Ukraine has spent a large amount of its time being subject to a farcical process of predation, where previous big-whigs in the former communist party have been able to pillage the state of its major natural resources. They then use the political confusion, uncertainty and apathetic mismanagement of the state to ship these cheaply out of the country. Once out, they sell these Ukrainian assets at world-market prices, at the expense of the general populace. These oligarchs use the political puppets such as Yulia Tymoshencko, Viktor Yushchenko and the infamous Viktor Yanukoyvch to push the interests of different competing oligarchs. Ukraine’s problem is obvious: corruption. Corruption permeates the Ukrainian system. On the lowest levels policemen and doctors will demands bribes known as a “blat” in order to feed and support their families, and at the top, oligarchs will deliberately extract wealth from the state systems to line their own pockets. Ukraine has a history of corruption so embedded in the minds of the people that 65% of all Ukrainians believe that corruption is part of the culture. Corruption is as Ukrainian as horilka and borshch.

 

Although corruption is ingrained in the Ukrainian system, the Ukrainian people are some of the most politically active in the whole world. In 2004 we saw a general election dogged by corruption, voter intimidation and electoral fraud which resulted in Viktor Yanukoyvch claiming an illegitimate victory. Yet the people of Ukraine finally had had enough and marched on Maidan square in the tens of thousands, protesting there peacefully for months. The people of Ukraine had spoken and the polity listened. Sadly the desired constitutional changes never truly materialised as oligarchs moved to consolidate their power and in 2010 Yanukoyvch finally got his presidency. However, Yanukoyvch, a deeply-flawed figure from the East of Ukraine holding a strong affinity with Russia and a somewhat chequered past, took this predation too far isolating the oligarchs and drawing vast amounts of state money into the bank accounts of his own family and friends. He then went on to build himself a multi-million presidential mansion complete with his own personal zoo and hunting grounds. Once again, the people of Ukraine took to the Maidan, but this time things would not end peacefully. In 2014, Yanukoyvch ordered his police to use extreme force, including the use of sniper rifles, to disperse the crowd. This however merely strengthened the will of the people and after over 70 civilian deaths Yanukovych was forced to flee the country. For a time Ukraine was back in the hands of the people.

 

Since the so called “Euromaidan” protests, the populous has demanded that the government looks to increase ties with the European Union and distance itself from its often aggressive Russian neighbour. The Ukraine people believe in the goal of EU accession, and strive for it. The fact of the matter is though that accession doesn’t look to be coming any time soon. An Association Agreement has been made to give Ukraine greater economic ties but, especially with the rise of authoritarian unstable regimes in the EU itself, there is little appetite in the EU to make Ukraine a full-fledged member. This can be largely blamed on the poor institutional framework of Ukraine. The judiciary is not completely independent, and the oligarchs who benefit from the current arrangements push back at all times against meaningful reforms. Anti-corruption activists, such as Vitaliy Shabunin, have been subject to bizarre but damaging attacks. It has included the creation of a fake American news broadcast, circulated on social media that claimed irregularities in Shabunin’s finances had been found and broadcast by the fictional News24 in what the fake anchor assumed was some form of prank. The Ukrainian media enjoys relative freedom, but there is a supreme lack of trust in any political institutions.

 

So what is therefore the purpose of drawing attention to all this? Well, quite simply Ukraine and in particular, the Ukrainian people deserve better. After suffering at the hands of predation and corruption, Ukraine has a floundering economy and despite being one of the most agriculturally viable countries in all of Europe, it has long experienced poor economic growth. With Ukraine’s EU membership bid well and truly on hold Ukraine could really use some support to help attain western integration and the support of the IMF. Britain could play a vital role here. Ukraine is currently undergoing one of the largest judicial reforms in modern history and to create a higher likelihood of success Britain should offer its support. A form of “role-model” program will help to ensure the people of Ukraine that an external body, with an education, advisory and monitoring role will ensure that the reforms are appropriate and avoid the manipulation found in the past. Plus, crucially, Britain’s departure from the EU may actually provide greater room for manoeuvre when negotiating with Ukraine outside of EU regulations. Ukraine’s poor institutions need reforming, confidence needs to return to the people. And Britain claims it has ambitions to be a truly global country, what could be more global than becoming a world leader in international development? And forging an economic partnership in the process would be a clear example of Britain’s viability as a global player. Britain and Ukraine can benefit. Integration can be achieved. The passion of the Ukrainian people for a better future has never faltered, but if significant time passes with little progress the people may grow tired of waiting, and Russia, an ominous neighbour, would seize any opportunity to prevent European integration and halt EU expansion.

 

In 2014 over 70 protesters paid the ultimate price for their dream of the existence of a truly European Ukraine based on rule of law and freedom from corruption. Thousands more have died in the conflict with Russian-backed rebels to protect this dream. It is the duty not just of the Ukrainian polity, but of all of Europe to help Ukraine realise this dream, and it’s time for Britain to put its money where its mouth as a truly global nation.

How the Far right rose (Again)

Nationalist, populist, protectionist and right-wing; US President Donald Trump is all these things. Across the pond, the political mainstream has grown to include these values after a string of electoral gains for right-wing parties in power.

The rapid rise and national electoral success of populist right-wing parties have led to their emergence as established political forces in more and more countries in Europe. Their support has soared across Europe.

Demonstrating the success of right-wing populism, one needs to look no further than Holland and France. Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom (PVV) is the second-largest party in the Dutch House of Representative, despite the policy of marginalising and avoiding working with the PVV by the rest of parliament for its extreme anti-Islam views. Marine Le Pen in France has scored victories in the French 2017 Presidential Election under the nationalist right-wing party, National Front. Le Pen beat 10 other candidates to reach the second run-off against Emmanuel Macron, which she eventually lost with 33.9% of the vote. This was the strongest showing for the National Front in the Presidential Election since its inception.

Donald Trump’s election as the President of the United States, therefore, is just one example of a series of electoral victories for right-wing nationalist, extremist and populist parties. His election was not just a fluke that coincided with the success of populist politics. In countries like Poland, the right-wing and populist Law and Order (PiS) are already in power, whereas in Germany, the far-right, Alternative for Germany (AfD) have secured representation in the Bundestag for the first time on an aggressively anti-immigration and anti-Islam platform, the general tenor in the campaign and rallies was not too dissimilar from Trump on illegal immigration from Mexico.

Donald Trump is no unique phenomenon, populist parties are growing in strength and in light of these recent events, many right-wing commentators now have high-profiles and huge followings across multiple social media platform.

Popular assessments documenting the rise of right-wing populism typically centre on the disenfranchisement of the working class, but the recent trends reveal that the reality is much more nuanced. While it is true that working-class people with secondary school education who live in the outskirts of cities, among rural communities (the people most affected by the impacts of globalisation and free trade), form the bulk of the demographics who voted for Donald Trump and voted for Brexit, this is by no means the only group that are attracted to the sweet allure of populism, nor even the biggest group.

Contributing to their success, the populist parties marshall their votes from a confederation of supporters who cross economic and social boundaries.

Dissatisfaction with establishment politics is growing, especially as the establishment are consistently cast in a negative light by the media. Negative press coverage of Hillary Clinton left bitter feelings for the many that supported her, possibly explaining low turnout for the Democrat Party and why so many left for other options, whether during the primaries for Bernie Sanders, or third-party candidates like Jill Stein.

In fact, the media has had a significant role in the ascent of populism in recent years. The media has at times exacerbated tensions with immigrant families and their local communities and most recently the media coverage of refugees has led to the public perception of a “crisis”, transferring sentiments of commiseration to fear. Refugees are victims of a media narrative depicting them as unskilled migrants who pose a cultural threat and a danger to the welfare system, many people just eat up this shameful dehumanisation, too many are both ignorant and totally apathetic towards the condition of refugees and migrants to think differently.

Also, political commentators can profess wide followings online. Their followers, who are deceived into thinking they hold the solutions to many of the problems they “identify” are easily influenced, and can successfully convert people from any background into believing what they say is true. Influenced by impassioned and fiery rhetoric, as well as victim blaming, populist parties can claim a wide share of the votes. To conclude, they take from every demographic: age, economic and social.

Reasons for this trend have been attributed to frustration with the political establishment and immigration, in particular, Muslim immigration. More generally, the transformation of communities and demographics shifts engendered by immigration contributes to a tense atmosphere of insecurity and intolerance for others. Support for stricter immigration reform coincides with support for something called “New Nationalism”, a nativist, anti-globalisation and modern variant of nationalism popular with authoritarian right-wing populists.

Incidentally of the Great Recession the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007/08 had left much of the world population poorer, but those who are fortunate enough to occupy the top threshold in income distribution, namely the infamous 1%, did not face the massive losses in employment and diminishing real income growth like the many people employed in manufacturing industries. In fact, three-quarters of all income growth in the United States went to the top 10%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and since the financial crisis, half of the world’s wealth is now held by the wealthiest 1% of the global population.

This is hardly helpful news to the many hard-working people who have found themselves made redundant or even losing their homes because of the crash.

Working-class and middle-class families continue to struggle in the face of adversity as the global financial elite seem to be making money from the crisis. This explains why a significant number of voters for Donald Trump favour more taxes on the rich, and why many (including Trump himself) were receptive to Bernie Sanders.

One way the financial crisis drew people to right-wing populism was the new-found popularity for protectionism in response to the neoliberal reforms of former governments; as a result, protectionists believe they hold the solutions for the economic failures brought on by neoliberalism.

The rise of populism comes at the same time as we disavow elitism in our political institutions, but it is also other factors ranging from the European Union and the impacts of globalisation to surfacing cultural insensitivities which play a large part in their uprising.

In spite of all that the populist parties have in common (various forms of economic protectionism, concern for “mass immigration” and the subsequent concern for the preservation of culture), they do differ and err on the size of the government and the welfare state. Some positions can only be described as libertarian, others less so – but certainly nativist.

The chronicles of right-wing populism do not require financial resources, in fact, for the lack of financial capital they make up with monopolising and disseminating political information and news on the internet.

There is a large number of news media based online supporting the cause of populism across the world, the low cost of setting up online media and the ease in distributing content to reach people taps into the public consciousness the same way as grassroots-political campaigning. Even the people who are not politically active or who hold diametrically opposing views are scooped up and it doesn’t take long for the right-wing populism to force its roots into the minds of the unsuspecting and the curious.

The impact of right-wing populism will eventually be felt, until then, figures like Donald Trump and Viktor Orban may well become the staple of global politics for the foreseeable future. The right and left-wing dichotomy may not be the division which separates us in politics, increasingly, political rhetoric is compounded by arguments against or in support of globalisation, free trade and/or the free movement of people.

Each of these things bears a great deal of influence on populism, and even greater is the perception that the politicians and political institutions which have allowed these things to happen have failed. Populism is nothing if not the dismantling of the political establishment to restore the “will of the people”.

It’s hard to define populism and it’s no consolation that I haven’t offered a definition yet. Populism, when not being used pejoratively, is most aptly expressed by its adherents. Retrieved from the comment section of The Economist, a user emphatically named “bampbs” offered this account for populism: “When a relatively large group of people are aggrieved and angered by the actions of a relatively small and more powerful group, and are publicly organized to seek redress of those grievances”. however the right wing populism we face today blames migrants and foreign powers, not a ruling powerful elite. Populism remains the policy of scapegoating, nothing more.

Catalonian independence in a mess as Puigdemont remains absent

Over past two months, since the regional elections in Catalonia, and the narrative of the push for independence has taken a turn towards the most deluded surrealism. The same surrealism so loved in the art of an illustrious Catalan, Salvador Dali, but in this case it is driving the Catalan region to the point of no return.

The recent election saw Catalonia’s three secessionist parties secure a combined 70 seats in the regional parliament, two more than the 68 required for a majority in their 135-seat assembly. It was not a clear victory; if a victory at all as the unionist Ciudadanos party, was by far the most voted for party with 1.1 million votes (25.37%) compared to its nearest rival Junts per Catalunya, who won 940,000 seats (21.65%). However all the anti-independence parties (Ciudadanos, Popular Party and Socialists) together could not make up the required 68 seats.

After the recent demonstrations in Catalonia, one may think any ruling party would plan a new route that will lead them eventually to independence. Independence as a unilateral project has already failed and it will fail again, the Spanish state has demonstrated that it is able to stop independence, the EU fails to recognise the new state. It’s citizens who are living divided and fractured are growing both tired and weary.

It does come as a shock though that Carles Puigdemont will be the only candidate to be elected as the Catalan president, the same Carles who is currently in self-exile after failing to deliver independence for his homeland. Let’s not forget that Puigdemont fled Spain because he is facing trial for the serious charges of rebellion and sedition, whilst several of his former parliamentary colleagues are still in prison. However lets not forget that these charges have landed on Puigdemont’s lap for fulfilling a democratic mandate. He hasn’t shown any signs that he will respect the law and has taking no responsibility at all for his actions which caused Catalonia lose its self-government powers. “Between a prisoner and a president, I would rather be a president, because at least now I can get things done, but in prison I wouldn’t be able to,” he said recently in an interview with Catalunya Radio.

Catalan parliamentary lawyers have issued a report stating that chamber bylaws forbid remote appointments, as the candidate needs to be physically present at debate, but Mr Puigdemont keeps building up his international image to portray a martyr scorned by the Spanish government. He seriously believes he can run a country via Facetime from Brussels.
It is extremely worrying that no one in the secessionist camp can see how much damage Mr Puigdemont will inflict on their region if he get to be its president once more. First he needs to find a way to be a premier in exile, and if he manages to do so Madrid’s immediate answer will be to prolong its control over the Catalan region indefinitely.

The pursuit for a Catalan Republic is very valid but in their eagerness they have forgotten the other half of the country, those who are content with being both, Spanish and Catalan. A new tactic is needed. New blood. A push to try at least to re shape the Spanish nation into a more federal scenario where ideally Catalans of all creeds will be happy to live in.
Political forces in Span have been discussing, for a while, how to renovate the Spanish constitution, and have made their intention to include Catalan well known.

Nothing has changed

Tomorrow, the region of Catalonia is going to the polls to choose not only their new Government, but more importantly, to define themselves as a nation. It is impossible not to read the outcome of the referendum as a declaration of will from the Catalans who are expected to go to vote in record-breaking numbers. The contest has been simplified, and rightly so, between those determined to go ahead with their secessionist plans, against those who want to protect the unity of Spain. All the latest polls published by the Spanish press agree on how tight it is going to be. There are 135 seats in the Catalan parliament, which means that any party or bloc of parties will need at least 68 of those seats to hold a majority big enough in order to govern. According to all the vote intention surveys none of the blocs will reach that majority leaving their fate in the hands of Catalunya en Comu-Podem, the Catalan branch of the Spanish antisystem party Podemos. They opposed both to the application of the Article 155 and any kind of declaration of independence in the region and they have already declared they will not support either separatists or the so called constitutional parties.

Ahead in the polls parties wise is Ciudadanos. A young right party created in Cataluña back in 2006 and whose candidate, Ines Arrimadas, has managed to appeal with her strong stand against the secessionist to all those Catalans who just want their region back to normal after the crisis that saw them lose their autonomy. Behind Ciudadanos are the strongly pro-independence party, The Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC) led by Oriol Junqueras, who is currently in prison facing possible charges of rebellion for his role in the Declaration of Independence. With a possible 23% of the votes the ERC is the main independent force followed by Carles Puigdemont’s Junts per Cataluña. Mr Puigdemont is campaigning from Belgium and no longer under a European arrest warrant, but nevertheless still playing the martyr in this surreal battle for independence. His party keeps promising he will be back as the prodigal son of the Independence, but with the ongoing investigation over possible crimes of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds, it seems that he won’t be returning home for Christmas anytime soon.

As we have witnessed in previous elections, polls are to be taken with a pinch of salt and only by Friday we will know how the Catalans have voted for sure. The fracture in their society is extremely deep and it will take a long time to heal. Once again this campaign has been riding more on emotions than in practicalities. The pro-independence parties haven’t explained why the declaration failed and neither have they proposed a well-studied plan to rectify mistakes and guarantee to their supporters they will get it right this time around. With the excuse of not wanting to go ahead with it because they feared a disproportional response from Madrid, they are making excuses for their own incompetence and madness. Truth is they were not ready for it. The backbone for their dreamed republic was still germinating. No financial, taxation or any other institutional structure in place. Just the dream. One would have thought they will be campaigning now explaining why they failed before and what have they done to rectify their previous mistakes. However, I am afraid this is not the case. Still the same old promises that it can happen, the EU will listen, the article 155 will be lifted and so on. The same can be said about the constitutional parties. They seemed pretty chuffed with themselves just stopping in their tracks the secessionists, with not much substance to explain what their project is for a nation who was put on the verge of collapsing by nationalism. There seems to be too much appealing to the heart and too many fire starters with no clue of what to do next.

Brexit Negotiations Hit A Dead End

Martin Luther King once said, “there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”. I wonder if Theresa May and her cabinet deep inside know this is the time to start to position themselves for real and for once listen to other voices more than their own. We all have this sense of ambiguous calm regarding Brexit. The world hasn’t ended just yet and we are struggling with the same issues as before the Referendum. There has not been that massive Armageddon the pessimists were so adamant to predict. We all live in a Brexit denial. Denial for those who feel leaving the EU can’t come soon enough and for those who are spending a great amount of time holding on to the hopeless hope that Brexit can still be stopped.
This period all the way to Christmas will be crucial to determine the impact Brexit will inflict on the UK and in the EU territories, but I am afraid this Government needs to admit the mess they are in before any more progress can be made. May’s party is in turmoil and her cabinet cannot even agree on the only 3 things that both sides of the divorce are really keen on sorting out as soon as possible: how much the separation is going to cost, citizen’s rights, and Northern Ireland. May has promised to pay some money but refuses to give a final figure until the negotiations progress into trade talks. Unfortunately for the PM, failure to specify now how much and how the UK is going to settle its payments will be catastrophic. Brexit will stop being a pantomime to become an an extremely serious business and once we reach that point there will be no more living in denial for all of us. Damage will start.
As we have seen in Catalunya, just the thought of not being part of the EU if independence succeeded was enough to make almost 2000 businesses of all sizes to move to Spain. The impact was felt immediately. A messy and disorganised exit from the EU will have a similar effect in the UK. Instead of minimising the impact of Brexit you will get the opposite effect, multiplying the damage. It is beyond belief the current Government hasn’t explained with real figures the economical impact Brexit will have in a deal or in a no deal situation. The EU has been working on the 2020 budget because they know their losses after the UK leaves. Exactly 10,000 million of euros less every year. Give or take 16% less resources available for their regional programs. They are in no denial of the difficult times ahead. There is team called ‘Brexit preparedness group’ studying and preparing for the bumpy road ahead after the UK exit. Meanwhile what has this Government been doing? Rebelling against each other whilst promising us a land of opportunity and hope.
We are at a dead end. The EU is not bluffing. At the beginning of December Mrs May needs to send back Mr Davis to Brussels with a bit more than words of good will. The EU might have not been saying it out loud, but what they really want to know is what the UK Government expects to get from Brexit, because to negotiate everything to remain almost the same, it makes people wonder why leave then? We are leaving, on the 29th March 2019. A date that makes Brexit as inevitable as death or taxes. No vote on the parliament can change that date which makes any debate on the deal a slightly pointless one. With a deal or without one we can only hope the Government’s vision for the country Is as full of detail and contingency plans as it is full of dreams and exciting possible enterprise. Gandhi said, “the future depends on what you do today”, well at this moment in time seeing what this government is doing I rather stay in this limbo for a little bit longer.

Mass strikes the key to giving Erdogan headaches

Erdogan’s regime has been responsible for the arrest of 50,000 people since July 2016, including 231 Journalists. Most under charges of terrorism in response to the failed coup against Erdogan. Following this, Turkey voted Yes in its constitutional referendum to approve 18 constitutional amendments.
The amendments designed to give Erdogan further executive powers to deal with problems in Turkey has been criticized for rendering Parliament useless and granting Erdogan excessive political power. Erdogan has used this round up those who oppose him and bring about controversial change to areas such as education, where the teaching of evolution is now banned.
Protests against Erdogan’s creeping Authoritarianism have become more common, climaxing with the opposition parties’ 450km Justice march from Ankara to Istanbul. Starting on the 15th June the march directly protests the arrest of an MP who allegedly leaked documents showing the Turkish government had armed jihadists in Syria. It has been seen more as a symbol of defiance against Erdogan and his regime, and the eroding of democracy in Turkey.
The march led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, ending in Istanbul, was attended by tens of thousands with the peaceful protest in Istanbul, at the end of the walk, having hundreds of thousands join them.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu ended the protest with a speech about his vision for the future and spoke of his 10 demands to Erdogan. The demands included: an end to the state of emergency, an independent judiciary, and the release of imprisoned journalists, politicians and others who were arrested during the purges that followed the coup attempt.
Erdogan claimed the protesters supported terrorists by making these demands.
The protest was mainly a failure. Failing to make it any progress on negotiations for the release of political prisoners and a regression to parliamentary democracy. Nor did it garner any attention in the Western media. Despite being started by an MP who may have evidence that Erdogan is helping to arm militant groups like IS.
As Mr Kilicdaroglu says “It’s not an easy task to fight against a dictator.” and his plan is to win to unseat Erdogan at the presidential elections in 2019.
However, if Turkey truly wish to impact Erdogan’s government it’s a mass strike not a march that they should be utilizing. The oppositions power lie in the affluence of the regions that are against Erdogan, this is clear when viewing the referendum results.
The regions against Erdogan are the urbanized, richer regions. The cities of Istanbul, Izmir, Antalaya and Ankara are clearly opposition strongholds, the No vote being higher than 70% in some of these cities. The Kurdish regions in the East are unsurprisingly against Erdogan’s rule.
These regions make up 72% of the country’s economy.
And that shows what the opposition to Erdogan must do. They must force Erdogan to concessions by bringing these regions to an economic standstill. An economy that is more vital to Erdogan than it is to Turks in the region. Money, he needs to enforce his will and keep rural regions on side and maintain links with the rich elite of the Turkish society. A protest that will physically affect Turkey.
The opposition control nearly all of the Mediterranean coast vital to its links with its main trading partners in the EU. Istanbul alone deals with 60% of Turkey’s imports and exports, the city as it has since its formation in 660BC holds vast political and economic worth. The city, straddling the Bosphorus strait, is the route money takes into Turkey. The city alone is 46% of Turkey’s economy. Erdogan’s opposition could bring down the Turkish economy without leaving Europe.
The key to utilising this weakness is communication and mobilization. It relies heavily on workers Unions or other organisations to mobilise huge numbers of people. Some of the largest industries in Turkey are associated with unions, especially in economically key industries. Turkey rank 4th in the world for Ship building and 8th for steel production. Interestingly, both of these industries have key industrial plants in both Istanbul and Ankara, including companies like Erdemir who are the nation’s leading steel producer. If the strikes can utilise these industries they would be a force to be reckoned with. However they would have to openly pit themselves against Erdogan, a dangerous thing to do at this time.
Erdogan is reliant on areas of his nation that do not agree with him. Reliant on cities that do not support him to keep trade flowing and keep his manufacturing sector alive.
He is not vulnerable politically or culturally but economically.
Erdogan’s opposition must do something more significant than march to show their strength, they must strike at his Achilles heel, the economy.