Vienna, October 21 – Turkish prosecutors have charged that a group of 86 senior military officers, politicians, and activists accused of plotting a coup against the government of that NATO country had close ties to Russian security services, a charge that if true suggests that Moscow is preparing to take extraordinary risks to advance its interests.
Today, 46 members of the Ergenekon as the secret organization is known went on trial in Istanbul, an event that has deeply split Turkish society, with pro-government media saying that this group represents a threat to democracy and stability and opposition outlets arguing that all the charges are invented (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1044775 ).
According to prosecutors, the group was formed in June 2007 and has been involved in a variety of violent anti-government actions since that time. Several months later, the authorities arrested and charged 49 members of this group, and then in July of this year, the government began a new wave of arrests.
“From the very beginning,” Moscow’s “Kommersant” newspaper reports today, “Turkish journalists directed the attention of their audiences to the fact that in the Ergenekon affair have been arrested politicians of the most varied ideological directions, from ultra-nationalists to communists.”
And both prosecutors and journalists, the Moscow paper says, have noted that “almost all of the arrested” whatever their differences in terms of politics within Turkish politics “are distinguished by an extremely warm relationship to Russia,” a pattern that has led many to assume that Moscow is somehow behind this group.
That assumption, the Turkish media have suggested, was confirmed when the authorities were unable to arrest retired general Levent Ersez, the former head of the intelligence section of the national police, because he fled from Turkey to the Russian Federation where he remains to this day.
According to the formal accusation prepared by prosecutors, “the Ergenekon secret society was connected to the Russian special services” and “the connecting link” was Aleksandr Dugin, the outspoken Eurasianist who has frequently called for an alliance between Russia and the Islamic world, including Turkey.
To the surprise of no one, Dugin “hurried to speak out in defense of those arrested, calling them ‘leaders of an anti-American lobby who sought rapprochement with Russia and opposed the pro-American policy” of the current Turkish government, which has supported the United States in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The outspoken Moscow Eurasianist and anti-American added that that the group had decided to take more radical measures because Ankara has recently “stepped up its activity on the post-Soviet space” and is now even calling for “the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO and so on.”
Prosecutors have not yet introduced their evidence that Dugin represented a link between the group and Russian security services, “Kommersant” points out, and many people both inside the Turkish government and beyond have doubts that they have the documents to prove their case.
Indeed, as the Russian paper continues, many people in Turkey link this case to the decision of the Turkish Supreme Court not to ban the ruling policy for its violations of the constitution. They suggest that those who wanted to ban the ruling party are behind this case too in the hopes that it will intimidate the government.
And these commentators argue that this case, as it moves through the courts, will not result either in proving a connection with the Russian security services or in the imprisonment of senior officials. Instead, it is likely to claim as its “victims” only “a few Turkish opposition figures who too loudly called for a union with Russia.”
But however that may be, there are two aspects of this case that merit attention. On the one hand, recent actions of the Russian government in Georgia and in the Litvinenko case make the charges Turkish prosecutors have brought plausible if not proven, something that would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago.
And on the other, if there is evidence presented that the Russian security services were involve in this case, that by itself would suggest that the current Moscow leadership is prepared to take extraordinary risks and to violate the rules of the game to achieve its end, actions that would at the very least raise questions about its role as a partner with Western countries.