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Sensemaker: Two-faced Turkey

Sensemaker: Two-faced Turkey

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Allen Weisselberg, a top Trump executive, pleaded guilty to tax crimes (more below).
  • Finland’s leader, Sanna Marin, defended her right to a private life after videos of her dancing at parties were published online.
  • Vets used power drills and experimental standing sedation to remove an infected tusk from a 16 year-old elephant in Pakistan that had suffered years of dental pain.

Two-faced Turkey

Does Erdoğan want to broker peace, or war? 

Last night Turkey’s leader met Zelensky in Lviv for talks focused on “how to conclude the war”. On 5 August he was in Sochi meeting Putin, agreeing among other things to let his son-in-law build deadly drones in Russia. 

Turkey’s leader wants to be thought of as the man who ends the fighting, and there is a logic to this goal.

  • His country stands to gain from a resumption of peacetime trade through the Bosphorus, which it controls.
  • He wants a slice of the $750 billion Ukraine estimates it will cost to rebuild. 
  • Turkey’s private sector has long tentacles in Russia, where it wants to get out from under western sanctions.

But this bid to mediate Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two has a plausibility problem too. Emmanuel Macron tried talking to Putin and achieved nothing. Turkey is much more beholden to Russia than France is, and when Erdoğan says – as he did in Lviv – that “the international community must take on responsibility to revive the diplomatic process”, there is an obvious response: the international community has a responsibility to help Ukraine inflict a punishing defeat on Russia first.

At times since 24 February Turkey has appeared hawkish in support of Ukraine’s struggle to survive.

  • When the invasion started, it barred Russian warships from the Black Sea. 
  • Military imports to Ukraine from Turkey in the first quarter of 2022 exceeded $59 million (30 times more than in the same period of 2021). 
  • Turkish-built Bayraktar drones played a central role in turning back the initial attack on Kyiv and their manufacturer (managed by the family of Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Selcuk Bayraktar), plans to start assembling them in Ukraine. 

Erdoğan has positioned himself on the right side of history in relation to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which he insists Russian troops must leave, and grain exports, which he’s helped revive. Thanks largely to Turkey, 30 bulk carriers have now left Odesa and other Ukrainian ports bound for the Middle East and Africa, with a dramatic impact on world wheat prices.

Business. Turkey is also the biggest overseas investor in Ukraine. More than 3,500 Turkish companies are registered there, supplying energy, goods and food retail, manufacturing, real estate and telecommunications. Before the war, the commodities trade between the two countries was worth $7.5 billion a year. 

And yet, and yet. Turkey stands to gain even more from its commercial relationship with Russia, and to lose more if that relationship collapses: 

  • Turkish exports to Russia (worth $2.91 billion in the first half of 2022) are at their highest level in eight years.
  • A quarter of Turkey’s crude oil imports and about 45 per cent of its gas comes from Russia. 
  • The Turkey-based subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy giant, is building a power plant on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
  • Turkey has emerged as bolt-hole of choice for Russian oligarchs’ superyachts, and Russian nationals and businesses seeking to avoid sanctions.
  • Three new airlines have been created to bring Russian tourists to Turkey.

Hence Sochi. Erdoğan spent four hours with Putin in Sochi and got a lot done. Translation: gave a lot away. He agreed to pay for Russian gas partially in rubles – a concession Putin has sought in vain everywhere in Europe except in Hungary. Five Turkish banks adopted Russia’s Mir payments system (intended as an alternative to Swift), and the Washington Post cites Ukrainian intelligence sources in a report that Erdoğan will let Russia buy stakes in Turkish oil refineries, terminals and reservoirs.

Remember the Kurds. Ankara would like the world to see this as a fulfilment of Turkey’s historic destiny as ground zero of Byzantine diplomacy. Zelensky is grateful for whatever help he gets, but sees double standards. Behind the scenes, Erdoğan’s agenda includes getting Putin to acquiesce in Turkish operations against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria – so it’s complicated, but it’s also bad strategy.

Trying to have it both ways in Russia’s war on Ukraine may bring Turkey Russian oil, gas, tourists and rubles, but it could bring sanctions too. 


Price of power
Two numbers to conjure with: 40 and 540. The former was the price in euros of a year-ahead electricity contract in Germany, per megawatt hour, two years ago. The latter is the price of the same thing now. So spare a thought for German families and politicians as winter approaches with gas stores low and pressure for a full Russian gas embargo as high as ever. But consider too the conundrum facing manufacturers even more acutely dependent on power costs than households – whether to pass those costs on to customers who can’t afford them, or close factories and lay workers off until something like normality returns. It’s not easily resolved, although it’s safe to say Germany will find energy somewhere at some price. Not so Pakistan, which in the global rush for non-Russian liquified natural gas has been unable to source any at all


A big pile of chips
For the past 18 months, the story of the semiconductor industry has been of a pandemic-driven boom in demand and global shortages. In response, companies built up supplies. In February there were enough chips for 1.2 months of production; last month it was up to 1.7 months, according to research. Now, the shortage has turned into a glut in some sectors. C.C. Wei from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company said smartphone and computer firms have an oversupply of chips as customers cut back on electronics spending. Micron, one of the biggest memory chipmakers, announced a $40 billion investment in US chip manufacturing this month as Biden handed the industry $52 billion in government support through the Chips Act – but almost simultaneously warned capital spending would have to come down “meaningfully” in 2023 because of the downturn. They’ll be sitting on chips until next year.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

A-Level grade disparity  
The first post-pandemic A-Level results were always going to shine a spotlight on how this year’s UK students did compared with those who received teacher-assessed grades in the past two years. Numbers of top grades fell towards pre-Covid levels, but the rate was still higher than in 2019. 36.4 per cent of all A-levels were graded A* to A this year. That’s 8.4 per cent lower than last year but 11 per cent higher than 2019. Ofqual’s efforts to find a midpoint on the grade curve along with extra support for the exams to adjust for missed teaching can account for some of the adjustment. That said, students at private schools are the most likely to have been disappointed opening their envelopes yesterday. Top grades (A* and A) fell significantly more from teacher-assessed levels at private schools than at state schools. 

Regional disparities in grades – especially between the North East and London – also appear to have widened. Since 2019, the proportion of papers earning top grades rose by 12 per cent in London, compared with 8 per cent in the North East. Where you go to school matters. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Wonky-winged bumblebees
Bumblebees in the UK are developing asymmetrical wings as a result of environmental stress, according to new research published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. The study by researchers at Imperial College and the Natural History Museum examined more than 6,000 bumblebee specimens from the 20th century. They found that asymmetrical wings – an indication that the insect experienced stress during development – were significantly more frequent in bees from the second half of the century. The study also found that asymmetry was correlated with periods of warmer, wetter weather. On this basis, researchers believe climate change may be contributing to the trend.


Weisselberg cops a plea
Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges including fraud, grand larceny and tax evasion in a New York court, as part of a plea deal that means he could serve just 100 days in prison, instead of up to 15 years. Weisselberg admitted he’d conspired with the Trump Organization on a tax dodging scheme and agreed to testify against the company in his forthcoming trial, but he has refused to give evidence against his former boss. According to Alvin Bragg, Manhattan’s district attorney, the investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged financial misdeeds is “ongoing”. It appears to be going pretty slowly: Bragg’s predecessor organised a grand jury to hear evidence in the case, but when Bragg got the DA job earlier this year, the hearings fizzled out. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Send an email to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Phoebe Davis, Asha Mior and Susie Leigh.

Photograph: Getty Images

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