Diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have resurfaced once again after the two sides were engaged in a war of words over the crisis in Libya.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its concern over Turkish interference in Libya through the alleged deployment of fighters and smuggling of arms.
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The UAE ministry also praised the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, and rejected Turkish military intervention on behalf of Libya’s UN-recognised government.
Responding to the criticism, Hami Aksoy, the Turkish foreign ministry spokesman, accused the UAE of pursuing “destructive” and “two-faced” policies in the region and called on Abu Dhabi to stop its “hostile attitude” towards Ankara.
Aksoy said the UAE was backing “putschists” in Libya – a reference to the LNA – by providing them with arms and mercenaries. He called on the Gulf state to “stop funding forces against the international peace, security and stability” in places such as Yemen, Syria and the Horn of Africa.
Turkey supports the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and has signed a military cooperation agreement with it to help the fight against Haftar’s LNA, backed by the UAE and its ally, Saudi Arabia.
Last year, the LNA started a military operation to remove the GNA from capital Tripoli but has not made much progress till now.
Is Khalifa Haftar losing in Libya?
Turkey and the UAE have supported the opposing sides in several continuing and past issues in the Middle East, with the crisis in Libya, the Syrian civil war, the coup in Egypt, and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi being some examples.
Turkey has also accused the UAE of killing civilians and causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, intervening in the affairs of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and financially supporting the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Ankara’s backing of the Arab Spring rebellions, which began in 2011, angered Saudi Arabia and the UAE who considered the move as a threat to their national stability.
They see it as a zero-sum game, in which there is no way for both sides to win.
Sinan Ulgen, Former Diplomat
In Egypt, Turkey supported the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood before and during the coup in Egypt.
Ankara also backed the anti-government protests and later the rebel movements against President Basher al-Assad in the Syrian crisis.
The UAE, together with Saudi Arabia, have supported al-Assad in Syria and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who overthrew Morsi in 2014 and has been an ally of the two Gulf states since then.
“The rivalry between the two sides mainly stems from Turkey’s support for Arab Spring uprisings and the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which were viewed as threats by the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Sinan Ulgen, former diplomat and chairman of Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) think-tank, told Al Jazeera.
“But the problems between the sides have gradually grown through a series of issues of disagreement over the years,” he said.
“As time passed and issues piled, Turkey and the UAE engaged in a regional power struggle. They see it as a zero-sum game, in which there is no way for both sides to win. If one wins, other one loses.”
The Gulf crisis has been the key reason behind the tensions between Turkey and the UAE.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, along with Egypt, severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of “supporting terrorism” in the region – a charge repeatedly rejected by Doha.
The four Arab countries continue to impose a land, air and sea blockade against Qatar.
Turkey has staunchly supported Qatar in the crisis, enhancing its political, economic and military relations with the Gulf state.
Hours after the blockade was imposed, which included Saudi Arabia closing Qatar’s only land border, Turkey sent planes full of supplies to avoid a food shortage in the country, which mainly relied on import of essential commodities.
Ankara also set up a military base in Qatar, deploying thousands of soldiers, to ensure the safety of the country.
Ulgen told Al Jazeera Ankara’s stance has been “sharp and clear” in favour of Qatar during the Gulf crisis.
“Turkey has not sought to have a balanced stance between Saudi Arabia-UAE camp and Qatar. It did not try to manage the situation in a way to protect its ties with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, but threw its total weight behind Qatar right away,” he said.
Tensions over failed 2016 coup
Separately, Ankara has offered a reward for any information leading to the arrest of Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian Fatah party official currently in exile in the UAE.
Ankara accuses 58-year-old Dahlan of involvement in the failed 2016 coup through the UAE’s support and placed him in the “most-wanted list” late last year.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in October, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had accused the UAE of harbouring “a terrorist”.
“[Dahlan] fled to you because he is an agent of Israel,” he said, accusing Abu Dhabi of attempting to remove the PA President Mahmoud Abbas by using Dahlan.
Dahlan was expelled from Fatah’s ruling body in 2011 over allegations of plotting to overthrow Abbas and has been living in exile in the UAE since 2012.
On its part, Abu Dhabi has condemned Turkey’s operations in northern Syria, calling them moves against the sovereignty of Syria – a criticism rejected by Turkey.
Turkey has carried out at least three operations in the region in recent years to clear its border of what it calls “terrorists” and create safe areas to resettle more than three million Syrian refugees it hosts.
Ankara has also promised to leave the land it controls in northern Syria once the crisis is resolved.
A recent report suggested the UAE made many attempts to get al-Assad to break a ceasefire reached between Syria and Turkey through mediation by Russia, the foremost ally of the Damascus government.
According to the report, the UAE offered $3bn in return for the move.
New details revealed on Khashoggi’s murder
Turkey’s different approach
Last month, in a tit-for-tat move, Turkish authorities blocked Saudi and UAE news websites days after Turkey’s state network TRT and Anadolu news agency were blocked by Riyadh.
In March, Turkish prosecutors indicted 20 Saudi nationals over Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Saudi officers killed Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), in what Riyadh called a “rogue operation”.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the killing was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.
According to Ulgen, there is a difference between Turkey’s approach towards the UAE as compared with Saudi Arabia.
“There are deeper economic, cultural and political ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia than the UAE. Even after the murder of Khashoggi, Riyadh and Ankara did not sever ties. We can see it also in Saudi Arabia’s approach to Turkey, which is more careful than the UAE’s,” he said.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras
Russians vote in regional polls overshadowed by Navalny poisoning |NationalTribune.com
Russians are voting in regional elections overshadowed by the poisoning of main opposition figure Alexey Navalny, an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and mass protests in some parts of the country. The elections are being held in Russia’s 41 regions where people are casting their ballots for regional governors and assemblies, as well…
Russians are voting in regional elections overshadowed by the poisoning of main opposition figure Alexey Navalny, an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and mass protests in some parts of the country.
The elections are being held in Russia’s 41 regions where people are casting their ballots for regional governors and assemblies, as well as in four by-elections for national MPs.
Reporting from Moscow, Al Jazeera’s Aleksandra Stojanovich-Godfroid said on Sunday the polls are viewed as a “major test” for the ruling United Russia party and President Vladimir Putin, who have both seen their ratings drop a year before parliamentary polls.
United Russia, which currently dominates the federal parliament and many regional administrations, is the party most closely associated with Putin. The longtime president, however, is not a current member of any political party and is thus able to distance himself from unpopular measures initiated by subordinate senior officials.
Last month, a nationwide survey by Russia’s biggest independent pollster, Levada Centre, showed 29 percent of Russians would participate in anti-government protests if held in their area.
Tatyana Stanovaya, head of the R.Politik analysis firm, said the results of the polls will help the Kremlin determine whether United Russia needs to be reformed and if parliamentary elections should be pushed forward.
Navalny’s poisoning could also influence voters and bring about “contradictory effects”, Stanovaya told AFP news agency.
The 44-year-old, an anti-corruption crusader who is one of Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on August 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.
After he was evacuated to Berlin, German doctors said Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
His associates believe the use of the banned chemical weapon shows only the Russian state could be responsible. The Kremlin has rejected any suggestion that Russia was to blame.
Led by Navalny, the opposition hopes to challenge Kremlin domination over Russia’s political life by promoting tactical voting, urging Russians to back the strongest candidate on the ballot to defeat the ruling party.
Navalny’s team urged Russians to vote for candidates from any party other than United Russia – Navalny had been in Siberia to promote the so-called “smart voting” when he fell ill.Any other candidate – “a Communist, a Liberal Democratic Party member, a Just Russia party member” – would be “better than United Russia,” Navalny’s team said in a statement on Friday, referring to Russia’s four major political parties.
“Elections can be won,” it added, pointing to the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, where tens of thousands have taken to the streets there for the past two months over the arrest of a governor who defeated an incumbent from the governing party in 2018.
With Navalny still recovering and absent from Russia’s political scene, the “smart voting” campaign he had launched may be undermined, Stanovaya said.
“On the other hand, what happened to Navalny caused a shock,” Stanovaya said, noting some of those who did not support him in the past may now change their minds.
The election presents a new approach from Putin’s opponents.
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“What they’re trying to do is chip away at the Kremlin’s image of invincibility, that the Kremlin completely controls elections,” Ben Noble, from the University College London, told Al Jazeera.
“If through smart voting Navalny and his team can demonstrate that there is scope for competition, for opposition success, then that might lead to a snowball effect – and that’s something the Kremlin is extremely worried about.”
‘Unite the opposition’
With United Russia facing a deep popularity crisis, elections in the country are for the first time being held over three days and some polling stations will be open-air.
Early voting began on Friday and the main polling day is on Sunday.
The controversial three-day voting scheme was first tested during a July 1 national vote on constitutional amendments that could make it possible for Putin to stay in power until 2036.
One of the highest-profile campaigns has taken place in Novosibirsk, where the head of Navalny’s office in Russia’s third-largest city, Sergei Boiko, brought together the opposition to counter United Russia and the Communist Party.
His “Novosibirsk 2020” coalition has put forward about 30 candidates for the city legislature and campaigned with the help of volunteers from Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund.
“This is an attempt to unite the opposition, all the people who are saying ‘no’ to the current regime,” Boiko told AFP news agency.
The case of the former Khabarovsk governor and the protest movement in Russia’s neighbour Belarus have both sparked small-scale demonstrations in solidarity in Russian cities, suggesting there is growing potential for a protest vote.
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