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Analysis: Eurasianism, an EU alternative?

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Turkey has been pushing for full membership in the European Community for almost 50 years now. And for 50 years Brussels Eurocrats have repeatedly told the Turks they are not quite ready.

Brussels has repeatedly told Turkey it still has giant steps to take in order to reach a level of democracy acceptable to the EU. Consecutive Turkish governments were given a long sundry list of action points that had to be implemented before the EU would consider allowing Turkey into the club. Turkey had to meet the Copenhagen Criteria for human rights and free market, it had to abolish torture in its prisons and ease up on the Kurds. Then there remains the unresolved Cyprus question.

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Finally, earlier this year, the Turks were told by Brussels they might be allowed into the EU, but only after an intense negotiation period of 10-15 years, during which time the Turks will be analyzed and scrutinized to make sure they finally comply with all the demands set forth by Brussels. Ten to 15 years is a very long time for a government to wait. Especially the current Islamist-leaning one led by Receb Tayyip Erdogan, who needs to show he is making progress.

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Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the scene. The Eurasian scene. Putin, forever the Machiavellian politician he has proven to be -- let us not forget his background as a senior KGB officer -- is pushing forward the idea of a new political-economic bloc of influence: Eurasianism.

"Putin is pushing Eurasianism," said Zeyno Baran, director of the International Security and Energy Programs at the Nixon Center, a conservative think tank in Washington.

"Don't forget you have the new centers of emerging powers: China and India," said Baran. And Putin is very likely telling Turkey it can join right away. No need to undergo a purgatorial waiting period of a decade to a decade and a half. Forget the EU, come join us now.

With Russia, China and the "Stans," the former Soviet Central Asian Muslim republics in the group, no one is going to bicker with Turkey over a few abuses of human rights, if and when they occur.

Baran, who just returned from Turkey, said that more and more Turks are getting very frustrated with the EU constantly raising the bar on its entry into the Union. Furthermore, says Baran, though both the Turkish government and the Turkish people want better relations with the United States, they feel the situation in Iraq is preventing any rapprochement.

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Turks keep asking "what is the end game in Iraq?" What is the U.S. position regarding the Kurds and Kirkuk?" said Baran. (The Kurds are now in a position to slowly muscle the Arabs out of Kirkuk, the key to control of the northern Iraqi oilfields.)

"What is the U.S. position vis-à-vis the PKK," -- the Kurdish guerrilla movement considered by Ankara to be a terrorist organization.

Turkey is keeping a wary eye on the progress of Iraqi Kurds lest they start to awaken similar sentiments of autonomy, or even worse, ideas of independence, among the Kurds in Turkey. All this is starting to seriously worry the Turkish military -- traditionally the guarantor of Turkey's secular Kemalist ideals.

Some analysts believe the Turkish military is beginning to split over fears the Islamist-leaning government of Erdogan is slowly turning Turkey into an Islamic state. Some military officers are displeased with the way Erdogan's government is maintaining unhealthy close relations with Syria and Iran.

And according to some reports, said Baran, certain elements in Turkey's political circles are starting to look at Washington for help.

"Next year, 2006, will focus very much on how Turkey can cooperate on Iraq, Iran and Syria," said Baran.

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On the one hand, Turkey has a problem in the Middle East, but on the other, one causing greater concern to the West, is its growing relations with the Central Asian countries, with whom it shares the same religion, Islam.

A political-economic free trading bloc engulfing most of Asia -- China, population 1.3 billion; India, 1.08 billion; Russia, 143 million and the combined former Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) 67.3 million, presenting a combined population of close to 4 billion people, will dwarf the EU's 520 million citizens, though the individual European's purchasing power remains far superior.

The Eurasian concept will certainly be quite tempting to many Turks, among whom resentment of the EU is rapidly growing.

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(Comments many be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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