by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)
Trump’s solo act can’t compete with the hard rock presidents from the electric east
Those were the days, during the Cold War 1960s and 1970s, when the earth was actually ruled by rock supergroups – from Cream and Led Zeppelin to Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends – and the post-truth geopolitical remix of the supergroup. Meet The Sanctioned; a multinational band starring multi-instrumentalists Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China), Hassan Rouhani (Iran) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey).
As the whole rock universe knows, The Sanctioned run the relentless risk of being outshined – in the form of multi-layered sanctions – by undisputed glitter solo act Donald Trump (US).
The two real virtuosos in the band relish playing in perfect synch. Putin may indulge only the occasional Jimmy Page solo (as in Caspian-launched missiles against Daesh in Syria); he’s more like Keith Emerson invoking the Russian classical composer Mussorgsky. Xi is fond of orchestral Pink Floyd-esque concept albums, in the New Silk Roads mould. Rouhani could be Jack Bruce in Cream – supplying those subtle moments of faultless musicianship. It’s Erdogan who’s irresistibly attracted to summon the back door man’s antics of Robert Plant.
So what will The Sanctioned come up next? A doozy like Deep Purple without Gillan and Blackmore or an epic like ELP’s Fanfare for the Common Man?
The Fanfare for the Common Man geoeconomic scenario reads like this.
Putin-Xi – as in the Russia-China strategic partnership – offer Erdogan membership of both the BRICS (as in BRICS Plus) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organizations (SCO). Erdogan, on the record, has already manifested interest in both.
Turkey pulls out of NATO. The Turkish military will squeal, but Erdogan, after the failed 2016 coup – of which he was alerted by Russian intelligence – now controls the military.
Beijing and Moscow offer an array of trade deals; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already offered trade in their own currencies. Erdogan for his part said Turkey is ready to begin using local currencies in trade with Russia, China, Iran and the EU.
After Turkey restructures its US dollar debts, China buys up the Turkish lira off foreign exchange markets – an easy play for the People’s Bank of China (PBOC). Ankara is already planning to issue yuan-denominated bonds. China’s ICBC already announced a $3.6 billion loan for energy/transport.
In sharp contrast to the Washington Consensus, Erdogan very well knows that Turkey cannot “rewrite the crisis management playbook for emerging markets” by surrendering to IMF austerity. An answer would be to increasingly rely on the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Then most of the scenario – SCO, BRICS Plus, AIIB, trade bypassing the US dollar – is replayed with Iran, as in those days when Pink Floyd used to engage in full encores of Dark Side of the Moon.
A new sell-out album
The Sanctioned’s new album (in 180g vinyl plus all formats/platforms), titled Eurasian Integration, is destined for multi-platinum status and to fill multi-purpose arenas from Izmir and Hamadan to Chongqing and Vladivostok.
It features Iran as an even more crucial hub of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – in conjunction to the new connectivity drive between Russia and Iran signed at the landmark Caspian Sea Convention.
In a parallel track, the China-Kazakhstan-Iran connectivity corridor already features freight trains plying the route all the way to the Iranian Caspian port of Bandar-e Anzali.
Another key track in the new album revolves around the BRICS’s Contingent Reserve Agreement (CRA), decided at their latest summit; a mechanism to de-dollarize economies which will be expanded as the BRICS turn into BRICS Plus.
After signing an interim agreement three months ago, Iran is already on the way to engage, by the start of 2020, into a full free trade deal with the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). Turkey will follow.
As EU companies leave sanctioned Iran, Chinese and Russian companies go into overdrive. As the US Congress slaps a nyet on Turkey buying F-35 fighter jets because Ankara is buying the Russian S-400 air-defense system, Boeing and Airbus in Iran are bound to lose market share to Russian jets such as the MS-21 or the IL-96-400M.
And as Iran-Turkey trade gets a boost, Turkish Stream – the Russia-Turkey strategic energy partnership – is far from being derailed.
Erdogan knows very well how Turkey is the quintessential East-meets-West strategic connector across Eurasia. And he knows what’s he’s really “guilty” of: buying the S-400s, ditching the “Assad must go” obsession, advancing Turkish Stream and insisting Turkey will continue to buy Iranian oil.
So as he perfects his Robert Plant impersonation – “You need coolin’/ Baby I’m not foolin’/ I’m gonna send ya/ back to schoolin’” – Erdogan is doing the math on how a New Silk Roads partnership among equals, in tandem with a close relationship with the AIIB and the EAEU may be way more profitable than a toxic cocktail of oversized NATO, no EU and IMF neoliberal austerity.
That partly explains Ankara’s whirling dervish dance away from US T-bills, bonds and notes by over 50% since the end of 2017. While, in parallel, Moscow and Beijing (followed at a distance by New Delhi and even Ankara itself) keep piling up gold anticipating the extra bonanza of Eurasian Integration, the hit album.
A very handy thermometer of Erdogan’s popularity may be found in Fatih, a pious, working-class neighborhood on the European shore of Istanbul.
Fatih mirrors Erdogan’s immense popularity all across Anatolia. Whatever his notorious, incandescent illiberal traits, Erdogan’s development program is not only about more mosques and more malls. The AKP over the years did manage to set up a quite decent universal healthcare insurance system – including the upgrading of public hospitals – as well as a pension system.
Now it’s time to deliver again – nationally and globally.
Calling all Eurasian young dudes
Meanwhile, Russia will keep developing a very sophisticated strategy across the Black Sea.
In no time, Putin has already reshaped the Black Sea – geopolitically and geoeconomically. The graphic symbol is the sumptuous Kerch Strait bridge to Crimea – an engineering tour de force inaugurated only three months ago.
Putin’s multi-instrumental riffs are ubiquitous. Erdogan gets S-400s, nuclear power plants and Turkish Stream (which also benefits vast tracts of southern Europe). Rouhani and the Central Asians get a Caspian convention and the prospect of a succession of energy deals. Damascus and Tehran – with Ankara a little far behind – get to see the possible end of the tragic Syria war cycle.
As Erdogan progressively moves Turkey’s reserves to yuan – and gold – benefits can accrue from more interaction with the BRI/EAEU/SCO galaxy in everything from electronics and nuclear technology to advanced weapons. And further connectivity may entail, for instance, Chinese goods transiting through Russian ports in Krasnodar and Crimea to Turkish ports in the Black Sea.
The Black Sea, for all practical purposes, is being configured as a Russo-Turk Mediterranean Sea – much as the Caspian is now configured as a Central Asian, non-NATO, Mediterranean Sea.
In parallel, The Sanctioned is also enjoying a guest performing appearance by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim al-Thani, instrumental in the offer of a $15 billion loan to Ankara. And this after Qatar restored good relations with Iran, including energy collaboration on the shared South Pars/North Dome – the largest gas field on the planet.
It’s crucial to consider that in the event the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command may “disappear”, for some reason, the path would be open for a nasty, joint Saudi/UAE invasion of Doha, with major consequences; the double confiscation of the Qatari sovereign wealth fund and North Dome – to the benefit of salvaging the sinking “Vision 2030” House of Saud.
What’s certain for now is that The Sanctioned face a real threat of having Eurasian Integration – the hit album – dispatched to the bottom of the charts, with the corollary of having new BRI and EAEU connectivity routes to Europe via crossroads Turkey partially blocked or at least seriously disturbed.
As the (real) David Bowie wrote it, for supergroup Mott the Hopple: All the (Eurasian) young dudes, carry the news.