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The fog of leadership: How Turkish and Russian presidents manage information constraints and uncertainty in crisis decision-making



Leaders choose to mislead their domestic peers when the political risk and cost associated with a particular foreign policy decision is too great and when the structure of the political system in question is too leader-centric to afford these costs being incurred by the leader. This article argues that risk, uncertainty and imperfect information are not necessarily external, unwanted, or unforeseen factors in foreign policy decisions. In certain cases, they too are instrumentalized and adopted consciously into decision-making systems in order to diffuse the political costs of high-risk choices with expected low utility by insulating the leader from audience costs. This dynamic can be best observed in leader-centric and strong personality cult systems where the leader’s consent or at least tacit approval is required for all policies to be realized. This article uses two important case studies that effectively illustrate the use of deliberate uncertainty in decision-making in leader-centric systems: post-2014 Russia (War in Donbass and the annexation of Crimea), and Turkey (ending of the Kurdish peace process and the change in policy towards Syria).
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Southeast European and Black Sea Studies
ISSN: 1468-3857 (Print) 1743-9639 (Online) Journal homepage:
The fog of leadership: How Turkish and Russian
presidents manage information constraints and
uncertainty in crisis decision-making
Hamid Akin Unver
To cite this article: Hamid Akin Unver (2018): The fog of leadership: How Turkish and Russian
presidents manage information constraints and uncertainty in crisis decision-making, Southeast
European and Black Sea Studies, DOI: 10.1080/14683857.2018.1510207
To link to this article:
Published online: 20 Aug 2018.
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The fog of leadership: How Turkish and Russian presidents
manage information constraints and uncertainty in crisis
Hamid Akin Unver
International Relations, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey
Leaders choose to mislead their domestic peers when the political
risk and cost associated with a particular foreign policy decision is
too great and when the structure of the political system in ques-
tion is too leader-centric to aord these costs being incurred by
the leader. This article argues that risk, uncertainty and imperfect
information are not necessarily external, unwanted, or unforeseen
factors in foreign policy decisions. In certain cases, they too are
instrumentalized and adopted consciously into decision-making
systems in order to diuse the political costs of high-risk choices
with expected low utility by insulating the leader from audience
costs. This dynamic can be best observed in leader-centric and
strong personality cult systems where the leaders consent or at
least tacit approval is required for all policies to be realized. This
article uses two important case studies that eectively illustrate
the use of deliberate uncertainty in decision-making in leader-
centric systems: post-2014 Russia (War in Donbass and the annexa-
tion of Crimea), and Turkey (ending of the Kurdish peace process
and the change in policy towards Syria).
Received 07 August 2018
Accepted 14 August 2018
Foreign policy analysis;
Turkish foreign policy;
Russian foreign policy;
misinformation; Syria;
Ukraine; leadership; Kurds
Introduction and theoretical background
Uncertainty is interpreted by the major theoretical schools in International Relations as
fear (Tang 2008; Goldstein and Keohane 1993; Keohane and Nye 1977) (realism),
ignorance by rationalists (Glaser 2010; Zacher and Matthew 1992), confusion/ambiguity
by cognitivists (Iida 1993; Goldberg et al. 1999) and indeterminacy by constructivists
(Wendt 1999; Mitzen 2006), all of which suggest that uncertainty arises as an exogenous
variable upon which political actors are dependent. Furthermore, uncertainty is treated
as an unwanted exogenous factor, which imposes psychological constraints and emo-
tional triggers that lead to poor policy signalling and information ow across countries
and agencies, usually increasing the chances of conict escalation (Fearon 1995;
Rathbun 2007; Bas 2012; Huth et al. 1992).
This article argues that risk, uncertainty, and imperfect information are not
necessarily external, unwanted, or unforeseen factors in foreign policy decisions. In
CONTACT Hamid Akin Unver International Relations, Kadir Has University, Cibali, Fatih,
34083 Istanbul, Turkey
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
certain cases, they too are instrumentalized and adopted consciously into decision-
making systems to diuse the political costs of high-risk choices with expected low
utility. Thus, this article treats misinformation not only as an exogenous factor (i.e.,
for misleading the enemy or a system-level variable that blurs rational decision-
making), but as an endogenous, inward factor: the deliberate utilization of uncer-
tainty and imperfect information by leaders is a mode of in-group political
Why would leaders mislead their own inferiors? Why for example, would a president
choose to deliberately mislead his/her own Minister of Foreign Aairs in making foreign
policy, or his/her own prime minister or ambassador? I argue that there are two reasons
for this: rst, leaders choose to mislead their domestic peers when the political risk and
cost associated with a particular decision are too great (audience cost aversion)
and second, when the structure of the political system in question is too leader-centric
to allow the leader to incur these costs (audience cost diusion). In such foreign policy
decisions, audience costs need to be deected away from the central leader as leadership
survival may be viewed as central to regime survival.
The rst and second reasons may seem paradoxical. Why would a leader-centric
political system choose to seek ways to insulate the leader from important decisions? Is
the very purpose of a leader-centric system not to put the leader at the centre of all
decisions? Here, I argue that this is not always the case, especially in unavoidable, high-
risk scenarios where the expected utility is low. In such cases, the leader sacricesan
intermediary by deliberately creating a blurred vision of events and an unclear directive,
which forces the said intermediary to improvise in order to muddle through the fog. In
the face of uncertainty, the intermediary then follows a relatively autonomous set of
decisions on the leaders behalf, curating a set of initiatives neither explicitly supported
nor rejected by the leader. If this set of decisions generates a political outcome that
strengthens the position of the leader, then the intermediary is rewarded and remains in
place. Silence is often a sign of approval in these cases. If, however, the decision incurs
negative political costs to the leader, then the intermediary is removed and the leader
denies giving such orders, usually in a public statement. Although the popular term
plausible deniabilityis used to dene such circumstances, the term does not properly
address the cost/payomotives associated with such distancing.
By the deliberate use of uncertainty, the leader accomplishes three things:
insulates himself from the political costs of unforeseen and uncertain decisions
with expected low utility;
gives the intermediary a small degree of autonomy to craft policies and options on
the leaders behalf (and also to deect accusations of autocracy);
if the autonomous decision of the intermediary generates positive political capital
(meaning, if it yields the desired utility), then the leader can at any time ownthe
intermediarys decision to strengthen his/her own position; if not, the leader denies
giving such an order to begin with and removes the intermediary. The punishment
however, is not severe, and is limited to removal, since the intermediary under-
takes a heavy burden on behalf of the leader; this type of cannon fodder behaviour
is strongly encouraged in over-centralized policy systems.
This dynamic can be observed best in leader-centric and strong personality cult systems
where the leaders consent or at least tacit approval is required for all policies to
materialize. Yet there is usually a paradox in these systems. All decisions require the
approval of the leader, but what if the leader is wrong and the audience cost of a
mistake generates too much adverse eect on leadership (hence, regime) popularity
over time, endangering government authority? In less leader-centric political systems,
the political costs of admitting wrong policy are more widely distributed across the
political spectrum: to the cabinet, ministers, and agencies. If a president or prime
minister makes a decision and fails markedly, then they resign or lose votes and the
system keeps working with new gures. Yet in hybrid/authoritarian systems, the state
apparatus grows dependent on the prestige and political capital of the leader to
function. In such systems, political costs incurred by the leader are not only about
the leader per se, but also about the legitimacy of government agencies and state
institutions in general, all of which congure their relative standing and power relations
based on their proximity to the leader in particular and that leaders political capital in
general. There is generally no real and nationally agreed upon options and prospects of
democratic government change through elections.
Deliberate uncertainty and imperfect information enter the scene at exactly this
moment. Although leaders in over-centralized systems pursue hands-on, microma-
naged administrative styles during their early periods of power accumulation, they
reverse this trend and become increasingly withdrawn from making stark and direct
policy decisions during the later phases of their tenure. This is because once they are
successful in power consolidation and centralization eorts, they render state institu-
tions dependent upon this legitimacy and political capital, generating a symbiotic
relationship. At the end of the power consolidation process, such leaders create an
audience cost shield around themselves to protect themselves from the adverse eects
incurred by mistaken decisions. This political buer usually comes both in the form of a
group of people (loyalists that make and unmake policy in the leaders name) and/or a
system of confusion (an unclear division of labour where correct decisions can later be
owned and mistaken decisions disowned by the leader) all aimed at diverting attention
away from the leader when things go wrong. That is why even the most leader-centric
systems tend to operate on a degree of delegation and horizontal powerto diuse these
political costs. However, the leader chooses to delegate this burden based on two
conditions, where:
the delegated gure is a strong loyalist, is willing to take the blame for mistaken
decisions, and is willing to give most of the credit of successful decisions to the
leader mostly because his/her political and personal future depends on a long-
standing relationship with the leader;
there is an unavoidable, high-risk decision, with low expected utility and with an
uncertain outcome where the potential of failure incurs signicant political costs
by the leader.
When these conditions are met, the relationship between the leader and the policy
intermediary becomes similar to trapeze artists, where the intermediary is the prover-
bial yer, who takes a big leap of faith hoping that the autonomy within which he
operates will lead to the desired outcome. If successful, then the leader catchesthe
intermediary; if not, the yer is left to fall.
Although authoritarian systems provide some of the best examples to such systema-
tic uses of misinformation, in recent years, Donald Trumps administration in the US,
Theresa Mays government in the UK, Victor Orbans government in Hungary, and
Mateusz Morawieckis government in Poland have begun using similar tactics in
foreign policy. In doing so, democracies that have power-centralizing leaders are also
vulnerable to the eects of deliberate misinformation. However, this article uses two
important case studies that eectively illustrate the use of deliberate uncertainty in
decision-making in leader-centric systems: post-2014 Russia and Turkey under
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Regardless of regime-type
dierences, both countriespolitical cultures value strong leadership and strong con-
centration of political capital and authority under these leaders. Both leaders have also
identically instrumentalized deliberate uncertainty and created insulators to diuse the
political costs of high-risk foreign policy decisions. To test these claims, this article
looks at how misperceptions and uncertainty work as decision-making heuristics in
Russias decision to go to war in Donbass (April 2014) and annex Crimea
(March 2014), and in the Turkish case, its Syria policy (20122015), and its decision
to end the Kurdish peace process in July 2015.
Hierarchical misinformation heuristics: Russian Sistema
Both agency-centred and structural analyses of Russian foreign policy-making agree on
the occasional erraticism of the Kremlin (Baev 2011; Mearsheimer 2014; Trenin 2003).
Gleb Pavlovsky, however, emphasizes that Putins seeming erraticism is calculated
hypocrisy and penchant for gambling are fundamentally rational and devoid of eccen-
tricity(Pavlovsky 2016). Pavlovsky plays down the narrative of a strongman in the
form of an all-powerful Putin and argues that there are similar powerful gures around
him such as Sergei Ivanov (Chief of Presidential Administration), Vladislav Surkov
(Personal Adviser), Alexei Miller (Chairman of the Management Committee, Gazprom)
or Igor Sechin (Chairman of Rosneft), who also act in their own interest. These gures
create a system that is a far cry from traditional understandings of autocracy, and
instead lead to a form of complex interdependence of bureaucratically successful
individuals that make up the state(Pavlovsky 2016). This is called the Sistema
(Система), a concept that was rst introduced by Alena Ledeneva, and re-
conceptualized by Pavlovsky later; it denes a loosely connected network of elites
operating under deliberate uncertainty (Ledeneva 2013, 89).
Ledeneva rejected the claim that there was a power-vertical(i.e., a vertical power
hierarchy) in Moscow and instead asserted that there is a network of powerful
people, among whom Putins position is closer to being primus inter pares than an
autocrat. The currency of the system is ambivalence and paradox. It is useful in
getting things done quickly, albeit with high costs, ineciency, and the resultant
creation of overlapping and confusing systems of interdependence between elites
(Ledeneva 2012, 17). Stanislav Belkovsky also argued a similar line and asserted that
Sistema is a rhizome state, where horizontal networks with innumerable multi-
plicities of power centresmake it dicult to know where Putin enters the scene and
when he is out (Belkovsky 2013, 54). Yet Putin himself does not sit atop Sistema,nor
does he actively steer its general course. He is isolated at the centre, protected from
the political costs of decisions and, as he admits, he can only make things happen by
directly and forcefully intervening at the personal level, at the cost of great political
capital. In that respect, Ledeneva claims that Putin is half in charge of Sistema,and
half its prisoner.
Sistema evolved in two phases: pre- and post-2012. Before 2012, Putins early years
(namely, his rst presidential period of 20002008) was marked by power consolidation,
which he called managed democracy(Petrov and Michael 2005). In a managed democ-
racy, there was a clear-cut hierarchy in decisions from Moscow to the federal level, and
from the federal to the regional oces. Then came Medvedevs presidency, which lasted
from 2008 to 2012, during which Putin was the prime minister and allowed Medvedev a
degree of freedom in crafting and executing his own policies. Then in 2012, when
Medvedev and Putin switched places, Putin started to animate a dierent type of political
personality, purging many of the power brokers and bureaucrats that were attached to the
Kremlin during Medvedevs time. In his prime ministership, Putin was silent, and was
deliberately opaque over which gures Medvedev should appoint or dismiss. He allowed
Medvedev full authority in enacting policy until the end of his tenure, and it was only when
Putin became president that he made his views clear through the purges. While in the rst
part of his presidency, Putin adopted a top-down and hands-on approach, in his second
presidential term, he used ambivalence anduncertainty asa currency. In this second period,
Putin added a new layer of uncertainty to the picture, which rendered his persona and oce
largely ambiguous in terms of approval or disapproval, eectively insulating himself from
policy commitments (Wegren 2015, 73). In contrast to his earlier tenure, which was based
on strong signalling and direct control, the second period relied directly on uncertainty and
imperfect information as a form of administration. In the absence of direct approval,
consent for certain projects was given discretely in the form of otmashka (ОТМА
or go-ahead) which is not really support, but an indierent form of non-objection
(Pavlovsky 2016). As otmashka is neither rejection nor support, it made it easier for
Putin to deny or arm support to the policy depending on its success or failure.
In a decision-making environment where transparency is not valued, or purposefully
avoided or weakened, decisions and their political costs fall upon a single individual or a
small, closely knit network of elites, who in turn seek ways to obscure and diuse these
costs. I argue that this is the fundamental logic of Sistema:therecannotbeanypolicycosts
associated with the policy if decision-makers never approve these decisions in the rst
place. While it is relatively easier to commit to low-cost and/or high expected utility
decisions, the commitment decitassociated with high-cost and/or low expected utility
decisions leads to the creation of a horizontal powerin which the leader is insulated and
policy managers emerge on his behalf. These policy managers then enter into a tactical
gambit in the face of emergency decisions or high-risk long-term policy options:
do nothing, do not act as a buer in return for the sake of retaining rank or
position, but risk losing favour with the leader over the long-term, or;
decide to act as a buer, formulate/initiate policy, and win the favour of the leader
by acting as cannon fodder in the absence of a clear policy direction and with the
understanding that failure will result in removal from oce.
Once the gamble begins, intermediaries tend to choose the option that best ensures
winning further favours from Putin and continued access to the Kremlin, rather than mere
political survival. Survival in the form of retaining position and rank is an unclear gain, as
unfavoured intermediaries who do not risk themselves may still lose access to Kremlin,
whereas those who take the riskand lose positions can still be rewarded with Kremlinaccess
through backchannels. In Kremlin discourse, these intermediaries are called curators’–
political bureaucrats and also project managers that are directly endorsed by the president
to handle a particular task (Pavlovsky 2016). Endorsement in this case however, is not
permanent, as Putins endorsement of a curator does not necessarily imply his endorsement
of the curators set of policies, or his projects, but is a short-term nodthat endorses the risk
the curator is undertaking. A capable curator, who crafts sound and calculated policies, but
is unwilling or unsure about exporting the political capital of his successful decisions to
Putin is regarded as idlerand thus, does not serve the Sistema. When successful curators
become too famousin the media, or in policy circles, they are expected to lower their
proles and channel political capital to Putin. There also exists a level of autonomy granted
to curators in initiating and running a particular project: if the project produces positive
results, the curator stays in place and is rewarded with continued access to Kremlins
resources. If not, Putin distances himself from the decision and curator for he never
directly approved the project to begin with. The curator is then removed and the president
saves face, for he never approved the project in the rst place. Throughout the curators
policy process, Putin does not intervene on the curators behalf even to make small
nudges in order to distance himself from accusations of autocracy: after all, Putin
delegated, did not micromanage, but in the absence of his close attention, the project
failed, or he was deceived’–or so goes the narrative. Once a curator fails, Putin knows
which decisions and choices have led to such failure and can then easily go in the other
direction to x things personally.
Jurisdictional conicts between multiple curators handling similar tasks emerge
frequently. When multiple curators end up clashing, or entering into each others
project areas, they are free to use any means necessary to compete over dierent
outcomes (if their approach to the project is not similar or complementary) and in a
Darwinist political setting, whichever curator wins the contest continues to inuence
the outcome (Granville et al. 2012, 18). This contest is another game of survival, which
tests curatorsadministrative, bargaining, and alliance-building capacities against other
curators that are operating within the same policy arena.
Sistema as a foreign policy decision-making heuristic
A good testing ground for how Sistema works in foreign policy is the Ukrainian crisis
(annexation of Crimea and the subsequent involvement in Donbass); it is also where
deliberate uncertainty has led to most clashes between Putins curators. By mid-2014, a
large number of Russian paramilitaries and militias started appearing through Donbass,
most of which, according to Ukrainian intelligence, were led by Sergei Aksenov (leader
of the Russian Unity party), funded by a Putin curator Konstantin Malofeev (Weaver
2014; Schwartz 2014; Keating 2014; Arkhipov et al. 2014)and controlled by another
curator Igor Girkin (Strelkov) (Walker 2016; Shamanska 2016; BBC News 2014), who
had taken the liberty of arranging the situation. The arrival of these armed units, on the
other hand, was something the Kremlin could disassociate itself from, as there was no
apparent connection between Putin and the deployment. As far as Moscow was con-
cerned, these were concerned nationalists who just went to the frontlines by them-
selves Putin could claim he did not give such an order, and there was a period of
plausible deniability in the important earlier phases of the conict (Karatnycky 2015).
The Crimean intervention has been more carefully oiled and directed. The emer-
gence of little green men, who took over the Crimean parliament, led to a chain of
events that ended up with the local parliaments call for a (disputed) referendum to join
Russia. Despite the anonymity of the early pro-Russian armed forces without insignia,
Russian forces were already legally deployed in the peninsula under the jurisdiction of
the 2010 Kharkiv Pact, which extended Russias control over Crimean naval facilities
until 2042 (Galeotti 2016b). Once Crimea was under Russian control, they unilaterally
annulled the treaty in March 2014. Although clashes between Ukrainian and Russian
forces restarted in August 2016 owing to demarcation disputes, the transition from
crisis, takeover, referendum, and accession treaty went smoothly and according to a
pre-set plan, unlike Russian actions in Donbass. Had the appearance of paramilitaries
on Donbass ended up creating the desired outcome (forcing the other side to back
down or establish deterrence capability) then the process would have continued unhin-
dered. Yet the curators Girkin and Malofeev clashed as curators, by denition do so
often with disastrous outcomes, especially in crisis scenarios (Rusnáková 2017;
Bukkvoll 2016).
On 17 July 2017 2014, a pro-Russian militia used a surface-to-air SA-11 missile to shoot
down the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MAS 17), killing all 298 passengers aboard. The
mechanics of the incident remained so obscure for so long that the incident was eectively
dissected and explained better through Bellingcat an open-source intelligence initiative
rather than state agencies (Bellingcat Investigation Team 2017). Which specic Buk missile
system unit red the missile, where it came from, and under whose command (or
inuence) the operators of the Buk were engaged in this operation were matters ercely
contested by Russia. In fact, this was one of the most serious cases of Sistema going wrong
(Gibney 2015;Gregory2014). The relative autonomy Putin allowed to his curators and his
subsequent self-distancing from the tactical-level calculus became a form of management
system, leading to serious miscommunication between the local militia that shot down the
plane and their obscure Russian superiors. According to The Guardian, Igor Strelkov, Igor
Bezler, and Nikolai Kozitsyn had discussed the shooting-down in social media soon after
the downing of the plane, trying to understand under whose jurisdiction this event had
taken place (Luhn 2014).
Yet the biggest problem with using such a loose decision-making approach, where
the autonomy of a militia can cause a major international crisis like the MAS 17
incident, is the diculty of cleaning up such processes. While it is relatively easy to
get a curator to initiate a project (or policy) through giving it otmashka, freezing or
backtracking it from the Kremlin proves to be very dicult especially when the
curators autonomy generates a sudden, unforeseen problem with very high political
costs. After all, Sistema necessitates autonomy and uncertainty, and thus, the Kremlin
cannot easily pull back an initiative it did not directly approve. Putin attempted to
resolve the MAS 17 crisis, which was the low point of an already problematic process of
militia autonomy in Donbass, by assigning another curator Ramazan Kadyrov, the
Chechen leader to bring back the militias operating within Ukraine
(Karatnycky 2015). Yet despite Putins bid to act directly and scale back Russian
involvement in Donbass, Kadyrov was unable to recall all of the militias as many
continued to remain in the area and ght (Fuller 2016). This created another set of
unforeseen problems on the ground with further jurisdictional crises between curators,
making de-escalation practically impossible.
A second problem with the curatorial approach in Donbas was the clash of several
policy entrepreneurs who attempted to resolve or cover-up the MAS 17 incident
through conicting and mutually defeating methods. While one Putin curator,
Vladislav Surkov (Deputy Chief of Presidency), was tasked to restore order in
Donbas, another curator, Minister of Foreign Aairs Sergei Lavrov, was assigned to
cooperate with the parties in the Minsk talks (Socor 2016). One curator to cover up
MAS 17, and another to appear cooperative with the West proved to be a clumsy
diversication approach, especially given the fact that Russian troops were already
posting seles from within Ukraine (Jones 2014). This dual assignment generated
great operational conicts between Surkov and Lavrov, demonstrating an overall erratic
exercise of foreign policy by Russia (Galeotti 2016a). This Darwinian competition was
eventually won by Surkov, following the oensive carried out by the Ukrainian forces in
August 2014, necessitating the rapid expansion of Russian army presence in the region.
This expansion strengthened Surkovs hand, allowing him to become the primary
intermediary in Donbass, and leading to Putins decision to recall Lavrov from negotia-
tions now that the Ukrainian oensive had proven that diplomacy would not solve the
issue. Whether Surkovs victory implied a wider Russian victory is up for debate. If the
hypothesis is that Russia wanted exactly the same smooth process in Donbass that it
was able to secure in Crimea, then Surkovsinuence can be viewed as a failure. Yet if
the second hypothesis is true, that Russia never wanted to annex Donbass and the
purpose was to create a semi-frozen proxy conict there, then Surkovs role has largely
been successful. The deadlock on both sides and Russias opening of a third front
Syria is, perhaps, evidence that supports the rst hypothesis.
Anal point about Sistema is that although it is tailored to diuse the costs of failed
policies, failure is rarely admitted. In Donbass the initial gambit may have failed, but
this did not lead to withdrawal from Ukraine a show of admitting to failure but
instead necessitated the creation of a new distraction to divert attention: this would be
Syria. Thus, Russias Syria campaign had one objective: to become a national and
international diversion from Donbass and reassure Russias friends and enemies of its
military capabilities (Nye 2016). A new set of curatorial networks was set up in the
Syrian campaign, with Donbasslessons in mind.
To summarize, when Sistema works, it shields the leader from the political costs of bad
decisions. The use of deliberate misperception allows Putin to deny involvement if things
go wrong and yield support for the policy just in time when it generates the optimum
outcome. Through leaving curators in doubt, Putin relieves himself from the burdens of
micromanaging, over-commitment to a policy, and loss of political capital if a policy
generates unwanted outcomes. The autonomy in Sistema is hardly democratic, however
it is only given to the most loyal of intermediaries, who are not always democratically
elected. Furthermore, when the system fails, it increases both administrative and
bureaucratic tensions, leading to animosity among the key gures in charge. In cases of
high-prole international crises too, the immense cost of failure creates a dangerously
ambiguous environment where only the most daring of curators act on behalf of the leader,
while more calculating ones do nothing, leading to more sharp and extreme policies and
actions prevailing within Sistema. When things indeed go wrong on the other hand, it
becomes much more dicult to stop or recall the policy as it was never formulated
centrally; this turns the administration into a loose cannon that has to address the failure
of an extreme policy with an even more extreme response.
Sistema both supports and is supported by improvisation. Deliberate uncertainty makes
it easier for the leader to isolate himself from the eects of bad policies and take respon-
sibility only for those that reinforce his position. However, it also enables a countrys
foreign policy to be more adaptable and mouldable even at the expense of ying blind
from a strategic point of view. It can be argued that Putins Crimea gambit was riddled with
mistakes and disasters (such as the case of the MAS 17 ight), but in the end, Moscow did
dominatethe Black Sea and annexed Crimea, both of which were bigger gains than Moscow
initially projected. The cost on the other hand, is equally substantial the risk of Donbass
turning into a long-term frozen conict that indenitely sucks up Moscows resources. It
can also be argued that the cost of failure in Donbass is the reason why Moscow chose an
even greater gambit the Syrian campaign to oset the political costs created by the
confusion generated by Sistema, thus necessitating a far greater investment to oset the
political costs of the initial investment.
The agency-structure debate in deliberate uncertainty: fraction-actor
networks in Turkish foreign policy
I conceptualize a fraction-actor networkas a decision-making setting in which too
many actors focus their attention on the same set of policies. There is no division of
labour over policy issues between actors with dierent set of skills; instead, there is
labour duplication where actors with similar skill sets preside over multiple, similar
issues. This renders both the actors in the decision-making environment and the policy
issues they focus on as fractions of a whole, which do not necessarily add up to a
coherent whole. The lack of clarity over the exact initiator and overseer of policy is
exacerbated by the fact that actors who deal with the same issues often nd themselves
with problems of redundancy. While jurisdictional problems also exist in Sistema, they
are largely deliberate. In Turkeys case however, intermediaries nd themselves in
jurisdictional conicts not as a result of central planning, but the lack thereof.
Fraction-actor networks emerge in decision-making settings where loyalty and
ideological allegiance are prized more than the actual technical ability and expertise
of actors to match the problem at hand. This creates a setting where the division of
labour is not necessarily distributed according to the abilities of the elected ocials (i.e.,
the Minister of Culture handling culture issues), but according to their loyalty and
ideological commitment (i.e., the most ideologically committed and loyal ministers
handling the most important policy areas at the same time, such as foreign policy,
national security, and defence, whereas those who are ideologically less committed
handle less important issues). The resultant decision-making system renders all actors
fraction-actorsas none of them have the exclusive portfolio to steer a particular policy,
and those that have stronger ideological commitments and loyalty tend to contribute
more to the policy process than those with more technical expertise in the matter. This
is especially the case in high politicsissues of national security and foreign policy.
Fraction-actor networks are useful for achieving one purpose: loyalty and ideological
purity, which in turn (is expected to) lead to faster decision-making. They emerge in
hybrid political systems that are neither fully authoritarian (ocials are still elected
through public vote), nor fully democratic systems (widespread suspicion requires a
degree of control over elected representatives) that emphasize rapid policy enactment
(Santiso 2013; Whitehead 2002). These systems are usually driven by a powerful leader,
who presides over a government that is tasked less with policy formulation and more
with the diligent and unquestioning implementation of policies crafted by the leader
and his close cohort. However, in high-risk time-constraint scenarios where the leader-
ship proves unable to make a decision, several high-level intermediaries involuntarily
become curatorsand have to deal with the problem through a confusing distribution
of power. It is specically in these scenarios that the division of labour becomes even
more obscure, leading to too many cooks in the kitchenand the emergence of unclear
policy positions and directives. As such systems tend less to separate policies based on
their type (health, public works, defence, labour) and more according to their impor-
tance (important: defence, foreign policy, national security; less important: health,
labour, culture, and so on) all of the most important people in the decision-making
start focusing on exactly the same problem.
Domestically, one of the best illustrations of Turkeys fraction-actor network
decision-making has been the Kurdish peace process (20092015). The arrest of the
PKKs leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 and the organizations subsequent interregnum
in the early 2000s made way for an alternative non-military discourse, which was
provided by the AKP in the form of electoral politics and public works. In doing so,
Erdoğan was operating within constraints set by the military (Traynor 2007), which
he always feared was ready to engage in a coup détat against him (Hardy 2010).
Indeed, in many ways, being overly dependent on the military would open up the
space for military involvement in politics,whichinturnwouldleadtoamoredirect
military intervention againstthegovernment(Steinvorth2010; Spiegel 2007;Aydinli
2009). Within these constraints, Erdoğan was a fraction-actor, the front man of the
wider Kurdish question, but sharing both policy formulation and policy execution
with then President Abdullah Gül, Minister of Foreign Aairs Davutoğlu,
Undersecretaries Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Hakan Fidan of the Ministry of Foreign
Aairs and of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), respectively, and succes-
sive Ministers of the Interior and Defense. On the other side was another constraint
PKKs imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan, who exerted varying degrees of inuence
over the course of the peace process (although Öcalan was not a buer to Erdoğan,
but another fraction-actor who competed with others). This network was overseeing
more or less the same portfolio: negotiating PKKsdisarmament and ceasere,
managing the transition of the PKKs violent aims into parliamentary representation,
and granting PKKs lower ranks pardon and senior ranks asylum in Europe. Up until
2011, it can be argued that Erdoğan perhaps had equal inuenceoverthesematters
compared to other fraction-actors.
10 H. A. UNVER
The Kurdish peace process was a microcosm of the drawbacks associated with fraction-
actor networks: a high-risk, low expected utility case whereby the lack of an overall plan,
clear objectives, and an unclear division of labour between fraction-actors plagued a vital
political process. Neither Erdoğan (who was constrained by his cabinet), nor the govern-
ment (which acted under the constraint of the military) nor the military (which was
constrained by the pro-peace public opinion) had a clear idea of what success meant
regarding the peace process, or how to achieve it. Neither party was willing to suer the
political costs of being portrayed as traitorson the one side, and warmongerson the
other. Therefore, both the government and the military operated in a self-generated
environment of uncertainty to obscure the political responsibility of any failure, in which
political speech and statements were in Erdoğans control, but not actual policy.
This changed in 2009 owing to the other fraction-actor, Abdullah Öcalan, and his
attempt to break this self-generated deadlock of uncertainty by proclaiming his own
peace process(Hürriyet 2011) and take risks. In order to retain the balance of power
between fraction-actors, the government chose to pre-empt Öcalans peace plan and
initiated a hastily mustered alternative plan, which would be alternately called the
peace/opening processor resolution process(Ensaroglu 2013). The government had
bypassed Öcalan, but not at the expense of suering from the political costs arising
from the nationalist electorate.
However, the deadlock was broken and having initiated a peace process, the government
only had to go forward. The rst phase of the Kurdish peace process (20092011), which
had begun merely to sideline Öcalans initiative, ended because of a lack of clarity over aims,
causing commitment problems on both sides of the negotiating table (Gunter 2014). In
2012, another, better-crafted peace process began, largely in response to the Arab Spring
movements on which the PKK wanted to surf (Oğuzlu 2012;Gunter2011). Although a
much better division of labour between actors was attained with better policy goals,
the second peace process also failed, less because of Turkeys own internal problems, and
more because of the spillover eects of the Syrian Civil War (Unver 2016b).
Until the ocial collapse of the second peace process in July 2015, Turkeys handling
of the policy resembled less a fraction-actor network and more a Russian Sistema.
Uncertain about the outcome of the Syrian Civil War and its impact on Turkeys peace
process, President Erdoğan chose to insulate himself within a buer of curators: Deputy
Prime Minister in charge of the peace process Yalçın Akdoğan, Minister of Interior
Efkan Ala, MIT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and
Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ,with Akdoğan having the most say over the process
(BBC Türkçe 2015). Once the second peace process began to derail by early 2014
however, Erdoğan withdrew himself even more from the decision-making process,
giving his long-time companion Yalçın Akdoğan exclusive curatorship over the matter.
Although the relative stability brokered by Akdoğan hinted at the success of the process,
in February 2015 it all came down to what is known as the Dolmabahçe consensus
which was strongly denounced by Erdoğan, despite his earlier go-ahead otmashka
(Sabah 2015). It is still unclear why Erdoğan chose to distance himself from the
Dolmabahçe consensus despite his earlier non-intervention (and even tacit go-ahead)
to the process, but it is after this point that Erdoğan completely distanced himself from
the process, leaving all of the curators of the peace process in a self-generated environ-
ment of uncertainty. Months later, gures that had the greatest inuence over the peace
process Davutoğlu, Ala, and Akdoğan were all removed from their positions, not
making it to the new government that was announced in May 2016.
Fraction-actor networks and the Syrian civil war
Fraction-actor networkis also a tting conceptualization of Turkeys involvement in the
Syrian Civil War, in that both the country itself and the decision-makers within it have not
been the sole determinants of policy. Turkeys Syria policy was certainly not independent,
as Ankara was only one of the partners in the triangular alliance with the United States and
Saudi Arabia (Doherty and Bakr 2012;Hosenball2012). Although NATO later joined in as
an alliance, mostly under the aegis of the Global Coalition Against Daesh, TurkeysSyria
policy hasbeen largely driven by Washingtonand Riyadh, especially in favour of protecting
Sunnis against the sectarian spill over of the Syrian Civil War and later, to counter Iranian
and Russian geopolitical aims. Within the alliance Turkey wasat the forefront of all eorts
both sharing the longest border with Syria and hosting the largest number of refugees yet
unable to materialize this unique position into a coherent policy that could steer its allies
perspectives. Ankara was either too impetuous too early (such as by sharply expressing its
regime change policy in Syria, and expecting a quick victory over Assad, which allowed Iran
to counterbalance faster), or too late in joining its alliespre-mediated positions (such as by
taking precautions to bar ISIS encroachments into Turkish territory). That is why many of
Turkeys initiatives over the Syrian Civil War ended up out of sync due to over-
commitment, political coordination problems, and an overall disconnect with its partners.
Through earlier phases of Syrian discontent (MarchJuly 2011), Turkey was alone in
trying to use its political capital to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to
target his own citizens (Black 2011); in contrast Washington and Riyadh were more
eager for a military intervention, encouraged by the quick toppling of Libyan and
Egyptian autocrats (Barel 2012). After several weeks of brutal crackdown by Assad
on domestic dissent, Turkey changed course by the summer of 2011 and joined the
bandwagon with Washington and Riyadh, gambling on the expectation that Assad
would not put up much of a ght if challenged militarily (Hürriyet 2012). This in
turn led to a directly confrontational rhetoric in Ankara with explicit support for
Assads forceful removal. However, this momentum in favour of Assads removal failed
to turn into decisive action as Iran began deploying the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary
Guard Corps) to support Damascus (Fassihi 2012).
Even though Turkey had rather rapidly shifted its pro-consensus focus into one favouring
a military campaign against Assad, this time it was the US and other NATO countries that
were discouraged from doing so, owing to Iran and Russias successful counter-balancing
eorts. It was by early 2012 that Turkey began to overcommit to the anti-Assad opposition in
Syria, pursuing an open-door policy(Kirişçi and Ferris 2015) over the Syrian border and
supporting obscure groups whose main commonality was their anti-Assad stance. In sup-
porting these groups, Turkey was again a fraction-actor, as both the US and the Saudis
followed this policy as well (Chivers and Schmitt 2013), but Ankara seldom showed caution
in supporting these groups. This lack of caution, arising from the pursuit of deliberate
uncertainty over a Syria policy, ended up creating enormous political costs in what is
known as the MIT scandalof January 2014 when the Turkish Gendarmerie intercepted
two semi-trailers that were carrying arms and supplies to Syria (Pamuk and Tattersall 2015;
12 H. A. UNVER
Kızılkoyun 2014;The Guardian 2015). In an unexpected standobetween the gendarmerie
troops and MIT operatives, the tension was eventually diused, but not before it became
public that the trailers were transporting arms without parliamentary approval or a govern-
mental decree. Although the government scrambled to cover the issue up in various ways,
including intelligence concerning the contents of the shipment being attained through illegal
methods (Pamuk and Tattersall 2015;RussiaToday2017;The Guardian 2015), the scandal
remained a sustained source of political costs for Erdoğan, even though Turkey was only part
of the coalition that favoured sending arms to Syrian rebels.
The emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS) as the dominant Sunni ghting faction in Syria
complicated Ankaras calculations further. Beginning with the May 2013 Reyhanlıbombing,
ISIS used Turkey as a surrogate mother,
beneting from the open-door policy on the border
and establishing a wide network within Turkey (Stein 2016; Blaser and Stein 2015). Turkeys
relative apathy towards earlier encroachments of ISIS ended up complicating its future
alliance commitments, and generated another set of political costs both domestically and
internationally (Unver 2016a;Collard2015; Collinsworth 2014). This period of over-
commitment ended with the entry of Russia into Syria in the summer of 2015, which led to
substantial escalation over airspace contestations with Turkey, and reached its zenith with
Turkeys decision to shoot down the Russian jet in November (Unver 2015;Galeotti2015).
Afterwards, Turkey faced substantial restrictions from Russia both in terms of airspace access
into northern Syria and Ankaras ability to support anti-Assad groups there. By early 2016,
Turkish policy had already become dependent on the negotiations at the great power level,
lowering its prole even further (Çandar 2016). In all three periods of the Syrian Civil War,
Turkey was a fraction-actor one that was unable to steer the course and strategy of the
alliance, while exerting its weight either too early, too late, or too much on policy options that
were outside her alliesscope, and ending up shouldering much of the political costs of these
Yet, Turkish foreign policys internal machinations too, have been a story of fraction-
actors that operated under a great degree of uncertainty, most of which was internally
generated. Ahmet Davutoğlu (both as foreign minister and after September 2014, prime
minister) and Undersecretaries Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Hakan Fidan operated as anchors
in close proximity to Erdoğan. With longer experience in foreign aairs, the Davutoğlu-
Sinirlioğlu-Fidan trio was the main layer of insulation for President Erdoğan and it was
among them that Turkeys Syria policy was formulated. This meant that although there
may have been a clear power vertical in other policy areas, foreign policy was one of the rare
issues where President Erdoğans role became one of equals, or primus inter pares at best.
The division of labour over Syria was confusing, and deliberately so because of the
immense uncertainty and rapidly diminishing expected utility of the policy. MIT
handled the support and logistics of anti-Assad groups within Syria (Ergan 2015;
Entous and Parkinson 2013), whereas it was the Ministry of Foreign Aairs, which
coordinated with its counterparts in the capitals of the anti-Assad coalition (Solomon
and Pop 2015). The Turkish Armed Forces were in charge of controlling and protecting
a porous border (Pamuk 2016) and semi-autonomous Turkish aid agencies such as the
IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation, led by Fehmi Bülent Yıldırım), both coordi-
nated aid in northern Syria and acted as Turkeys forward intelligence assets in the
region (Winter 2016; Lundquist 2014; Tabak 2015).
Erdoğan was not much of a commanding gure in these buers, but more of a pivot
or anchor through which these agencies communicated with one another and acquired
their legitimacy. The biggest dierence between Turkeys fraction-actor network and
the Russian Sistema however, was the fact that these buers were not insulating
Erdoğan from the political cost of their decisions as Sistema did to Putin; to the
contrary, they were using Erdoğans political capital to get things done and to prevail
within domestic inter-institutional competitions for policy relevance. When the MIT
scandal broke out for example, the burden fell more on Erdoğan than Fidan, as the
latter never gave an interview or made a public appearance. Similarly, when both
Davutoğlu and Sinirlioğlu failed to coordinate between Turkey and its allies to better
synchronize the anti-Assad (later, anti-ISIS) campaign, when the armed forces patrols
were growing insucient in controlling the border, and when the IHH began to get too
closely connected to the armed groups in Syria, (Gartenstein-Ross 2014, 11) the political
costs all fell on Erdoğan himself, instead of the initiators and practitioners of these
policies. Increasingly, it was Erdoğan who was unable to exert his desired weight over
decisions and also, to protect himself from the political costs of their results. Such
political costs could only be diused through Erdoğans own domestic framing skills
and agenda-setting strategy, and not those of his insulators.
While the MAS 17 incident was an alarming failure of the Russian Sistema, the MIT
scandal and growing ISIS threat had similar eects on Turkeys fraction-actor approach to
decision-making. However, in comparing Sistema with fraction-actor networks, measure-
ments of power and capabilities matter immensely in assessing how both countries
employed managed uncertainty. Russia managed to steer back from the fallout of the
MAS 17 incident because it had the capability and autonomy to do so: it was ghting in
Ukraine a militarily inferior power and it was ghting alone, without the constraints of a
larger alliance. Turkey was dierent. It was ghting a proxy war in Syria, which was not as
inferior to Turkey as Ukraine was to Russia, and it was acting as a junior partner in a wider
and often very confused alliance. Thus, even though the MIT scandal fell on Erdoğans
shoulders, both the decision to send arms and to revert back from the policy to send arms
were not on his initiative. MIT was sending arms in tandem with American and Saudi
intelligence (Mazzetti and Younes 2016; Mazzetti and Apuzzo 2016;Entous2016)and
backtracking from supporting Sunni groups that required active American and Saudi
political consent which did not exist.
The immense diculty with which the Kremlin tried to pull back from Donbass multi-
plied in Turkeys case, which is one of the main reasons why Ankara had to pursue its failed
Syrian policy long after its failure was apparent prior to the arrival of Russia into Syria at the
end of the summer of 2015. In that event, Ankara would also probably continue its active
engagement in Syria had Russia not intervened and had Russia not substantially increased
the costs of engagement for Turkey following the SU-24 jet downing incident in November.
It is important to note that Russia, which operates through Sistema, clearly understood the
machinations of Turkeys involvement in Syria and targeted Davutoğlu, Sinirlioğlu, Fidan,
and IHH simultaneously through diplomatic, political, and military pressures. Eventually,
Davutoğlu was forced to resign as prime minister (Malsin 2016), Sinirlioğlu was sent to
New York to take up Turkish Permanent Representation (Kart 2016) (along with foreign
assignments for almost all of his top decision-making cohort in the Ministry (Güve
2016)), Fidan was internationally and domestically exposed following his agencysfailureto
14 H. A. UNVER
detect the 15 July 2016 coup attempt (Parkinson and Entous 2016), and IHH was both
military targeted by Russian jets in Syria (Al Rifai 2015) and also humiliated after Turkey
mended ties with Israel (Saltzman, 2015). Turkey gradually replaced its set of curators,
announced that it would abandon its policy to topple Assad, and began cooperating with
Russia and the US equally to further its national security interests (France 24 2016).
Yet an important question remains: how did the fraction-actor network approach inu-
ence TurkeysabilitytomeetitsmainobjectivesinSyria?Ifonethingisclear,itisthatrapid
and unaccountable decision-making in Syria did more harm than good for the countrys
foreign and domestic policy, both over the short- and medium-term. Deliberate use of
managed uncertainty and fraction-actors certainly hastened decision-making, but in the
wrong direction. This approach has also lead to a setting where buers enjoyed insulation
more than Erdoğan; instead of insulating him from political costs like the Sistema, curators
were insulated by Erdoğan from the political costs of their engagements, until they were
removed. In many ways, Turkeys fraction-actor networks have been the reversal of Sistema
because of how buering works, and who is ultimately shielded from political costs.
Conclusion: is managed uncertainty good policy?
This article began with a theoretical problem: how can we conceptualize uncertainty and
imperfect information as endogenous and internally directed processes in policy analysis? In
doing so, this article has detailed how Russia and Turkey used managed uncertainty in
making foreign policy decisions over an extended period of time, in scenarios with low
expected utility. The most direct use for deliberate confusion both in Sistema and the
fraction-actor network model is audience cost diusion and aversion: by assigning curators,
leaders seek to insulate themselves from the adverse eects of bad decisions. This type of
deliberate uncertainty is consensual, in the way both the leader and the insulators agree on the
terms: protection of the leader from the political costs of failed decisions is the most
important regime survival issue.
Russian and Turkish applications of deliberate uncertainty failed to generate the desired
outcome for both countries. Russia had to settle for less than it bargained for in Ukraine,
and Turkey both failed to sustain its peace process and its strategic priorities in Syria.
However, both Putin and Erdoğan remain in power with perhaps greater public support
and mandate than before they initiated their respective policy processes. This suggests that
Sistema and the fraction-actor model are not really methods to make better policy or attain
strategic goals, but serve merely to secure the legitimacy and popularity of the leaders
against negative outcomes of high-risk scenarios. Both conceptualisations and their simila-
rities reveal new insight over predicting and explaining Russian and Turkish foreign
policies and how both countries measure risk, success, and failure in international relations.
1. This refers to the February 2015 formal meeting between the government ocials and pro-
Kurdish Peoples Democracy Party (HDP) members, ocially conrming the agreement
that would result in increased autonomy for the Kurds in exchange for PKKs
2. This term was originally coined by Metin Gürcan; see Ongun (2016).
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Hamid Akin Unver is an assistant professor of international relations at the Kadir Has University in
Istanbul. He is the author of Clash of Empires: Why Turkey and Russia Fight(2015) and Ankara to
Black Sea: Turkey and Russias Age-Old Struggle for Regional Supremacy(2014), both published by
Foreign Aairs. He is interested in exploring how uncertainty and misinformation work in foreign
policy decisions of hybrid and authoritarian regimes during crises and time constraints.
Hamid Akin Unver
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Authoritarian regimes and other ‘bad’ actors in the Middle East are using social media for large scale deception operations. With little transparency from tech companies and poor regulation around disinformation, monitoring and tracking those operations falls uncomfortably upon journalists, activists and academics.[1] It is therefore necessary to share and discuss emerging techniques of identifying deception with academics across disciplines. It is also important to be transparent about detection methods in an environment where the terms ‘bot’ and ‘troll’ are frequently deployed against those who have opposing views. Being clear about methods of identifying deception can be instructive in a number of ways. Without identifying and acknowledging such deception, sociological studies of social media will inevitably be plagued with ‘corrupted’ data. Scholars using social media data must be adept at filtering out such deception.
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The literature on online disinformation studies focuses disproportionately on the United States - especially on the 2016 Presidential elections – and has failed to generate an equally robust and diverse research agenda elsewhere.1 Empirical studies have drawn on a very narrow pool of cases, with the overwhelming majority of the scientific and policy focus on what Russia is doing in the United States, or a handful of Western nations.2 This impairs construction of a truly comparative and generalizable scientific inquiry, especially in terms of what disinformation (deliberate use of false information to deceive) or influence operations (deploying a mix of accurate, semi-accurate and false information to achieve strategic goals) mean for the broader world and international competition dynamics. To that end, the study of both fields is in need of longitudinal and comparative works: to provide perspective on how disinformation dynamics observed at one time are different than those at others; how dynamics observed in one country differ from those in other countries; and how operations conducted by different external actors vary. What’s more, availability bias afflicts the wider disinformation studies field, as very few studies deal with the question of what the existence of disinformation means in relation to the cases where information manipulation doesn’t exist. In this essay, we examine Russian information operations in Turkey as a first step towards addressing these shortcomings in the literature.
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The main aim of this paper is to analyse the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. For the purposes of the paper, the theory of hybrid warfare was chosen as an analytical category. Throughout the paper, the concept of hybrid warfare is examined and applied on case study of Crimean annexation. Hybrid warfare, especially in connection with Russian actions in Crimea has been an intensely debated concept. There is an ongoing debate among scholars concerning the meaning of the concept, its existence and employment by the Russian Federation. This paper showed that the article of Valeriy Gerasimov – the incumbent Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation-invoked a new warfare strategy for the Russian Federation which was consequently for the very first time in its full spectre and effectivity employed on case of Crimean annexation in March 2014. Observing the application of the hybrid warfare in practice serves the purposes of countering its further potential application in post-Soviet space and Russian ‘near abroad’.
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The IHH delivers relief aid to 140 countries worldwide. Quite recently, as a novel humanitarian practice, the IHH has begun acting as a mediator in intra-state conflicts and even accumulated considerable experience in it. In the Bangsamoro peace process, for instance, the IHH was invited to play a mediator role as part of the internationally crewed Third Party Monitoring Team. Similarly, the IHH has been called upon to play mediatory roles in resolving kidnapping incidents in Syria and Pakistan, and has done so by negotiating with armed groups for the release of kidnapped and captive civilians. This paper, therefore, aims to explore the dynamics of and the motivations behind the IHH’s extension of its international humanitarian mission beyond providing relief and to examine the place of such civilian mediator role in the broader humanitarian turn in Turkey’s contemporary foreign policy.
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Turkey currently is witnessing a series of events that are most likely to go down in history as truly important milestones. The country is attempting to tackle the age-old Kurdish question. Thus far, the peace process has given rise to more hope than ever. Yet, it has not been devoid of worries and concerns. Hope arises out of the fact that we are witnessing major progress that was unimaginable until a short time ago. However, the shadow of past experiences makes it difficult to overcome reservations.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and the country’s prominent role in instigating and supporting an anti-Kiev rebellion in Donbas, surprised the world. This study seeks to explain Russian behaviour in these two cases. Because of the recent nature of events, there is so far not an abundance of reliable sources. Thus, some of the findings in this study should be seen as suggestive rather than conclusive. It is argued that dominating Russian axioms about Russians and Ukrainian being one people; the West using popular uprisings as a means of war against unwanted regimes; and Western exploitation of Russian weakness for 20 years; all constitute necessary preconditions for the Russian behaviour. However, the explanation is not complete without considerations on the dominant position of people with background from the Federalnaia Sluzhba Bezopasnosti in the inner decision-making circle, and on Putin’s risk-taking, improvisation and emotions.
Russia’s recent operations in Ukraine, especially the integrated use of militias, gangsters, information operations, intelligence, and special forces, have created a concern in the West about a ‘new way of war’, sometimes described as ‘hybrid’. However, not only are many of the tactics used familiar from Western operations, they also have their roots in Soviet and pre-Soviet Russian practice. They are distinctive in terms of the degree to which they are willing to give primacy to ‘non-kinetic’ means, the scale of integration of non-state actors, and tight linkage between political and military command structures. However, this is all largely a question of degree rather than true qualitative novelty. Instead, what is new is the contemporary political, military, technological, and social context in which new wars are being fought.