November 4, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9626

Russia Foreign Policy Wonk Lukyanov: Climbdown By Western Diplomats In Ankara Is Further Proof That The Liberal World Order Is Finished

November 4, 2021
Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9626

Commentators in the West believed that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blinked when he stepped back from his threat to expel 10 Western ambassadors who had called for the release of Osman Kavala, a Turkish philanthropist. Kavala has been jailed since 2017 following the abortive coup against Erdoğan in 2016, and had been previously accused of fomenting the demonstrations in Gezi Park in 2013.  The European Court of Human Rights had called for Kavala's release in 2019. Turkey considers his detention lawful.

Osman Kavala (Source:

True, the ambassadors had provided Erdoğan a fig leaf by tweeting a statement affirming their compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations on non-interference in the receiving states’ internal affairs. Erdoğan claimed to have received satisfaction: "Our goal is never to create crises, it is to protect the rights, laws, honour and sovereignty of our country," Erdoğan said in a televised address after chairing a Cabinet meeting. "With a new statement made by the same embassies today, a step back was taken from this slander against our country and our nation. I believe these ambassadors ... will be more careful in their statements regarding Turkey's sovereign rights."[1]

Western commentators believed that Erdoğan had heeded the advice from cooler heads, who warned that with the Turkish economy in crisis, this was not the opportune moment to burn bridges with 10 influential countries headed by the United States. Having gotten himself into trouble, Erdoğan gratefully and with alacrity grasped the rope that had been tossed to him.[2]

It is understandable that countries such as Russia and China that face similar calls by the West to release dissidents, for example Alexei Navalny would express sympathy for Erdoğan. Fyodor Lukyanov Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs and Research Professor at the Higher School School of Economics in Moscow wrote a piece titled "Erdoğan Taught the West A Lesson On How to Behave in Turkey" that claimed that it was the West and not Erdoğan that had backed down. This was yet another sign that the liberal world order was over to be replaced by something unspecified. If previously countries being "tutored" by the dominant countries of the liberal order were willing to hear reproaches about their shortcomings, while inwardly fuming at the unjustness of such criticism, now they have no patience for such homilies, as Erdoğan graphically demonstrated.

Lukyanov's article follows below:[3]

"A puzzling collision occurred recently in Turkey. This is how the story began: the ambassadors of ten Western countries, including the US, Germany, and France, issued a joint statement, in which they strongly appealed to the Turkish leadership to release the well-known philanthropist, Osman Kavala. This wealthy entrepreneur, who was dubbed the "Turkish Soros," supported various initiatives aimed at strengthening liberal institutions and promoting corresponding ideas.

"The country's leadership suspected that Mr. Kavala was pursuing not only ideological and moral goals, but also political ones. At first, he was accused of funding the Istanbul protests of 2013, but then the political situation in Turkey was relatively low keyed, and Kavala was acquitted. However, after the failed military coup in 2016, the philanthropist was booked as a "coup supporter" and incarcerated for a long time.

"Kavala is internationally renowned person and has many connections in the West, so the campaign in his defense started at the very beginning. Ankara stood firm asserting that Kavala was convicted not for his political views, but for crimes against the state. A demarche by the ambassadors of ten major countries, the majority of whom are NATO allies of Turkey, is unusual. But Erdoğan's reaction trumped the effect, he demanded that the Foreign Ministry expel the 10 ambassadors, who signed the joint statement, including the US. One  it was as if he said, 'If they don't want to understand Turkey, then let them get the hell out.'

"Everyone froze, because it's hard to even recall such a strong bid for a political and diplomatic war with the most powerful states in the world. The hiatus extended lasted for two and a half days, and then the situation calmed down. Erdoğan said he was not aiming to expel the diplomats, but rather to make them understand how to behave in Turkey. The Western press coverage of the incident suggested that the reckless Sultan [Erdoğan] was frightened. It's easy to come to such a conclusion, the result of [Erdoğan’s menacing] backswing was zilch. However, there is a certain subtlety.

An official message was published on the US embassy website, stating that the US reaffirms its commitment to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention. This article prescribes that diplomatic representatives 'have a duty to respect the laws of the receiving state." In addition, "they must not interfere in the internal affairs of that state.'

It may seem to be an obvious statement, but considering the state of today's international relations, it was literally an eye-opener. After all, for several decades now, another approach has been advocated in international politics: human rights issues are not a country’s internal affair, but a cause of concern for the international community as a whole. This principle has been gradually making its way upward throughout the second half of the 20th century, starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, to the concept of the 'obligation to protect,' which is colloquially called 'humanitarian intervention.' An important milestone was the adoption in 1975 of Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which contained a third humanitarian "basket" in addition to the usual political and economic issues. The passing of this document facilitated the emergence of human rights movements in the countries of the Eastern Bloc, which played a role in subsequent events.

"The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union created a new international environment, now commonly referred to as the liberal world order. This is a rather complex phenomenon, but one point is important for the topic at hand. The leading Western countries, the masterminds of this [new world] order, proceeded from the assumption that their socio-political system is the benchmark. Thus, the other countries should strive to meet the high criteria. Those, who reached the benchmark have the right to point out the inadequacies to the rest and prompt them to change.

"It's hard to argue that those, at whom this inducement was directed, were supportive of such situation. On the contrary, they objected and were resentful, dismissing the reproaches, passionately explaining why the critics were wrong. And yet the very fact of rebukes by the democratically mature states was taken for granted, albeit it was perceived as admittedly unjust behavior. At least the authors and the targets of the criticism were engaged in a certain dialogue.

"Today the 'targets' have lost interest in dialogue. And the reason for it: it's none of your business. That's it. Russia has already been reacting in this spirit for some time now. Poland and Hungary rather vigorously defend their right to define their domestic policy themselves, although in their case it is difficult. After all the two countries are members of integration processes with binding rules. Whereas, Turkish President Erdoğan has raised the bar even higher.

"The most interesting thing, however, was the reaction of those for whom Erdoğan's affront was intended. In more orderly times, such behavior would be inevitably punished via politic or economic means. Not to mention information obstruction. First, the Erdoğan's current gesture prompted a surprisingly calm reaction, without the wave of accusations, as one might expect.

"Second, the response of the American embassy (which was endorsed by the rest of embassies-signatories) can be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the claims. Naturally, we'll see what will happen next and whether the Turkish troublemaker will be overtaken by some deferred punishment, for instance active support [by the West] for the opposition to Erdoğan. But there is a feeling that a turning point in the international atmosphere has arrived, the liberal order is over, something quite different is beginning."

Fyodor Lukyanov (Source:


[1], October 26, 2021.

[2], October 25, 2021.

[3], October 26, 2021.

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