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Feb 03 2019

Wary of same fate, Erdoğan throws weight behind Maduro - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stood behind Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolas Maduro, in a move that creates a further gap between Ankara and its traditional allies in the West, wrote Thomas Seibert in the the Arab Weekly.

Turkey has joined Russia, China, Iran and Syria, in coming to the defense of Maduro, who is fighting for political survival after the leader of the legislature, Juan Guaido, declared himself interim president. The U.S. government soon recognised him as head of state and Europe’s leading powers joined in to say they were with Guaido unless Madura agreed to call for elections.

The hashtag #WeAreMADURO, used by Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, became the most popular trend among Turkish Twitter users, Seibert wrote, with pro-government media drawing comparisons between the pressure facing the Venezuelan president and the coup attempt against Erdoğan in July 2016.

‘’Erdoğan, 64, and Maduro, 56, share a deep distrust of US policies. Both have accused the United States of waging “economic war” against their countries,’’ Seibert wrote, stressing that upon first glance the relationship between Turkey’s conservative Islamist leader and Venezuela’s socialist president may look like an odd one.

‘’However, Erdogan and Maduro share vital interests,’’ Seibert underlined, noting that Turkey backed Maduro even before the latest crisis in Caracas.

Erdoğan’s personal worldview played a big role in Turkish-Venezuelan relations, according to Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Saint Lawrence University in New York and non-resident senior fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington.

“I think that he sees in Maduro’s stance a common resistance to Western — and especially American — hegemony,” Seibert quoted Eissenstat as saying.

For Burhanettin Duran, a columnist for the pro-governmnet newspaper Daily Sabah, Erdoğan support for Maduro reflected “a sense of solidarity, since the Venezuelan leader expressed solidarity with Turkey during the July 15, 2016, coup attempt.”

Erdoğan-backers say the Turkish president could become the target of a Washington-planned attempt to unseat him.

“If Maduro is sent on his way, they will also wrap up Erdogan and send him off. This is the first step of sending off Erdogan,” Fatih Dagistanli, a presenter on Akit TV, a television station that is close to the Turkish government, said on January 26.

And  this is not far from Erdoğan’s traditional narrative. The Turkish strongman often refers to dark plots by outside forces to prevent Turkey from gaining strength as a global power, Seibert recalled.

As trade between Turkey and Venezuela grows, Turkish data points to $900 million in imported gold from Venezuela in the first nine months of the year, according to Reuters.

Washington has slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s gold trade last November to stop gold from the country being shipped to Turkey for refinement, the Arab Weekly columnist wrote, amid concerns that the gold might find its way to Iran in violation of sanctions on Iran.

Almost nine out of ten Turkish respondents said they see the United States as an enemy, according a poll in Turkey and Erdoğan’s stance on Venezuela will only work to this advantage with the electorate, Seibert noted.