04 November 2019

Between the European Union and US, Turkey chose Russia?

Sergiu Medar

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US forces from North-East Syria determined Turkey to start a series of raids in this area. Russia took advantage of the situation and entered the buffer zone created between the Kurdish areas and Turkey, showing off as the savior of a conflictual situation. Though it cannot be a long-term solution, it can definitely be an example of how Russia will act in the future, by occupying the authority or influence areas, wherefrom US withdrew after White House’s redislocation strategy.

Image source: Mediafax

Turkey’s relations with US, European Union and Russia have been increasing starting with August 28th 2014, since the moment Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Turkey’s president. He wanted to transform his country in Middle East’s leader, taking advantage of country’s geostrategic position, as a first strategic objective. This is how he got world’s powers attention, which have contradictory interests, however, each of them wanting to get, on their turn, Turkey’s dependence, both from an economic and security perspective. His second strategic objective was using his asset as kingpin of European security interests in South-East of the continent. The European Union wanted Turkey to be a stable country, yet dependent on Europe’s western states.

Erdogan wanted diversity and avoided any of his country dependence on a single state, US or Russia and EU. He also ignored any conditions imposed by military equipment or services suppliers.

US-Turkey relations

An analysis on Turkey-US relation’s evolution highlights that, in fact, it all started after World War II, when after the second Cairo Conference, from December 1943, Turkey joins the war, in 1945, along with the Allies. In the same year, it becomes an UN member.

At that time, the Soviet Union was enlarging its authority zone all over Center and East of Europe, also thinking on Greece and Turkey, especially that there were pro-communist manifestations in Greece already. Furthermore, there were also soviet state’s intentions to build military bases in Bosporus and Dardanelles Strait, hereof controlling the access to the Black Sea. Starting from this circumstances, US launched, in 1947, the “Truman Doctrine”, by which they were giving both countries military and economic support. Between 1948 and 2012, the total amount of this support was $8, 60 billion. The financial support has been consistently reduced between 2009 and 2012.

After its participation, between 1950 and 1953, in the war in Korea, together with US, Turkey enters NATO, in 1952, along with Greece, this way being achieved three objectives: getting in the North Atlantic Alliance two states US invested a lot in, blocking Russia’s possibility to enlarge its authority area on these two states’ territory and avoiding any military aggression between them.

The Washington-Ankara relations started to go down in 2003, when Ankara revealed that they did not want any more for the Incirlik base to be used for launching air attacks on Iraq. This based was being used by US since 1954. Also, in 2017, Turkey signed an agreement with Russia on the S-400 missile systems, being the first military equipment procurement contract ever signed by a NATO state with Russia. The media across the ocean though that it was “the clearest sign that Erdogan is going towards Russia, distancing itself from NATO and the West”. Although the NATO states pressured the Turkish leader a lot, he kept his decision and the first systems were delivered in 2018.

Therefore, US has imposed bilateral sanctions, which blocked Turkey’s access, in July 2019, to the JSF program, the one to create the F-35 aircrafts, although it was a member of this programs along with other seven NATO members. Hence, Turkey will not receive the 116 F-35 aircrafts it was planning to get. We also must consider that Turkey created 240 F-16 aircrafts along with Lockheed Martin, and it has a new contract, signed in 2009, for another 30 F-16’s, Block 50s.

On August 1st, US imposed unilateral sanctions to some of the Turkish govern members, who were involved in the arrest and detainment of the American rector, Andrew Brunson. It was for the first time when a NATO state was imposing sanctions to another NATO state. When on August 10th 2018 these sanctions were extended, Erdogan stated that “US has changed a strategic partner for a rector”, which will push Turkey into looking for other allies and friends. The applied economic sanctions had effects also on Turkey’s economy and population’s attitude on Washington.

Turkey accused US for having on their territory Fettulah Gulen, who was convicted for terrorist actions and planning and organizing the coupe that was going to take Erdogan down. Erdogan has made many interventions to expel him in Turkey.

In a poll made by Pwe Research Center it is mentioned that 79% of the Turks think negatively of US and only 15% positively. The same study claims that only 11% of the Turkish population praise Donald Trump’s attitude as US’s president and 82% do not trust the White House leader.

On October 14th 2019, after Turkey entered the Kurdish territories from North Syria, US extended the sanctions applied to Turkey, including also the ministries of Defence, Energy and Natural Resources, but also the ministers leading them.

After the meeting  of US’s vice-president, Mike Pence, and the Under Secretary Mike Pompeo’s with president Erdogan, in Ankara, on October 17th 2019, US promised to give up the imposed sanctions if Turkey will withdraw its forces from its occupied territories. Turkey promised to accept US’s conditions. Nancy Pelossi, the leader of the Democratic Party from US’s Representatives House, stated that the agreement is a “shame” because “it undermines US’s foreign policy credibility and it also sends a message to their allies and partners according to which their word cannot be trusted anymore”. According to the statements of a Syrian/Kurdish democratic forces commander, on October 23th, Turkey started the attacks again.

US’s relations with Turkey were never close from cultural or historical perspective. They had only circumstantial relations based on political and security interests. Trump’s withdrawal from the possible conflictual theatres of operations, from Middle East, did not ask any more for a close military relation between US and most of the states in the area, among them, also Turkey. This tendency was amplified by the presidential disposition of Trump’s Administration to withdraw its forces from Syria, although he signed an agreement with Turkey on the common surveilling of a security space between Turkey’s territory and the areas occupied by the Kurds in North Syria. The American troops were replaced by Russia, as the occupied area is, now, controlled by the Russian army and mercenaries troops.

The Turkey-Russia relation

Unlike the relations with US, Turkey’s relations with Russia have a long history, which date back in the 16th century, when these two empires had they first military confrontations. The Russian-Turkish wars lasted until the 20th century, when, in 1920, Russia’s Bolshevik govern helped the Turkish independence war. Until the World War II, their bilateral relations were going well. As Turkey went on US’s side at the end of the war, Russia asked for some of Turkey’s territories.  They gave up this demand, however, when Stalin died.

After Soviet Union’s collapse, these states’ relations started to improve, with the enlargement of the economic connections: Russia is Turkey’s biggest energy provider, meanwhile Turkey is Russia’s biggest tourism services provider. As for the political relations, they were often on opposed positions: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Kosovo one, the war in Syria, the Armenian genocide and the list can go on.

The situation got worse in November 2015, when an F-16 belonging to Turkey’s Air Forces took down a fight aircraft of the Russian Air Forces. Therefore, Kremlin sanctioned Turkey with bilateral economic and political restrictions. Hence, Erdogan personally apologize to Putin, in behalf of his country. Their relations got immediately better, reaching even higher rates than before the air incident. Russia restarted its works on Turkey’s territory, at the biggest nuclear power plant in the world. Shortly after signing the Russian S-400 air defence systems delivery contract and after US’s refused to provide them the F-35s, Turkey started to discuss with Russia about the SU-35 Stealth aircrafts.

Since the moment Putin helped Erdogan with intelligence, according to media, in the failed- thanks to this help- coup d’état, they built also a personal relation based on community of opinions.

The current situation in North Syria is favoring Russia a lot. It seems that, once more, Russia is the main savior in a situation wherein DAESH seems to return. After all of Turkey’s incursions in the Kurdish territories, blamed by the NATO chancelleries, Russia was the one to win, gradually occupying the space US lefts behind. Russia’s actions is like a litmus paper which revealed US’s credibility decrease for Middle East allies.

Although many Western experts were claiming that Turkey, between US and EU, has chosen Russia, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that “Turkey will never have to choose between Russia and US”. Until proven otherwise, we must accept this position as the answer to the question in the title.

Translated by Andreea Soare