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The Erdogans’ tightrope walk between East and West may soon collapse

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Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

Since the election of President Joe Bidens last November, hundreds of articles have been published around the world analyzing the problematic relationship between Turkey and the United States. President Biden has made no secret of his dislike, if not his total hostility, towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The main points of contention between the United States and Turkey are as follows:

  1. American support for Kurdish allies in Syria whom Turkey considers terrorists;
  2. Turkey buys Russian S-400 missiles that could exhibit NATO’s military technology in Moscow. As a result, the United States canceled the sale of advanced F-35 aircraft and imposed sanctions on Turkey;
  3. The refusal of the United States to extradite the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Turkey wrongly accuses of having instigated a coup against Erdogan in 2016;
  4. Turkey’s appalling human rights record with the imprisonment of thousands of innocent civilians, journalists and judges on trumped-up charges President Biden deems unacceptable.

President Erdogan follows the strategy practiced by the Ottoman Empire of manipulating rival European powers against each other, switching sides and changing partners. For example, he declared himself the defender of all Muslims and in particular the Palestinians, while engaging in a military partnership with Israel until recently. Another example is Turkey’s joining the Western NATO military alliance, while buying billions of dollars worth of sophisticated Russian missiles that are incompatible with NATO and US weapons. At the same time, Erdogan is moving closer to Russia as he is embroiled in a military conflict with Russia in Syria and Libya. Turkey and Russia, two normally antagonistic countries, have also managed to find a modus vivendi in the Artsakh conflict.

The worsening relationship between the United States and Turkey dates back to the days of Obamas’ presidency, when Biden was vice president. Erdogan was annoyed with Obama after a first friendship. However, the Turkish leader developed a special relationship with the United States after Donald Trump became president. It’s still unclear what caused such a warm personal affection between the two. Was this outweighing Turkey’s financial interests or its odd fondness for tyrants around the world? We may never know.

Nonetheless, Biden fired the first shot in a December 2019 interview with The New York Times in which he called Erdogan an autocrat and said the United States would have to support Turkey’s opposition leaders to be able to face it. and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, but by the electoral process.

The next sticky situation came when Erdogan congratulated Biden days after the November election. Four months later, Biden still has not contacted Erdogan despite calling many other world leaders. Erdogan must be deeply offended by this diplomatic snub.

The first indication of the Biden administration’s harsh policy towards Turkey became evident on January 19, 2021, during the confirmation hearing of Blinkens’ Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he ostensibly called Turkey a so-called strategic partner and raised the possibility of imposing more sanctions on this country. . The idea that a strategic partner – our so-called strategic partner – would in fact be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable, Blinken said. I think we need to take a look to see the impact of the existing sanctions and then determine if more needs to be done.

Blinkens’ critical comments on Turkey were then reaffirmed by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan who described Turkey as an ally that in many ways … does not act as an ally and is an ally. very, very important challenge for us and was very lucid there. Sullivan put Turkey in the same category as China.

On February 5, 2021, the Pentagon confirmed that the Biden administration did not intend to lift sanctions against Turkey for the purchase of Russian missiles. Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 is inconsistent with Turkey’s commitments as an ally of the United States and NATO, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. Our position has not changed. We urge Turkey not to keep the S-400 system. Turkey has had multiple opportunities over the past decade to purchase the Patriot defense system from the United States and instead chose to purchase the S-400, which provides income, access, and influence to Russia. , Kirby said.

To make matters worse, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soslu repeated in early February the baseless accusation that the United States was behind Turkey’s abortive coup in 2016. State Department Ned Price sharply reprimanded, calling the Turkish minister’s allegations totally false. They are incompatible with Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and a strategic partner of the United States, Price added.

Another contentious issue is the Turkish in absentia trial of US professor Henri Barkey of Lehigh University on false accusations of contributing to the 2016 coup. The US State Department has called the charges against the professor Barkey’s baseless.
On February 10, 2021, the US State Department called on Turkey to immediately release Turkish philanthropist and human rights activist Osman Kavala from prison, who has been detained for more than three years without conviction. Kavala has been falsely accused of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government with Professor Barkey in the failed 2016 coup. The State Department urged Turkey to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. the man at the end of 2019 that Kavala would be released.

On February 15, 2021, when Blinken finally called Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, he urged Turkey not to keep the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
Last December, when the United States imposed sanctions on Turkey for the purchase of Russian missiles, the Turkish Foreign Ministry arrogantly warned: Turkey will take the necessary measures against this decision, which will negatively affect our relationships and will retaliate in one way and at a time. he considers it appropriate.

Turkey is still trying to find a way around US sanctions. On February 1, 2021, he hired Arnold & Porter, a leading US lobbying firm in Washington, DC, to resolve the dispute with the US government over Russian missiles. The contract was signed with Ankara-based SSTEK Defense Industry Technologies, owned by the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), Ankara’s main defense industry authority. SSTEK agreed to pay Arnold & Porter $ 750,000 for the six months to provide strategic advice to Turkey and to raise awareness among US authorities.

It is highly doubtful that Turkey will be able to resolve the Russian missile dispute through its committed lobbyist. Interestingly, the contract with SSTEK specified that Arnold & Porter made no promises or guarantees as to the outcome. If the matter is unsuccessful, for whatever reason, SSTEK will still be responsible for all fees and disbursements charged by the company under the terms of this agreement. It is worth noting that at a time when the Turkish economy is on the verge of collapse and the Turkish people are in dire financial straits, President Erdogan is wasting $ 750,000 of Turkish taxpayer money on unnecessary lobbying.

It remains to be seen whether Turkey’s tightrope walking techniques will be successful in holding down Russian missiles and evading US sanctions. If Turkey is forced to get rid of the missiles, it will have to face the consequences of a major disruption of its relations with Russia. Turkey will then have to choose between East or West. He will no longer be able to deceive both sides. Biden and Blinken are too experienced to fall in love with Erdogans towers.

The headline of a recent article by journalist Nicholas Morgan best describes the state of US-Turkish relations: “Is Turkey Ally Biden From Hell?” We will find out shortly.



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