TUR­KEY AND RUS­SIA: STRATE­GIC AL­LIES OR TAC­TI­CAL PART­NERS?

U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers are try­ing to grasp the na­ture of Tur­key’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, as Moscow re­mains ea­ger to co­op­er­ate with Tur­key on a range of is­sues

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - YAHYA BOSTAN

THE U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion’s out­look on Tur­key is turn­ing pos­i­tive but it con­stantly ques­tion­ing the na­ture of ties be­tween Ankara and Moscow

Asource fa­mil­iar with the on­go­ing talks be­tween Tur­key and the U.S. said there are “pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments” tak­ing place. Al­though the Pen­tagon wants to stick to their guns, he added, the White House’s per­spec­tive on Tur­key has taken a pos­i­tive turn in re­cent months. In other words, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with Tur­key. It doesn’t re­frain from send­ing strong and clear sig­nals ei­ther – which have an im­pact on Wash­ing­ton’s con­tacts with Tur­key and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­eign pol­icy moves. In this sense, it is im­por­tant to re­call that Trump re­port­edly told French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron that he needed to im­prove his coun­try’s re­la­tions with Ankara to make progress in Syria. An­other im­por­tant point is that the U.S. pres­i­dent called his Turk­ish coun­ter­part Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan to share in­for­ma­tion about Wash­ing­ton’s im­mi­nent airstrikes against regime po­si­tions in Syria.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pos­i­tive view on Tur­key is re­flected by Wash­ing­ton’s lan­guage. Ac­cord­ing to sources, U.S. of­fi­cials have stopped threat­en­ing their Turk­ish coun­ter­parts be­hind closed doors. With re­gard to Ankara’s de­ci­sion to pur­chase the S-400 mis­sile de­fense sys­tem from Moscow, for in­stance, the U.S. – who used to end their sen­tences with “or else” – are try­ing to con­vince Tur­key to con­sider dis­cussing the is­sue. There are strong in­di­ca­tions that U.S. at­tempts to talk about the S-400 pur­chase are fol­lowed by an of­fer to jointly man­u­fac­ture Pa­triot mis­siles.

There are sev­eral rea­sons why

Tur­key-U.S. re­la­tions have taken a pos­i­tive turn. First and fore­most, Tur­key stomped their feet and re­fused to back­track on their vi­tal in­ter­ests and se­cu­rity con­cerns in Syria. It would ap­pear that Wash­ing­ton fi­nally came to view Tur­key’s po­si­tion as a given and ac­cepted Ankara as its equal. Ob­vi­ously, it is pos­si­ble to ar­gue that the Turk­ish in­cur­sion into Afrin, which was con­trolled by the PKK ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion un­til re­cently, con­trib­uted to Wash­ing­ton’s change of heart. An­other rea­son was Tur­key’s strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia and Iran on re­gional is­sues. In the wake of a tri­par­tite sum­mit in the Turk­ish cap­i­tal ear­lier this month, it was note­wor­thy that U.S. me­dia out­lets and com­men­ta­tors asked their gov­ern­ment why Wash­ing­ton had no seat at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

My source, who has ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of the Tur­key-U.S. talks, noted that the U.S. was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the group photo, which fea­tured Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Er­doğan and his Rus­sian and Ira­nian coun­ter­parts, and re­peat­edly asked the fol­low­ing ques­tion: Are Tur­key and Rus­sia strate­gic al­lies or tac­ti­cal part­ners? To be clear, I do not know how Tur­key an­swered that ques­tion. But I will try to shed some light on the mat­ter.

In re­cent years, Tur­key nur­tured a very strong co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia. The cor­dial na­ture of their re­la­tions fa­cil­i­tates co­op­er­a­tion in the diplo­matic arena and on the ground. In par­tic­u­lar, Tur­key and Rus­sia have been re­spect­ful of each other’s ex­pec­ta­tions in Syria. The cre­ation of de-es­ca­la­tion zones in Syria and the es­tab­lish­ment of Turk­ish ob­ser­va­tion

posts in Idlib largely ad­dressed Moscow’s se­cu­rity con­cerns. In re­turn, Rus­sia sup­ported Tur­key’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Afrin to re­as­sure Turk­ish of­fi­cials. Let me add that Tur­key and Rus­sia think along the same lines in Idlib and Afrin, whereas Iran is mov­ing away from both coun­tries.

More­over, Rus­sia is fully co­op­er­at­ing with Tur­key in the fight against the Gülenist Ter­ror Group (FETÖ), the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion led by the U.S.-based for­mer imam Fe­tul­lah Gülen, which was re­spon­si­ble for the 2016 as­sas­si­na­tion of Rus­sian Am­bas­sador An­drei Karlov. At the same time, Moscow is ea­ger to work with Tur­key against the PKK, which has been re­ceiv­ing weapons and am­mu­ni­tion from the U.S. For ex­am­ple, Rus­sia re­spected Tur­key’s reser­va­tions against the par­tic­i­pa­tion of cer­tain groups in the As­tana process. Fi­nally, Moscow, un­like Tur­key’s West­ern al­lies, is pre­pared to meet Ankara’s de­mand for nu­clear tech­nol­ogy and mis­sile de­fense sys­tems.

Un­der the cir­cum­stances, it would be un­rea­son­able for U.S. of­fi­cials to ex­pect Tur­key-Rus­sia re­la­tions to de­te­ri­o­rate. There­fore, it does not make sense to ques­tion whether the re­la­tion­ship is strate­gic or tac­ti­cal. In­stead, Tur­key works with Rus­sia be­cause co­op­er­a­tion serves the in­ter­ests of both sides. Mov­ing for­ward, Ankara and Moscow will con­tinue to em­power each other and strengthen their co­op­er­a­tion on a range of ar­eas. Ob­vi­ously, Tur­key could have a sim­i­lar re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. as equals. The most re­cent con­tacts be­tween Ankara and Wash­ing­ton sug­gest that the U.S. is start­ing to un­der­stand this point.

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