MOSCOW OR WASHINGTON: WHICH IS NOW CLOSER TO ANKARA?

It is still un­clear which su­per­power – Rus­sia or the U.S. – has bet­ter ties with Tur­key at the mo­ment, as Ankara is open to work­ing with any­one who re­spects its na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - KILIÇ BUĞRA KANAT

FOR the last 10 years, Tur­key’s re­la­tions with the U.S. and Rus­sia have seen ups and downs. Ankara’s ‘model part­ner­ship’ with the U.S. was strained by sig­nif­i­cant crises in re­la­tions

The can­cel­la­tion of the meeting be­tween U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was one of the high­lights of the G20’s Ar­gentina sum­mit. As pre­vi­ously men­tioned in this col­umn, fol­low­ing the Helsinki de­ba­cle, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion most prob­a­bly did not want to take an­other risk that would put them in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion do­mes­ti­cally. Con­sid­er­ing Michael Flynn’s case, Michael Co­hen’s guilty plea and the Democrats’ elec­toral vic­tory in the House, re­la­tions be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia have be­come a chal­leng­ing is­sue for the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion. The ten­sion in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries do not only af­fect them. Con­sid­er­ing the size and in­flu­ence of the two coun­tries, any ten­sion can trig­ger af­ter­shocks in dif­fer­ent ar­eas and can change the bal­ance in dif­fer­ent frozen or on­go­ing con­flicts. Con­sid­er­ing this threat to in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity and of course Tur­key’s na­tional se­cu­rity, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan is try­ing to strengthen di­a­logue with both of the lead­ers. At the G20 sum­mit, he met with both Putin and Trump, and dur­ing his press con­fer­ence, he, once again, raised the ques­tion of the in­creas­ing desta­bi­liza­tion of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem. One can re­mem­ber the sig­nif­i­cant crises Tur­key went through with these two su­per­pow­ers in the last 10 years and the ef­forts of Turk­ish pol­i­cy­mak­ers to re­solve the crises.

For the last 10 years, Tur­key’s re­la­tions with the U.S. and Rus­sia have seen ups and downs. Ankara’s “model part­ner­ship” with the U.S. was strained by sig­nif­i­cant crises in re­la­tions. The phrase “tac­ti­cal di­ver­gence and strate­gic con­ver­gence,” es­pe­cially in the con­text of the Syria civil war, started to make no sense fol­low­ing the U.S.’ mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG). On the other hand, the Rus­sian re­ac­tion fol­low­ing the shoot­ing down of a Rus­sian jet brought the al­ready strained ties, as a re­sult of the Rus­sian sup­port for Syria, to a total stand­still.

When Tur­key and Rus­sia mended their ties fol­low­ing Er­doğan’s let­ter to Putin, the two coun­tries jump-started their re­la­tions. Tur­key launched two ma­jor cross-bor­der op­er­a­tions against the ter­ror groups east of the Euphrates. Through the As­tana process, Tur­key and Rus­sia es­tab­lished de-es­ca­la­tion zones and later pre­vented a po­ten­tial at­tack by the regime on Idlib, which would have caused a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian disas­ter. In the mean­time, eco­nomic re­la­tions were re­stored, diplo­matic di­a­logue was re­ha­bil­i­tated and an im­por­tant project for en­ergy ties, namely the TurkStream pipe­line, was com­pleted.

Fol­low­ing this rap­proche­ment, the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion changed its at­ti­tude in re­gard to Man­bij and reached an agree­ment with Tur­key to end the YPG’s rule of the city. Al­though a few times the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment ex­pressed un­ease about the de­lays in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ment, this was an im­por­tant step in a time pe­riod that some had claimed was see­ing a total fall­out in re­la­tions. For the Idlib is­sue, the U.S.’ ver­bal sup­port for Tur­key’s po­si­tion was also a pos­i­tive step for­ward. The U.S. State Depart­ment’s an­nounce­ment of list­ing three PKK lead­ers in the Re­wards for Jus­tice Pro­gram was also a wel­come devel­op­ment. Of course, NATO still pro­vides an im­por­tant se­cu­rity um­brella for the al­lies.

The im­prove­ments in bi­lat­eral ties be­tween Tur­key and the two su­per­pow­ers do not mean that the re­la­tions are to­tally sta­bi­lized. There are still sig­nif­i­cant di­ver­gences be­tween the two coun­tries in im­por­tant is­sue ar­eas.

For in­stance, in re­gard to the Man­bij road map, this con­ver­gence may not be suf­fi­cient to pre­vent the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of ties be­cause of con­tin­u­ing YPG-U.S. re­la­tions. This is a crit­i­cal na­tional se­cu­rity concern for Tur­key.

Fur­ther­more, in re­gard to re­la­tions with Rus­sia, there are still dis­agree­ments for sig­nif­i­cant geopo­lit­i­cal crises, such as Crimea, the South Cau­ca­sus and Nagorno Karabakh. These are also im­por­tant geopo­lit­i­cal con­cerns for Tur­key. At this point, Turk­ish pol­i­cy­mak­ers ex­pect the co­or­di­na­tion, un­der­stand­ing and good­will in the ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion to spill over into other fields. They also aim to cre­ate con­di­tions in Tur­key’s re­la­tions with the U.S. and Rus­sia that will not be neg­a­tively in­flu­enced by the po­ten­tial ten­sion be­tween Rus­sia and the U.S. in the com­ing years.

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