02.03.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

The US diplomatic efforts to curtail Turkish independence continue

Given the dynamics of international processes and the earthquake disaster, Turkey remains at the forefront of the US and NATO bloc’s attention. Washington strongly opposes President Erdoğan’s policy of independence from American strategy, both in terms of reviving Turkey’s imperial status through reliance on the Turkic world and in maintaining its independence in relations with Russia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Department of State Secretary of State Anthony Blinken both visited Ankara in response to the tragedy in southeastern Turkey. Although each of the named guests had a different agenda for their meetings with the Turkish side, two issues remained common (namely, earthquake relief and, more importantly, NATO enlargement and Ankara’s position on Finland and Sweden’s membership).

It is obvious that the devastating effects of the earthquake (over 42 thousand deaths and 210 thousand destroyed buildings) will have an impact on Turkey’s morale and economy. Given the country’s high inflation and economic crisis, Turkey requires substantial material and financial assistance (and it is hundreds of billions, if not trillion US dollars). Who else but the world financial institutions ruled by the United States can assist Turkey in this impasse?

Similarly, the revealed causes of massive destruction due to the use of unstable materials by builders created an atmosphere of distrust toward the ruling regime in terms of insufficient counteraction to the scales of corruption. The latter is actively being used by the six-party The latter is actively being used by the six-party non-consolidated opposition to undermine President R. Erdoğan’s authority and defeat him in the upcoming general presidential and parliamentary elections. All of these factors are considered by the United States in its diplomacy.

Jens Stoltenberg attempted to persuade his Turkish colleagues to support NATO’s collective course on the simultaneous admission of Finland and Sweden into the alliance, which allegedly stemmed from the peculiarities of the current military and political situation, as well as threats posed by Russia’s “aggressive policy” in Ukraine and with regard to European countries in general. Ankara has so far rejected Sweden, but has offered to seriously consider admitting Finland (which has apparently satisfied the Turkish side on the localization of KWP activities on its territory).

Antony Blinken supplemented this topic with bargaining diplomacy. In exchange for Turkey’s consent to admit Finland and Sweden to NATO, the US is willing to consider delivering 40 F-16 fighters with spare parts worth more than $20 billion, as Ankara has requested in principle. In particular, following the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, the US refused to include Turkey in the supply program for new generation fighters F-35 and did not return the $1.4 billion paid by Turkey for this deal. However, a positive solution to the issue of supplying F-16 fighters to Turkey would necessitate the approval of the United States Congress, which has so far expressed conflicting views (especially by the Greek and Armenian lobbies).

Pragmatic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have to consider the American proposals because, first and foremost, he needs to retain power after the next elections; second, he needs to receive large investments for reconstruction work; and third, he needs to modernize the army in accordance with the General Staff’s preliminary plans.

In fact, Erdoğan’s agreement to Finland’s NATO membership is a positive reaction to US and NATO conditions. Some US politicians believe Turkey is acting in accordance with a deal struck with Russia on this issue, but this is not the case. In fact, Moscow has previously publicly expressed its concerns about NATO enlargement in general, and the admission of Finland and Sweden in particular, because Russia poses no threat to these countries’ military security or territorial integrity. However, taking into consideration the length of the Finnish-Russian border at 1,325.8 km (including 1,091.7 km of land border and 234.1 km of water border) and historical features of interstate relations, the Finnish joining NATO will in the foreseeable future create much more problems and difficulties for Russia connected with strengthening of border protection and deployment of strategic reaction forces. That is why Erdoğan’s agreement is in no way connected with the opinion and interests of Russia.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry is well aware of the ethno-political situation in Sweden and Finland, where the Kurdish population is growing rapidly. In Sweden, KWP has strong quantitative and qualitative indicators, because there are already about 100 thousand Kurds and there are organizational cells of Kurdish movement (including radical ones). In Finland, there are considerably fewer Kurds (up to 20,000 people). Accordingly, Stockholm, in the interests of its own security, is unlikely to meet all the demands of the Turkish side in the near future.

Anthony Blinken announced a philanthropic donation of $184 million to provide humanitarian aid to Turkish citizens affected by the earthquake. Accordingly, Washington will expand its assistance to Turkish partners in this matter too, depending on Ankara’s foreign policy course. Taking into account the aggravation of US-Russian relations amid the military-political crisis in Ukraine and the unequivocal US support for the Kyiv regime, Washington requires Ankara to strictly comply with anti-Russian sanctions and explain the reason for the growth of Turkish trade with Russia, which increased by more than $200 million over the past year. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was forced to explain to his US counterpart that the increase in trade was mainly due to the rise in the price of Russian gas on world markets due to sanctions and the “grain deal,” rather than issues of circumventing Western sanctions.

Unfortunately, Turkey’s neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unlikely to take place because Ankara provides Kyiv with considerable military-technical and other support (including deliveries of Bayraktar UCAVs, Kirpi BMCs, equipment, technical information, instructors, etc.). Politically, Turkey still supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, opposes Russian rights to Crimea and does not recognize the annexation of other territories to Russia (including the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions). However, this difference in approach does not prevent the parties from finding common ground on other issues (e.g., Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh) and developing mutually beneficial cooperation in the economy, energy and communications.

Turkey does not join the whole package of anti-Russian sanctions, but only adheres to the UN decisions in this matter. The Turkish authorities consider it advisable to continue mediation efforts in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis in order to peacefully resolve the disputed issues and stop the hostilities, which cause great loss of life and considerable material damage.

The calls from the opposition and a part of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to postpone the date of the general elections due to the difficult situation caused by the earthquake, which affected 10 provinces of Turkey with a population of almost 15 million people (it complicates the work of the CEC and the publication of ballots) have not been accepted by President Recep Erdoğan. Perhaps Erdoğan’s position will change after he and the head of the National Unity Party (NUP) Devlet Bahçeli made a joint visit to the earthquake area (the NUP is the traditional ally of the AKP in the elections).

However, being an experienced and pragmatic politician, Recep Erdoğan understands that postponing (postponing) elections could give his opponents time to consolidate widely and gain likely external support. Rather, Erdoğan himself might agree to some kind of agreement with the United States in exchange for another presidential term, more investments, military aid, and Turkey’s neutrality in Russia’s affairs.

One way or another, the SMO in Ukraine will come to an end at some point. Russia will emerge from this crisis with a qualitatively different force, while maintaining a policy of firmly defending its interests. Russia and Turkey have agreed on the construction of a gas hub, which will naturally take some time to implement and promises considerable financial, economic and political dividends for an independent Turkey, rather than the verbal promises of the US.

Moscow is interested in developing a strategic partnership with Ankara and views the changes in bilateral relations as a historic chance to change the stereotypes of past confrontation into the imperatives of future partnership. Such twists and turns in history do not happen often and require a responsible approach on the part of the leaders of the two countries and their societies.

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.