Turkey is gravitating towards Russia and slowly abandoning its ties with the U.S., as Russia continues to fuel tensions in NATO. This time it’s even more serious though, as Moscow could split NATO apart.
Turkey views Moscow as the key player to solve the crisis in Syria. Even Monday’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, in Ankara didn’t upset the Turkish-Russian rapprochement. On the contrary, the deadly incident, which some officials in both countries say may have had America’s hand in it, has only accelerated the warming of Turkish-Russian relations.
On Tuesday, the U.S. wasn’t even invited to a meeting held in Moscow between Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials who discussed solutions to the Syrian war. It’s not the first time the U.S. hasn’t been invited to help resolve the Syrian crisis.
While the U.S. is being left out in the cold, Russia and Turkey are brokering deals that could actually help resolve the conflict. Earlier this month, Turkish officials hosted a negotiations table in Ankara between Russian officials and Syrian rebels. The negotiations ultimately led to an evacuation agreement in the Syrian city of Aleppo. While the negotiated ceasefire deal is very fragile, the evacuation in Aleppo is still underway.
Ankara is “bending” to Moscow
It’s rather surprising that Russia has managed to become friends with Turkey, which is NATO’s second largest military. Although Moscow and Ankara have enjoyed friendly economic ties for decades, they haven’t been exactly close diplomatically.
But the recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement indicates that Russia is poised to make huge shifts in geopolitics. Russia and Turkey are working together to resolve the Syrian conflict bilaterally, despite the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the war in Syria.
With Ankara supporting the opposition, Moscow supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. But Turkey seems to be willing to compromise. On Tuesday, Turkish officials even reportedly signed Russia’s offer to resolve the Syrian conflict in a deal called the Moscow Declaration.
Aaron Stein, an expert on Turkey and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, described the Turkish-Russian rapprochement as “Turkey bending to Russia.” Stein added in his interview with The New York Times that Turkey’s policy of “Assad must go” is “no longer” the policy.
U.S. pushes Turkey toward Russia
Relations between Turkey and Russia have been rather rocky in the past 12 months. Ever since Turkey shot down a Russian military jet over Syrian airspace in November 2015, relations between Ankara and Moscow have been chilly, to say the least. But since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the incident and made a vital visit to Moscow this past summer, the two nations are now set on a path for warmer relations.
Although Turkey has been hellbent for decades on joining the European Union, this year, Erdogan’s nation seems to be less keen on it. Since the failed coup in Turkey in July, the West and the U.S. have accused Turkey of poor human rights policies and said Turkish authorities put too much pressure on the local press.
The constant criticism from the West basically pushed Turkey toward Russia. Given Ankara’s large dependence on Moscow’s energy and tourism, seeking warmer ties with Putin’s nation seems to be the best way out.
While it’s in Turkey’s interests to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement means resolving their differences in Syria. And there you have it: Turkey no longer believes its views on Syria coincide with the U.S. Moreover, Ankara doesn’t even think there’s a need to invite Washington to the negotiation table on Syria.
Why does Ankara favor Russia over the U.S. now?
While the Russia ambassador’s assassin probably intended to create tensions between the two nations, the incident actually further strengthened their ties. Statements released by some Russian and Turkish officials after the deadly incident indicate that they think the U.S. may have played a role in the assassination.
While the U.S. State Department strongly denies the accusations, the growing Turkish-Russian cooperation on Syria indicates the two nations’ growing hostility toward the U.S. While Turkey’s growing diplomatic friendship with Russia will make it even more difficult for the country to be accepted into the EU, there are several reasons why Erdogan probably decided to align his country’s interests with Moscow.
- Turkey has faced immense pressure from the West after the attempted coup. Constant accusations from the U.S., which Ankara views as unjustified, move Turkey steadily toward Moscow and away from Washington.
- Erdogan faces incredible domestic pressure to stand up to Washington amid the accusations. Anti-American sentiment in Turkey is getting bigger by the day, with many saying the Turkish-American friendship in recent years was more about talking than acting.
- Turkey’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and it was hit hard after Putin’s ban on Russian tourists traveling to Turkish cities. It’s laughable to compare the number of tourists going to Turkey from the U.S. and Russia.
- Ankara is no longer enthusiastic about U.S. policies in Syria. A growing number of Turkish analysts believe that outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies have failed in Syria. They also believe Russia has played a huge role in destroying ISIS and achieving peace in Syria.
NATO could crumble amid the Turkish-Russian friendship
Although Turkey has always been strongly in favor of Assad stepping down, the nation has softened its position in the past few months. Ankara no longer views it as priority to support the Syrian opposition, which is believed to have been targeted by Russian airstrikes.
Ankara is interested in resolving the Syrian crisis as soon as possible, as it fears that an autonomous Kurdish zone could be established along the Turkish-Syrian border. Tensions between Ankara and Washington are also growing because the U.S. supports a group called the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is made up mostly of Kurdish fighters.
Since the Kurds started making gains in northern Syria, Turkey has jumped in to intervene militarily. Ankara reportedly believes that without Moscow’s support, the Kurds could create one de facto Kurdish state along the border.
Although the growing Turkish-Russian friendship is helping resolve the Syrian crisis, it could split NATO apart. If Putin invades any NATO state, Turkey would have to comply with the alliance’s Article 5 and engage in a military conflict against Russia. Turkey’s unwillingness to do so would likely split NATO apart, as other members would start picking sides.