Turkey’s continued weakening of anti-Russian language leaves NATO deadlocked

Turkey has repeatedly softened the language in NATO statements condemning Russia, part of a larger pattern of heavy-handed obstructionism within the Western Security Pact, and other NATO members who turn around, diplomatic sources with knowledge of the dynamics told Al-Monitor. The latest such example was exposed in a May 26 statement from the 30-member alliance denouncing Belarus’ forced shutdown of a Ryanair flight to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner. The two-paragraph statement did not include any of the punitive measures advocated by the Baltic states and Poland due to Turkish resistance, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Diplomatic sources confirmed the news agency’s version of events that Turkey said it would veto any language calling for support for Western sanctions against Belarus, the release of political prisoners and suspension. NATO’s cooperation with the former Soviet state, which is closely linked to Russia.

Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who was present during the deliberations, “was shocked,” said one of the diplomatic sources familiar with the matter. The US delegation wondered whether to wait for harsher language, but was persuaded by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who prides himself on being “a friend of Turkey”, to let it go, said said the source.

Diplomatic sources said Turkey took a similar position on the wording of an April 15 statement expressing solidarity with the United States over Russia’s cyberattacks against US government agencies, and another on April 22 expressing solidarity with the United States. its concern about the 2014 explosion of ammunition depots in the Czech Republic. Republic by Russian agents of the GRU (military intelligence).

“In the April 15 statement, there is no reference to the term ‘sanctions’ in the first and main paragraph,” noted one of the sources. “Turkey had made any approval of the declaration conditional on removing the term,” the source added. In a compromise text, NATO offered its support for American “actions” against Russia. The pro-Russian slant was repeated in the drafting of the April 22 statement when Turkey said in advance that it would not accept any statement mentioning Ukraine, as Russian troops gathered at the border. eastern part of this country.

This runs counter to Turkey’s strong and very virulent support for Ukraine, especially for its NATO membership. This in turn raises the question of why Ankara feels compelled to fight for Moscow and why the United States, NATO’s most influential member, is not doing more to bring Turkey into line.

There are several explanations. One is Turkey’s indisputable geostrategic value. This seems to outweigh any concerns about his increasingly aggressive and disruptive behavior under Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean where he clashes with another NATO ally, Greece. One of the sources said no one wants to ‘lose’ Turkey and Ankara is making the most of this, ”arriving at the negotiating table saying, ‘These are our terms.’ Turkey’s strategy is to threaten that they will block and Stoltenberg incorporates Turkish concerns [into the draft text of statements] in advance. ”Under the rules of the alliance, all member states must agree on the text of a declaration before it is made public.

Turkey also continues to block NATO cooperation with Armenia, the United Arab Emirates, Austria, Israel and Egypt, although it has relaxed its stance on the latter, as part of a effort to normalize relations with the Arab state.

Turkey defends its position on Russia on the grounds that Ankara must manage its relations with its powerful neighbor to the northeast. Turkish officials frequently remind their counterparts that Turkey is the only NATO country to shoot down a Russian warplane – over Syria in 2015 – and to suffer casualties under Russian attack – in new to Syria in 2020.

“They say: ‘We live in a dangerous neighborhood, manage relations with Russia and do not use escalating language against Russia,” said a diplomatic source. “What Turkey really wants is to preserve its special relationship with Russia, even if this comes at the expense of the values ​​defended by NATO,” said the source.

Turkey’s position on Belarus is seen as particularly blatant and confusing.

“It only makes sense from the perspective of one authoritarian government defending another authoritarian government,” said Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House. “I can’t think of any other reason – the action in Belarus was very dangerous, it put civilians in danger and Ankara has no action in play with Belarus as far as I know. It should be easy for Ankara to do. showing solidarity with NATO and rebuilding bridges, ”Schenkkan told Al-Monitor.

Erdogan has repeatedly stated that he wants to turn a new leaf with the Biden administration and is expected to hold his first face-to-face meeting with Joe Biden since becoming president on the sidelines of a NATO summit on next month. Critics of Turkey within the alliance are hoping Biden delivers a harsh message to the Turkish leader that he must play by the rules. “What sort of credibility will the Americans have with China, with Russia if they can’t even temper Turkey?” Asked the diplomatic source.

“Nations have the right to block things which they do not perceive to be in their national interest. Turkey’s position is not unusual. The United States does it all the time, ”said Jim Townsend, former Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense and senior researcher at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. “But in this case, it made me very sad to see Turkey using its right to raise an issue regarding the embezzlement of Belarus,” Townsend told Al-Monitor.

Townsend continued, “I’m sympathetic where Erdogan finds himself in a tricky neighborhood playing with the devil.” Townsend speculated that Erdogan had likely bowed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pressure on Belarus. “I don’t think this action helped Turkey. I know how important Turkey is to NATO, but NATO is also very important to Turkey. It’s a two-way street. If Erdogan does this to make a point, it will come at a high price, ”Townsend said.

Turkey’s nascent military ties with Russia, exemplified by its acquisition of S-400 missiles, have already come at a cost. It was excluded from the consortium producing state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets and barred from acquiring high-value US military assets under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Sherman, who arrived in Turkey on Friday for official talks, is said to have offered Turkey a number of options out of the S-400 quagmire. “Turkey is well aware of the measures it needs to take,” Sherman told private broadcaster CNNTurk. “We discussed how to take them. And that will be a decision that Turkey will have to take, ”she said. Turkey refuses to back down, saying the acquisition of Russian weapons is a done deal and talks about buying Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets if the F-35 remains banned. The United States said such a move would result in new sanctions.

As Turkey’s relations with the United States continue to crumble, NATO is emerging as the sole institution to keep the country in the transatlantic security orbit. As such, the S-400 issue is “never discussed in NATO,” even though the US position is rooted in the argument that the Russian system compromises NATO security. “The [NATO] The Secretary General and the NATO bureaucracy thought it would weaken cohesion if we discussed the differences, ”one of the diplomatic sources said.

Sylvester L. Goldfarb