Peeling Turkey Away from Russia’s Embrace: A Transatlantic Interest

From a European and transatlantic standpoint, it is as troubling as it is counter-intuitive: a de facto partnership has developed between Russia and Turkey, surrounding Europe. Paradoxical as it may be, the trend is now clear and represents a thorn in the side of European and transatlantic interests.

The paradox lies in the fact that Turkey and Russia are historic rivals. From the Ottoman-Russian wars to Turkey’s NATO membership as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism, the Turkish-Russian relationship has never been easy. The post-Cold War period is no exception, nearing outright military confrontation only five years ago, when a Turkish F-16 jet shot down a Russian aircraft near the Turkish-Syrian border.

Taken together, there is no region in and around Europe where Turkey and Russia see eye to eye. Be it in Central Asia where Moscow has stymied Ankara’s pan-Turkic dreams; in the Balkans where the two have taken different sides during war and peacetime alike; be it in North Africa and the Middle East where they have stood at loggerheads in the clash over political Islam; or in the Caucasus where Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan has mirrored Russia’s religious affinity and security bond with Armenia, Ankara and Moscow are rarely, if ever, on the same page.

Yet the pattern is clear: in every open conflict, Turkey and Russia have managed to find an entente that is as uneasy as it is real. In Syria, the clash could have tipped into outright confrontation, but after the near miss in 2015, Moscow and Ankara walked back from the brink, notably with the launch of the Astana process in which both have been deeply involved. Tensions have heated up again from time to time. With the prospect of Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught on Idlib in 2019, Turkey called Russia’s foul, but eventually the Turkish-Russian understanding held. In northeastern Syria too, where Turkey intervened militarily against the Syrian Kurds in 2016 and again in 2019, Moscow could have prevented Turkey’s offensive given its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) footprint on the Syrian airspace, but chose not to.

In Libya, Turkey and Russia have rallied for opposite sides of the civil war. Notably, Russia, with its Wagner mercenaries, provided crucial backing to Khalifa Haftar’s military offensive against the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. Weighing in alongside the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France, the Wagner group’s stepping into the Libyan quagmire almost tipped the scales, with Haftar’s advance towards Tripoli becoming ever closer in early 2020.

When the GNA risked falling, Ankara stepped in, providing military backing to a government the international community had spared no words in backing while doing precious little in practice. Turkey’s military intervention flipped military fortunes and created that mutually hurting stalemate that brought the parties to an uneasy ceasefire in the summer of 2020. Turkey remains deeply involved militarily in Libya, and Russia’s military presence in the east, from being a “nice but not necessary” tool to deploy, is now entrenched. Notwithstanding the ongoing political dialogue process, Libya risks partitioning militarily along the Sirte-Jufra line, with both Turkish and Russian presence consolidating in the country.

The resumption of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan after twenty-six years of unstable ceasefire around Nagorno Karakakh and its adjacent regions became the third potential Turkish-Russian flashpoint that never was. When Azerbaijan kick-started the war to recapture the territories lost to Armenia in the 1992-94 war, much of the international media spotlight turned to Ankara.

Turkey, in fact, was the only external power that did not call for a ceasefire, but rather egged Baku on in its military campaign. There was much talk of Turkey’s drones and Syrian jihadis, the role of which was likely overplayed, but nonetheless significant. For its part, Russia activated itself to broker a ceasefire. While repeatedly stepping in to mediate humanitarian ceasefires, it implicitly allowed the war to rage on for six long weeks, in which Azerbaijan gradually recaptured much of the seven regions surrounding Nagorno Karabakh. It was only when Azerbaijani forces made inroads into Karabakh itself, that Moscow blew the whistle.

The peace deal brokered by Moscow was an all-out win for Russia, as well as Azerbaijan. Along the line of contact in Nagorno Karabakh and the Lachin corridor, a contingent of almost 2000 Russian troops are being deployed for the first time since the end of the Cold War. This gives Russia not only unprecedented leverage over the constitutional fate of Nagorno Karabakh, but also over domestic politics in Azerbaijan and above all Armenia. However, to a lesser extent Turkey gained too. Ankara for the first time won the possibility of sending observers to the region, and, most significantly, with the reopening of a direct connection between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan, Turkey obtained direct access to Azerbaijan proper and the Caspian Sea.

In each of these conflicts, Turkey, a NATO ally and, at least theoretically, an EU candidate country, has pursued incontrovertibly its national and often nationalistic interests. It has done so in ways that have certainly not coincided with those of the European Union or of the United States. However, it would be mistaken to argue that Turkey’s interests have been diametrically opposed to those of the West.

In Syria, Turkey’s assault on the Syrian Kurds generated a Western outcry – in words rather than deeds – while its ambiguity towards and support for different incarnations of the Islamist opposition to the Syrian regime sowed mistrust, notably at the height of the ISIS threat in the Middle East, Europe and the world. However, Turkey, unlike Russia and Iran, and alongside the West, has been a sworn enemy of the Syrian regime, ever since the protests degenerated into civil war in late 2011. In the reconstruction and refugee return phase of the Syrian conflict, the EU and Turkey will grapple with similar policy challenges.

In Libya too, Turkey has clearly pursued its interests and is now consolidating its military, political and economic presence in the country. In Libya, Turkey is there to stay. Yet there too, Western and Turkish interests are not totally incompatible. Ankara stepped into the war to prevent the fall of Sarraj’s GNA that Europe and the US also backed in theory. Both Turkey and the EU have an interest in the stabilization of Libya and the prevention of its de facto partition into two blocks.

Finally, in Nagorno Karabakh, Turkey has certainly sung from a different hymn sheet from the Western cry for an immediate ceasefire. However, no European country nor the US has ever objected to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Furthermore, Turkey’s inclusion amongst the observers in Nagorno Karabakh should be looked upon with favour by Europeans in a context in which the OSCE Minsk Group has been sadly outmaneuvered and Russia would otherwise monopolize the show.

Notwithstanding the fact that divisions between Turkey and Russia are infinitely more tangible and acute than those between Turkey and the West, relations between Turkey and Russia are consolidating into a de facto partnership, while those between Turkey and the West are edging towards sanctions. Why?

The easy part of the answer lies in domestic politics in Russia and Turkey. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has long abandoned even the narrative of democracy, heralding itself as one of the leaders of a post-liberal world. The Russian President has used foreign policy to gain strategic edge over the West, and stoke nationalism at home, distracting public attention from domestic woes. Turkish President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan has taken Putin’s cue, and over the last year, has regained some domestic political traction after the Justice and Development Party’s electoral annus horribilis in 2019.

By intervening militarily in Libya, escalating tensions in the East Mediterranean and reentering the Caucasus, Erdoğan has done what many, if not most, Turks would read as a welcome reassertion of national interests redressing past wrongs. In doing so, Erdoğan has distracted public opinion from his ailing domestic economy. In other words, Russia and Turkey’s leaders pursue similar tactics: they “get each other” and that understanding instils a degree of reciprocal respect even when interests diverge.

There is certainly truth is this explanation, which is the one most commonly heard in the West. However, it is also a convenient truth for the West to put forth, leaving in the shadow another, complementary, but far more uncomfortable reality.

Another explanation is that Russia and Turkey have found pragmatic ententes because they have had to do so. They are both deeply engaged in each of these conflicts in a way in which Europeans and Americans are just not. Turkey and Russia are far more prone to intervene militarily in conflicts than Europeans always were and Americans are becoming.

More broadly, be it in Syria, Libya or the Caucasus, the US and the EU have abdicated much of their responsibilities and shied away from risk. In the vacuum, Russia, Turkey and other regional players, have stepped in, learning to come to terms with one another. The US, for its part, can retort with good reason that this is not the part of the world where it will do the heavy lifting. We should expect that in different forms and manners, this will continue to be the tune played by the Biden administration.

Europeans instead have only themselves to blame. It is may well be too late for Syria and probably also for the Caucasus. However, when it comes to Libya, Europeans should do much more. Germany has invested significantly in the Berlin process, and diplomacy is certainly a key piece of the peacebuilding puzzle. But unless Europeans take greater risks to consolidate peace on the ground in Libya – and not simply at sea – they will continue to be passive by-standers of the de facto external control of the country by Turkey and Russia. As Libya’s political dialogue unfolds, Europeans should engage far more actively in peacebuilding, with greater readiness to be present on the ground.

While taking greater risk and responsibility, Europeans should think through a strategy that makes due distinction between Turkey and Russia, avoiding further entrenchment of the unnatural partnership between the two, from which Europeans and Americans can only lose. In particular, we should not be blinded by the commonalities we see between Putin’s Russia and Erdoğan’s Turkey domestically, and become better able to distinguish between their foreign policy behaviour.

On foreign policy, Russian and Turkish positions and ambitions differ in important ways. Beyond annexing Crimea and upending the European security architecture, Putin’s Russia vies for leadership of a sovereignist world. In no way does it see itself as part of the West, and is often scathing of the alleged ineffectiveness, cowardice, arrogance and moral bankruptcy of Western liberal democracies. Russia has acted to the direct detriment of Western democracies by interfering in electoral processes, spreading disinformation and allegedly engaging in cyber-attacks. We should of course “selectively engage” with Russia, but with eyes wide open as to the context in which our engagement takes place.

Turkey, for all its faults, not only is and remains a NATO ally, but continues to express an interest in closer relations with the European Union, beginning with a modernized customs union. Ankara’s sincerity would need to be verified, but to do so it is the Union that must make the first move. Likewise, the EU and the US should actively seek opportunities to work with Turkey on foreign policy questions on which interests do not fundamentally diverge. With Syria and Nagorno Karabakh further away from Western reach, Libya would be the place to start. The space for manoeuvre, here too, is shrinking fast. As Libya’s political dialogue unfolds, time will be of the essence.

All this does not imply that the EU and the US should stay put and refrain from using the stick with Turkey as the case may warrant. Be it over the S400 debacle with NATO or Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the threat of restrictive measures will remain on the table. Less still does it mean that the EU and the US should drop the ball on Turkey’s democratic backsliding. With an administration in Washington that will once again take genuine interest in democracy, human rights, rule of law, a renewed transatlantic focus on Turkey’s domestic dynamics is imperative.

However, in addressing whether, when and how to react to Turkey’s foreign policy moves, Europe and the US should factor in the broader strategic context in which we operate. The purpose of our actions should be to peel Ankara away from Moscow, rather than push it deeper in its embrace.

* Nathalie Tocci is Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and Honorary Professor at the University of Tübingen.

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The old transatlantic relationship ain’t coming back

This article written by Paul Taylor

Even if Joe Biden replaces Donald Trump as US president, Europe will have to learn to carry its share of the burden.

With those four words, uttered at the 2019 Munich Security Conference, Joe Biden warmed the hearts of Europeans despairing at the erratic, indifferent and at times openly hostile foreign policy of U.S. President Donald Trump.

But even if the Democratic presidential contender wins the election (an increasingly likely “if” should Biden prove able to maintain his advantage in the polls), it’ll take more than warm feelings to get the transatlantic relationship back on track.

With or without a reliable partner in the White House, the European Union and Europe’s leading powers will have to learn to live in a world in which Washington may still be the ultimate guarantor of the Continent’s security, but won’t have the bandwidth to fix all the region’s many problems. And in which they will be required to do more to prove the utility of the transatlantic partnership.

Like Trump, Biden will expect Europe and NATO to carry more of the security burden in the Middle East.

“We can’t just wait till Biden arrives. We need to have a plan,” says David O’Sullivan, who was the EU’s ambassador to Washington until last year. “What’s our offer? The United States is our indispensable partner for the foreseeable future. It is in our interest to bolster American leadership rather than undermine it. What price are we prepared to pay to achieve a balanced agenda?”

In his speech in Munich, Biden called for a reform of NATO to meet threats unique to the 21st century and promised “serious coordination and consensus-building.” In recent speeches and articles, he has vowed to return on “day one” of his presidency to the Paris accord on fighting climate change and to the World Health Organization. He has also pledged to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal torn up by Trump if Tehran resumes full compliance, and to reaffirm unequivocally NATO’s mutual defense clause.
All that will be welcome news to European policymakers looking to rebuild one of the most successful partnerships in history and respond to global challenges alongside the U.S., instead of reacting defensively to pre-dawn Twitter storms from the irascible tweeter-in-chief.

But while a Democratic administration in Washington can be expected to consult allies more, be more active diplomatically and be more supportive of international institutions, a Biden presidency will not mark a return to the post-World War II era in which Europe could afford to live comfortably under the American umbrella.
Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to Washington, argues that Trump’s nationalist isolationism is not an aberration. On the contrary, he says it is deeply rooted in historic U.S. suspicion of foreign entanglements. And whoever ends up in the White House in 2021, there will be no return to liberal interventionism or to global American hegemony.

“Trump is following in the footsteps of [former U.S. President Barack] Obama, who understood the exhaustion of the American people with overseas involvements,” Araud wrote in his book “Diplomatic Passport,” published late last year.

“Style matters, and [Trump’s] approach is brutal, unilateral and non-cooperative, but the common thread of a relative disengagement from the international scene is probably irreversible.”
Would a Biden administration be more willing to step in if Turkey used force to press its continental shelf claims in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean? If Lebanon descended into civil strife and famine after the Beirut port catastrophe, prompting a flood of refugees? If the proxy war in Libya pitting the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia against Turkey and Qatar escalated? Or if Russia intervened in Belarus to crush protests following a disputed election?

Washington’s strategic pivot toward East Asia and away from Europe and the Middle East, which began under Obama, entails a permanent redeployment of military power and economic focus in response to China’s accelerating ascent as the main challenger to U.S. global dominance.

Like Trump, Biden will expect Europe and NATO to carry more of the security burden in the Middle East. European governments might be more inclined to help if U.S. policy on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reverted from Trump’s unilateral pursuit of regime change in Tehran and of a peace deal overwhelmingly slanted toward Israel. But whether the Europeans have the means or the political will to tackle any of these challenges is highly doubtful.

The real litmus test of U.S.-European cooperation under a Biden administration is likely to come over China, on which the Europeans are far from united among themselves but are eager to avoid being dragged into a new Cold War by Trump.

Tony Blinken, one of Biden’s senior foreign policy advisers, says how to handle Beijing is the most important question a Democratic president would face.

“There’s no more important relationship in the world than U.S.-China. We have to work together to get it right,” he told a recent Chatham House videoconference. A Biden administration would approach it by working with allies and “showing up in institutions instead of going AWOL.”

Given this new reality, it will take more than hope or wishful thinking, which abound in the corridors of Brussels, to put the transatlantic partnership back in gear. In short, Europe needs to stop treating the U.S. as a protective Big Brother it can always count on to scare away the neighborhood bullies — and more like an equal in a partnership in which both sides carry the burden.

If Biden makes good on his day-one promises, Europeans should be ready to respond with “deliverables” of their own, to borrow the ghastly bureaucratic terminology.

A more self-confident Europe should offer a President Biden a grown-up partnership, but not subservience.

They should offer to work with Washington to reform the World Trade Organization and renew transatlantic trade talks with new flexibility on agriculture and aerospace subsidies if Washington scraps punitive tariffs on EU goods.

European countries, including France, should agree to hold off on implementing digital taxes if the U.S. reengages in a good faith negotiation of corporate taxation principles at the OECD with a fixed deadline. They should also step up their common defense efforts to complement NATO with a stronger European pillar, and get firmer with China by insisting on investment reciprocity and the protection of critical infrastructure and technology.

The EU should also suggest a permanent transatlantic consultative forum on sensitive issues of technology transfer and investment — open to partners such as Canada, Japan and Australia.

In exchange, it should seek a U.S. commitment to forgo the kind of extraterritorial secondary sanctions used by the Trump administration that weaponize the dollar’s dominance of the international payments system to penalize foreign companies accused of breaching U.S. national sanctions against Iran or other targeted countries.

It is not certain that Biden would be willing or able to end this constant irritant in transatlantic ties, which is often spearheaded by Congress. But EU governments should make clear that this is a condition for good faith cooperation among allies in addressing the strategic challenge of China and others.

A more self-confident Europe should offer a President Biden a grown-up partnership, but not subservience. In a dangerous and uncertain world, rebuilding transatlantic ties after Trump’s wrecking spree must be the foundation for the post-COVID recovery, which is the top priority on both sides of the Atlantic.

This article taken from www.politico.eu

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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TRILATERAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN US, EU AND TURKEY

By THO Contributor, Tarik Oğuzlu

The dynamics of security relationship between the European Union and Turkey have been closely informed by the dynamics of security relationship each has with the United States. The role that the United States might potentially play in the context of EU-Turkey relations is strongly informed by the nature and quality of transatlantic relations. The historical records show that whenever the transatlantic relations were in good shape, the lobbying efforts of American administrations across European capitals on behalf of Turkey’s prospective EU membership struck a sympathetic chord. No matter the current Trump administration views the liberal international order and its quintessential institutional platforms, such as the European Union and NATO, through skeptical eyes, the United States has continued to view Turkey’s eventual transformation in the image of European norms and values, let alone its full membership in the EU, in its national interests. A Turkey, that turns its face towards the European Union and adopts European practices in its internal and external politics, would not only shun assertive and aggressive policies in the name of becoming a regional hegemon but also adopt a more rational and predictable foreign policy stance. Such a Turkey would align its national interests with those of the European Union and contribute to peace and security in the larger Middle East and North Africa region. Besides, the ability of the United States to have leverage on Turkey’s policies would likely increase should the latter adopt a pro-European/western national outlook. Such a Turkey would also act as a role model for the European/western transformation of predominantly Muslim nations across the wider Middle East. This is surely in American national interests.

Supporting Turkey’s European transformation and potential EU membership is the United States’ dominant strategy, no matter Washington views Brussels and leading European capitals as partners or rivals/challengers. In case the United States views the EU as a rival and challenge, Turkey’s membership in the EU would help weaken the union from within as Turkey’s strong state identity and realpolitik security culture would put a brake on EU’s transformation into a single-voice powerful international actor. Turkey’s presence inside the Union would help the Americans play the time-tested divide-and-rule game. On the other hand, should the United States view the European Union as a strong partner, Turkey’s eventual accession to the Union would fast transform the Union into a strong international actor that could undertake more responsibility in maintaining peace and security in its neighborhood so that the Americans could channel their limited capabilities to other locations where threats to American security interests are more visible and imminent, such as the Indo-Pacific region.

Looking to this trilateral relationship from the perspective of the European Union members, one comes to a similar conclusion. Turkey’s transformation in European image, let alone its eventual accession to the Union sometime in future, seems to be EU’s dominant strategy. In case, the EU views the United States as acting against the letter and spirit of the liberal international order by transforming into a global rouge state, then strengthening of Turkey’s European credentials as well as Turkey’s coming closer to the European Union in defining its national foreign and security policy interests would likely add up to European Union’s leverage over the United States. With Turkey coming much closer to the European Union each passing day, the chances of the European Union to become a powerful international actor with a strategic mindset will certainly increase. Should the European Union see the United States as its number one ally and strategic partner, then Turkey’s European transformation will be a gift to the United States, for a strong trilateral relationship between the United States, European Union and Turkey will tremendously strengthen the resolve of the transatlantic community to deal with the Chinese challenge in the emerging post-western multipolar international order.

Even though Turkey’s European transformation and coming closer to the transatlantic community seems to be the dominant strategy of Europeans and Americans, the picture from Turkey’s perspective is a little bit more complicated than meets the eye. Conventionally speaking, developing closer relations with westerners in general and Europeans in particular and transforming into a more European polity each passing day has long been among Turkey’s key national interests. There are two important causes of this. First, located at a very critical geographical location and feeling exposed to various conventional and non-conventional security challenges to all directions, Turkey’s own ability to deal with them successfully is quite limited. Seeking western/European help against non-western/non-European threats and challenges had pushed Turkey to join NATO and seek membership in key western international organizations in the past. This logic still applies today. Second, Turkey’s western/European transformation is also a hedge against the possibility of westerners/Europeans viewing Turkey as a threat and doing everything they can to help contain the so-called Turkey challenge. Given that the Ottoman Empire came to the end at the hands of colonial European nations and that the Republic of Turkey gained its independence during the wars waged against European states, the founding fathers of the new Republic thought that unless Turkey’s western/European identity were recognized as such by westerners/Europeans themselves, the latter might easily view the former as a potential threat to its security and well-being. That said, the Europeanization/westernization process has been seen from the very beginning first and foremost as a security strategy. A more western/European Turkey would not only be able to deal with non-western/European challenges more successfully but also feel itself more secure and comfortable in its relations with westerners/Europeans.

The risk for Turkey arises from the fact that whereas Americans and Europeans do generally view Turkey from an instrumental and technical perspective, a tool to be utilized in meeting core security interests in and around Turkey, Turkey’s approach towards the West//Europe is predominantly psychological. Status-seeking efforts do still manifest themselves in Turkey’s interactions with western/European countries. Another fundamentally important point is that whenever Turkish rulers do intensify their efforts to help lessen the psychological imprint in their relations with westerners/Europeans and adopt a more technical and strategic approach towards them, questions about Turkey’s strategic choices and foreign policy orientation pop up instantly across western/European capitals. One cannot help but come to the conclusion that westerners/Europeans would be quite happy to see Turkey’s psychological need to be recognized as a western/European nation continue unabated.

Whereas the rise of challenges emanating from Russia and China might help rejuvenate the trilateral strategic cooperation among the United States, European Union and Turkey, one would do well to recognize that the psychological dimension of this relationship also matters, maybe more than strategic-security considerations. The confluence of four important developments in recent years appears to have psychologically aggravated this trilateral relationship. First, the transatlantic rift between the United States and its European allies has widened over the last decade as the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean have somehow diverged from each other as to how to define western identity and the core tenets of the liberal international order. The cohesion of the so-called western international community has weakened as liberal-democratic credentials of its identity have come under existential challenges across the Atlantic. Looking from Turkey, the question of who remains the gatekeeper of liberal democracy has become difficult to answer.

Second, Turkey’s penchant for further liberal democracy has further decreased as not only liberal democracy has moved from one crisis to another in its homes countries but also Turkey’s liberal democratic reforms alongside the EU accession process have not been positively reciprocated by Europeans. Paradoxically, while Turkey has institutionally come closer to the European Union since the beginning of the formal accession negotiations in 2005 the psychological distance between the two has spectacularly widened with an increasing number of Europeans arguing that this process should be defined as open-ended and Europeans should most offer Turkey a privileged membership.

Third, Turkey has adopted a more nationalist and illiberal turn since the failed coup attempt in July 2016. The fact that neither the United States nor key European Union members took as much a pro-government position as adopted by Russia, Iran and many other non-western nations seems to have aggravated the fears of Turkey’s ruling elite that promotion of liberal democracy abroad is more a strategic weapon at the hands westerners than reflecting their sincere commitment to such values wherever they are abused.

Finally, the growing clout of China, Russia and other non-western countries in global politics in recent years appears to have strengthened realpolitik security considerations and material power calculations at the expense of value-oriented normative underpinnings of international order. While such a tectonic shift in international relations seems to have triggered a crisis of trust in Turkey’s relations with western/European nations on one hand, it has improved Turkey’s ability to develop strategic, pragmatic and interest-based relations with non-western powers on the other.

I am of the view that the continuation of the trilateral cooperation between the United States, European Union and Turkey is in their common interests, yet unless the parties build their relationship on a solid psychological and normative basis, then the years ahead might see more crises arise.

source: www.turkheritage.org

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