- Given NATO’s inherent anti-Russia nature, the US is increasingly growing skeptical of Turkey’s budding security partnership with Russia.
- Erdogan sees Russia as a source to strengthen its security infrastructure, along with a counterbalance to the escalating pressure from Washington.
- With a dismayed Biden on one side and a mischievous Putin on the other, Erdogan looks well poised to steer his nation towards a bigger catastrophe.
Turkey is an important NATO ally that hosts several NATO military bases and is geologically best placed to deter any Russian threat posed to the American allies originating from the Black Sea. America relies heavily on Turkey for the anti-Russian adventurism that has given Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan abundant leverage over it.
So, Erdogan is treading ahead to boost security and economic ties between Russia and Turkey for the past few years. But given NATO’s inherent anti-Russia nature, the US is increasingly growing skeptical of Turkey’s budding security partnership with Russia.
Tensions between Turkey and the US
With intentions of solidifying its security apparatus, Erdogan had brokered a $2.5 billion deal with Russia to purchase the S400 missile defense system. The deal sowed the seeds of discord between Turkey and the US. America saw the deal as a manifestation of Turkey shifting its allegiance away from the West towards Russia.
As a result, Ankara got sanctioned. The US blackballed Turkey from its advanced F-35 fighter jet program. The US further invoked the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that resulted in depriving Ankara of easy loans from Washington.
Furthermore, Joe Biden also despises Erdogan for his “Autocratic” regime and his dangerous consolidation of power over the last few years. In an interview with New York Times, Biden once said that “the US should seek his ouster by backing Erdogan’s opponents. He has to pay a price.”
So, when Biden came at the helm in January this year, Erdogan knew he had to brace for a rockier relationship with the US for the next four years. So, out of anxiety and precariousness, Erdogan tilted his foreign policy towards Russia to balance the USA’s aggression.
In his bid to impress Putin, Erdogan upped the ante against Biden. He recently called the US “a supporter of terrorists” when Biden refused to meet him on the sidelines of the UNGA. He was referring to the US’ steady support to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – in northern Syria.
After heckling Biden for his indifference towards Turkey, Erdogan embarked on a “successful” trip to Russia and talked to Putin over various issues, including contentious ones involving Turkey’s misadventure in Syria.
Growing coziness between Turkey and Russia
The widening dispute between Biden and Erdogan explains Turkey’s bonhomie with Russia. Erdogan wants to send a clear message to Biden that he could anytime exacerbate the US’ perturbation by siding with Putin and brokering more hefty security deals with Russia.
As per a defense news article, Turkey has pledged to further its defense industry cooperation with Russia, including fighter jet and aircraft engine technologies, the second batch of S-400 air defense systems, and submarines.
In a stern message to Biden, Erdogan recently said in an interview that “In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country at what level. Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions.”
Erdogan sees Russia as a source to strengthen its security infrastructure, along with a counterbalance to the escalating pressure from Washington. Defense deals with Russia come with no strings attached and help Turkey keep the US from meddling in its internal affairs.
Turkish-Russian ties from the Russian perspective
For Russia, Turkey is a big defense market, but also a tool to destabilize NATO. There is not any scarcity of contentious issues between Moscow and Ankara with Syria as the biggest one! Turkey and Russia support opposing camps in Syria resulting in a clash of their interests.
If Russia’s recent escalation in Syria’s Idlib against Turkey-backed opposition forces is any indication, Putin is sparing no chance to cash in upon Erdogan’s misery. Putin believes that forging closer ties with Turkey not only will dismantle NATO’s unity but also the US-Turkey ties. If Turkey’s leverage against Russia is lost, Moscow will take no time in reducing Ankara to a mere pawn in its bigger geostrategic ambitions.
This explains why Putin keeps throwing his weight behind Erdogan despite Turkey’s antagonizing role in Syria, Libya, Ukraine and the Caucasus.
Opportunism is the word that best defines Russia’s love for Ankara. Russia’s larger objective is to nullify its influence in the region by decimating Turkey’s allies and proxies. For instance, the editor-in-chief of the Russian state TV channel RT recently stirred a controversy by suggesting that Russia should annex eastern Turkey’s Mount Ağrı (Ararat) and Kars province.
Turkey’s relations with Russia are based on competition and cooperation, perhaps more competitive than cooperative. With a dismayed Biden on one side and a mischievous Putin on the other, Erdogan looks well poised to steer his nation towards a bigger catastrophe. What Erdogan sees as a thriving security partnership with Moscow, Putin perceives it as Turkey’s willingness to sacrifice itself in his endgame against the US.