Spotlight: Turkey's growing rift with West not expected to result in divorce

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-26 22:09:47|Editor: Song Lifang
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ISTANBUL, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- Turkey and its Western allies would not part ways despite a relationship being strained to an unprecedented low mainly over conflicting interests in Syria and an escalating war of words over others, analysts said.


"Turkey's zip code will remain in the Euro-Atlantic community because both sides of the aisle have lasting overriding security, economic and political interests," Faruk Logoglu, a former senior Turkish diplomat, told Xinhua.

Ankara's ties with the United States and the European Union have been going through an extraordinarily stormy period, in particular since last year's failed coup in Turkey.

Ankara is highly disturbed about its NATO allies' unwillingness to hand over hundreds of people accused of getting involved in the putsch or having links to a network blamed for it.

A conflict of interests with the U.S. also led Ankara last year to change partners in the Syrian theatre.

"Turkey and the West can't give up on each other, but the level of cooperation could vary depending on the (depth of the) crisis," Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, told Xinhua.

Roughly until 2016, Turkey had cooperated with the U.S. toward toppling the Syrian government backed by Russia and Iran.

Deeply frustrated with U.S. military support for the Kurdish militia forces in Syria, Ankara has since turned to Russia and Iran as partners seeking to bring the Syrian conflict to an end.

Turkey feels that the U.S., backed by some European countries, has been working toward the emergence of a Kurdish state in the Middle East.

In recent months, Ankara has voiced repeatedly its frustration with some of its Western allies, implying that they are conspiring against it.

The U.S. and Germany, for their parts, have criticized their ally for having arrested several of their citizens on dubious charges of being linked with the coup attempt or the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terror group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.

In addition, Turkey is accused by the EU and the U.S. of eliminating the rule of law following the failed coup.

Ahead of a EU summit last week, there were fresh calls within the bloc for suspending Ankara's accession talks for a full membership, which have long been stalled.

Turkey has time and again lashed out at the U.S., Germany and some other EU countries for harboring PKK militants and those with links to a network led by Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, who is living in the U.S. but wanted by Ankara for masterminding the coup bid.

"The relations with both the EU and the U.S. are currently unprecedentedly strained and at its lowest," noted Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military.

The already chilly relations between Washington and Ankara have turned for the worse lately after the two resorted to a tit-for-tat suspension of non-immigrant visa applications for their citizens early this month, a first between NATO allies.

Despite all that, Turkey ordered, according to press reports, 40 passenger jets worth 11 billion U.S. dollars from Boeing after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump last month.

"The plus side (in ties with the West) is unarguably richer and stronger than the debit side of the ledger," remarked Logoglu.

In the view of Dilek, one of the main reasons behind the current crisis is the policies followed by the U.S. and the EU in recent years, which he said have shown no regard for Turkey's security and interests.

For one, the Western powers gave up efforts to remove the Syrian government, leaving Turkey confronted with a Kurdish corridor along its southern border and the threat of terrorism by radical Islamist rebel groups.

Dilek feels that President Erdogan's attempt to turn his own opinions into state policies has also contributed to the crisis with the West.

Ankara has frequently complained over the years that it is not being fairly treated by its Western allies.

As a result, Erdogan has talked about Ankara's wish to be part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization led by China and Russia.

Having knitted closer ties with Russia, Turkey has lately agreed to boost ties with Iran, including in the security area, at a time when Washington has been revving up pressure on Tehran.

Perception of a common threat following Iraqi Kurds' referendum on independence last month and cooperation on peacemaking in Syria have brought Turkey and Iran together.

Turkey should profit from the synergy of being able to cooperate with Eurasian powers while enjoying the advantages of being part of the Western alliance, Dilek said.

The Turkish move to buy Russia's sophisticated S-400 air defense missile system and the rapprochement between Ankara and Tehran have augmented the West's perception that Turkey is moving away.

Articles calling for Turkey's removal from NATO have started to appear in Western media.


"Despite all such calls and the probable escalation of differences, still the bottom line is likely to be that Turkey continues to be an important alliance asset and that NATO cannot afford to turn Turkey into a liability by ending its membership," observed Lologlu.

Aware of Turkey's geostrategic importance and its soft power, the Western powers cannot afford to kick Turkey out, Dilek argued.

As tension increased with the EU in the past year, Erdogan has sometimes challenged the 28-nation bloc to openly declare that it would not allow Turkey to be a full member and definitively end the accession talks.

The Turkish leader added each time, however, that Ankara would not be the one to break ties.

Some feel that Turkey must break ties with NATO and the EU and work toward enhanced cooperation in Eurasia through integration with powers like Russia, China and Iran.

The existential threats facing Turkey in the region stem almost totally from the NATO-Atlantic alliance, Soner Polat, deputy chairman of Turkey's Patriotic Party, wrote in his column in the Aydinlik daily in late August.

The Patriotic Party claims that the U.S. and the EU have been working toward Turkey's disintegration by supporting the creation of a Kurdish state in the region.

Polat, who headed the intelligence department of the Turkish military, has argued on TV programs in recent months that Turkey's slide toward Eurasia is a strategic necessity.

After Turkey moved militarily into Syria's Idlib province early this month under a deal reached with Russia and Iran, Polat described the operation as a sign that Ankara has joined the Eurasian bloc.

U.S. military support for the Kurdish militia in Syria, known as People's Protection Units (YPG), has continued despite an outcry from Ankara, chilling relations between the allies.

Thanks to U.S. support, the YPG has managed to carve out three autonomous cantons along the Turkish border during the Syrian civil war, a development seen by Ankara as a move toward an independent state that may set a precedent for its own nearly 20 million Kurds.

Ankara launched a military operation in northern Syria in August last year to block the Syrian Kurdish cantons from uniting and fight against the Islamic State, securing an area of more than 2,000 square kilometers.

The U.S. has been providing weapons to the Kurdish militia for containing Turkey from the south, President Erdogan said recently, underlining that the weapons would later be used against Ankara.

Washington sees the YPG as a reliable ground force in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, while Ankara treats it as an offshoot of the PKK, which has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdistan in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The analysts tend to see the occasional war of words between Ankara and its Western allies as a result of populism at both sides.

"Populist discourse from any quarter can undo neither Turkey's NATO membership nor formally end Turkey's EU accession process," Logoglu said.

For Logoglu, the U.S. visa move raises questions about its friendship with Turkey, but he also underlined the need for Turkey to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy for its own national security.

"It would be wrong to give up on the EU for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or the U.S. for Russia," he said.

Both Logoglu and Dilek stressed the need for Turkey to have good ties not only with the U.S. and the EU, but also with Russia and China.

Dilek does not think Turkey can continue for long with its harsh rhetoric toward the West while making as if it were part of an alliance with Eurasian powers.

Most recent remarks by the Turkish president also suggest that Ankara does not seek changing camps.

Erdogan sort of challengingly said in separate speeches earlier this month that Turkey does not need the U.S. or the EU, demanding to be treated as an equal partner.

On Monday, he once again, however, revealed Ankara's willingness to be a full EU member, saying, "The solution to Europe's chronic problems is Turkey's full membership in the EU."

Noticeably, Ankara has never talked about leaving NATO or threatened to block the U.S. from using the Incirlik military base in southern Turkey. Enditem