Spotlight: Will U.S. sanctions push Turkey further towards Russia?

Source: Xinhua| 2018-08-11 04:37:33|Editor: Chengcheng
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- The rising tension in the ties between Turkey and the U.S. has led to speculation that Turkey would further strengthen its relations with Russia.

Ankara has retaliated last weekend for the extraordinary U.S. sanctions targeting two Turkish ministers over the detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who was charged with espionage and terrorism.

Turkey swiftly responded by imposing identical sanctions on two U.S. secretaries, leading the bilateral ties to a new low since the early 1950s.

Analysts believed that the deterioration of the Turkey-U.S. ties is a result of a series of disputes between the two governments, including the divergent policies in Syria, the U.S. refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the U.S. in exile who was blamed by Ankara for a failed coup in 2016, and Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 missiles.


There's an apparent frustration and exasperation in Turkey towards the U.S. administration.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's senior advisor Yigit Bulut said that Turkey will now deepen its already close ties with Moscow after this latest episode of distrust on the Washington government.

"Frankly speaking, thank god for those sanctions. I hope they don't give us the F-35s (fighter planes). Instead of these planes we will purchase SU (Sukhoi) bomber jets and others from Russia which are more compatible with S-400 missiles," said Bulut in a TV interview.

The U.S. Congress has passed a bill prohibiting the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey pending a review assessing the possible risk associated with Ankara's purchase of the S-400 air defense system.

The atmosphere in NATO is also quite bleak regarding the differences between two of its major allies.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said early July that Russia appeared to be trying to "flip" Turkey, a key member of the alliance and second in troop numbers after the United States, in a bid to undermine and destabilize NATO.

"They want to destabilize the strongest defense alliance in the history of the world, and that is NATO," she added, while also voicing her doubts about Moscow's possible success on their efforts on Turkey.


Contrary to previous tensions, this time, Erdogan took a conciliatory tone and called for a return of the two country's partnership, but the decayed state of bilateral relations are rife for new disagreements to erupt.

Analysts suggested Washington's hardline approach toward Ankara over the Brunson case can be possibly explained by broader doubts about Turkey's allegiance to its Western allies.

"Personally even though I think that the latest crisis (with the United States) will be resolved in one way or another, problems in bilateral relations have built up to be structural thus tensions between Ankara and Washington, also the West, will only get worse and deeper in the future," Kerim Has, an expert on Eurasian politics from Moscow State University, told Xinhua.

According to the analyst, despite that one may reach the conclusion at first that Ankara's ties with Moscow will deepen, the speculation is not entirely correct.

"Turkish-Russian relations are not the fruit of strategic planning but are the result of an obligatory partnership over the Syrian crisis, and in this crisis Ankara's needs for Russia are increasing compared with Moscow's needs towards Ankara," argued Has.

Turkey and Russia are historical regional rivals and have been in war for several times during the Ottoman Empire and Tsarist Russia. But now, they have forged a partnership based mainly on trade, energy and defense issues.

"We have a good understanding on matters that are both of our interests and we have a good basis of cooperation with Russia. We want this cooperation to continue," said a source close to the Turkish government on condition of anonymity.

"What Trump did (sanctions) was very wrong, I really don't think that Russia would have made such a mistake if we were in the same situation," said the source, while insisting that Turkey's ties with the West are "essential" and that Ankara is "balancing its relations with the West and the East."


Furthermore, Ankara's ties with Moscow have its limitations. Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air forces, are gradually overrunning the de-escalation zones. Erdogan has vowed to protect the last main zone in Idlib, on Turkey's border.

"Russians think that they can manage an offensive targeting Idlib more smoothly in an atmosphere where Turkey is hit by U.S. sanctions and in need of Russian support," commented Has, pointing out however that the Syrian city could be a potential source of a crisis between Turkey and Russia.

Turkish officials have announced that Istanbul will host on Sept. 7 a summit on Syria and Iraq without U.S. presence. Senior representatives from Turkey, Russia, France and Germany are expected to attend to create a new framework for regional issues regarding security, economy and defense.

The absence of the United States in those talks regarding significant regional issues clearly draws attention at this time when not only Turkey, but also EU countries are confused by Trump's rigid economic policies toward Europe, experts noted.