Turkey sides with Russia over UK
There is no sign that the crisis over the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter last month between the United Kingdom and Russia will be resolved any time soon. On the contrary, the crisis is in a process of spreading, with many NATO and European Union countries siding with Britain in the dispute, expelling scores of Russian diplomats.
This stance of prominent Western countries is more than a show of solidarity for the United Kingdom. It is also about an impending major crisis between Russia and the West, amid concerns that a new version of the Cold War will be revived.
However, Turkey seems to be unaffected by this crisis. In the early days of the crisis, senior officials made it clear that Ankara will not follow its Western allies and will not expel any Russian diplomats. The Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, underlined that Turkey joined a NATO decision condemning the use of chemical weapons (though it did not directly blame Russia).
Turkey’s stance in this crisis is complicated because it enjoys good relations with both main actors of this diplomatic row. The United Kingdom was the first – and perhaps only - Western country to have acknowledged that the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) was behind the July 2016 coup attempt, and has therefore shown sincere solidarity with Turkey.
The U.K.’s approach to Turkey became even more positive after the Brexit vote as London decided to develop ties with its NATO ally Ankara, both politically and economically. Talks for a free trade agreement between the two countries have already been launched, with plans to accomplish them once Brexit fully takes place in the coming years.
As for Turkey, the U.K. has always had a privileged position. In contrast with many continental EU members, London seemed to be better aligned with Turkey’s conditions and concerns, particularly on the fight against terrorism and regional developments.
However, through the ongoing spy crisis Turkey has made it clear that the U.K. will always come after Russia. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for two days in the Turkish capital last week and there were no signs that this crisis even came onto their agenda.
Instead, Erdoğan and Putin joined the groundbreaking ceremony for Turkey’s first nuclear plant, signed multiple bilateral agreements, and decided on early delivery of S-400 ballistic missile systems. Putin’s latest visit to Ankara was a clear indication that Ankara-Moscow ties are growing through a more strategic vision.
It should also be recalled that Turkish territories have witnessed the killing of senior Chechen resistance leaders in the past, and there were serious traces that Russian intelligence could be behind of these incidents. Turkey back then also preferred not to make these killings a matter of controversy with Russia. There thus seems little incentive for Turkey to make the poisoning of former Russian spies on British soil the cause of a diplomatic row with Russia.
Turkey is trying to act like there is no crisis between Russia and the U.K. or the West. But the logical result of this approach is that Turkey ends up siding with Russia over the U.K., one of its few friends in the Western camp. This incident will end up being considered yet more evidence that Ankara is drifting away from the Western bloc.