Gothic romance between Turkey, Russia and US

Gothic romance between Turkey, Russia and US

The scene made headlines in all the Turkish media, with the Turks boasting merrily amid sulking by the United States: At the G-20 last year in Antalya, Obama’s infatuation with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The world is watching this love triangle and it’s constantly changing plotlines, as in a Gothic romance full of dark mysteries, where the “tragic heroine” is made to choose between two male suitors, one cheerful and charming, the other secretive and brooding.   

This time the sinister one is the U.S. as Turkey turns toward anti-Americanism… A survey released by the MAK Consultancy Company indicates that 90 percent of Turks do not trust the U.S. Only 4 percent consider the Americans as trusted allies.  

Meanwhile, the American media is becoming Turkophobic, as Turks accuse the U.S. of complicity in the attempted July 15 coup. This new wave of anti-Americanism poses a serious risk to NATO, relations with the U.S., and Turkey’s long-term stability. Erdoğan has accused the West of not condemning the coup loudly enough. The legal request to extradite Fethullah Gülen remains unanswered, with the U.S. claiming to have no evidence of culpability and criticizing Erdoğan for excessive purges in the aftermath of the putsch’s failure. 

In a New York Times article, George Haddad points out, “What to do with a vital ally that is veering far from democratic norms? American officials say they have begun to study options, including whether NATO might one day have to decide on some kind of consequences, so far unspecified, for antidemocratic behavior. The expectation in Washington is that tensions over Mr. Gülen will worsen, and could draw Turkey closer to Russia.” 

Would this renewed romance be reliable in the long-term? How to keep the cheerful, charming partner permanently out? Here are some facts for Turkey to take into account as it learns from past mistakes:

Turkey must chart a sensible policy toward Syria, and not try to force Bashar al-Assad out. The G-20 has shown that Russia has no objections to Turkey’s incursion into Syria to clear the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from its neighboring border areas. Both agree on securing the integrity of Syria, but Turkey will have to make a decision when the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which it supports, confronts the forces of al-Assad. This is a “to be or not to be” moment for Turkey. 

Russia has already lifted its economic sanctions, and Russian tourists are flocking to Turkey, whose tourism income has diminished by 65 percent. The two sides are thinking of establishing the advanced, Russian-made S-400 air defense system in Turkey. But let’s remember what happened when Turkey announced its intention to purchase Chinese missiles in 2013. NATO officials voiced concerns about security and the compatibility with NATO systems, leading Turkey to finally cancel the deal. Two details are worth noting here:

Turkey gave up the deal just days before the G-20 meeting in Antalya in 2015, and the Chinese missile company CPMIEC is on the U.S. blacklist for violating the prohibition on cooperating with North Korea, Iran and Syria. Having said that, isn’t Turkey a free state that can make its own decisions? Russia and its allies will not tolerate more back-stabbing, and letting it down would lead to irreparable consequences. 
Turkey has another chance to renew cooperation with Russia. It will all depend on how sincerely and realistically Turkey tackles its “to be or not to be” issues. 

*Serkan Aydın is a PhD student and teaching assistant at the School of Politics, University of Leeds, UK.