US’ messages to keep Turkey away from Russia

US’ messages to keep Turkey away from Russia

During the last Eid al-Adha holiday, the session held at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Turkey was very informative in terms of being able to read the course of relations with the U.S. both for the administration and the Congress.

The meeting was also crucial in following the traces of the meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Joe Biden during the NATO summit in Brussels last month.

The participation of many senators in this session, where the administration was represented by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, and the fact that very detailed questions were asked, shows that the Turkey case is closely and seriously being followed by the senate.

When we take a look at Nuland’s statements, the Biden administration is trying to manage its relations with Turkey, which has taken on a very complex structure, by dividing the current situation into three separate categories.

In the first group, there are areas where the two countries share the same point of view and cooperate well by following the same policies. In the second group, there are the issues that the two countries do not look at from the same point but try to close the differences of views between them. The third group includes problems that the U.S. deeply disagrees on with the Turkish government.

Nuland also lists the criticisms and expectations of the Biden administration regarding the problems in democracy and human rights in Turkey under a separate topic.

‘Turkey’s contribution to Kabul will be vital’

NATO comes first in the initial category where strong cooperation takes place. Nuland states that Turkey has made very important contributions to NATO’s missions in various parts of the world. Likewise, she considers economic cooperation, where the bilateral trade volume exceeds $20 billion, as a positive agenda. It places special emphasis on increasing cooperation in the energy and liquefied natural gas (LNG) field.

The U.S. State Department official includes the topics of combating terrorism and deterring the harmful influence of Russia and Iran in the Middle East among the priorities shared by the two countries. She lists Turkey’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia and their accession to NATO as another common ground. It is possible to conclude from this statement that the issues related to the Black Sea have brought Turkey and the United States closer.

Nuland explains that Turkey’s contribution to the security of the airport in the Afghan capital of Kabul will be “vital.” She states that with Turkey’s contribution, the U.S. and its partners will be able to maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Another statement of Nuland that should be underlined is that Turkey’s presence in northwest Syria has protected 4 million Syrians from being the target of the Assad regime. These words should be seen as an expression of strong U.S. support for Turkish military presence in the area extending from Idlib to the Euphrates Shield region. The U.S. official also notes that this presence of Turkey prevents a new humanitarian disaster, and in this context, a new wave of migration influx towards itself and to Europe.

‘Turkey, Russia to simultaneously withdraw mercenaries from Libya’

Although there is an agreement between the two countries in terms of the final political goal in Nuland’s statements, Libya appears as an area that requires negotiation on the topic of the withdrawal of mercenaries. An interesting statement by Nuland here is, “Both Turkey and Russia have declared at the highest level that they will support the withdrawal of the mercenaries, but that they will act in tandem on this issue. We are talking with Kubis, the U.N.’s representative in Libya, about how a synchronized withdrawal could be.”

From this statement, we understand that the elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), under the control of Turkey, and Russia’s Wagner Group may withdraw from Libya in a synchronized manner in the coming period.

Meanwhile, Nuland also says that the U.S. is giving strong messages to Turkey to avoid actions and regional conflicts that will endanger long-term stability.

While saying, “We want Turkey’s leaders to deal with the disagreements in the region through diplomacy rather than provocative actions or rhetoric,” Nuland also reminds the committee that they condemn Erdoğan’s statements regarding the opening of some parts of Varosha in Cyprus.

‘We are offering ways out to Turkey on S-400s’

As expected, the most fundamental difference in opinions is in the S-400 topic. “President Biden has been very open with President Erdoğan. We continue to oppose Turkey’s purchase and deployment of Russian S-400 air defense systems. We have also made it clear that the purchase of new weapons from Russia will bring additional [Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act] CAATSA sanctions,” Nuland says.

Nuland also notes that she “cannot understand” how a NATO member can risk their interests both in terms of security and economy by buying this system from Russia. “As with the last contact at the highest level, we continue to offer them various ways out. Our discussions on this issue will continue.”

From this statement, it is understood that some suggestions brought by the U.S. to overcome the problem of S-400s are on the table.

‘We should strengthen Turkey’s place in the trans-Atlantic family’

A remarkable question and answer session at the conference came with questions from Republican Utah Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney, on the motives for which Erdoğan bought the S-400s from Russia, asked, “Is there a possibility that this is a step taken by Erdoğan to get closer to Russia? How would you describe the relationship between Erdoğan and Putin? Are they close? Are they cooperative? Does Erdoğan hope to play the EU and the U.S. against Russia? Or is it really moving strongly in that direction?”

The answer by Nuland, in a nutshell, is significant because it shows how the U.S. views the Turkey-Russia rapprochement in terms of its own interests: “Our interests are clear. And that is to strengthen the place of Turkey and the Turkish people with us as much as possible in the trans-Atlantic and NATO family and to prevent the deepening of cooperation and dependence, especially with Russia, in security, energy, or any field that will benefit from this. During the last administration’s term, the relationship between Turkey and Russia deepened considerably. It started in Syria and expanded into other areas. In my opinion, I cannot speak for the Turks, but what I feel is that there is some buyer [customer] regret in Ankara regarding this relationship...”

The U.S. undersecretary also explains that at this point, problems arose between Turkey and Russia in Karabakh and that the two countries faced each other in Libya.

At the end of these statements, Nuland says, “I think there is an opportunity here if we continue to be in dialogue with our Turkish allies in order to bring them back to have them closer to us. But we have a lot of work to do.”

In Nuland’s statements, we see that the idea of keeping Turkey in the Western camp against Russia is dominant.

We will continue to evaluate her statements.

Sedat Ergin,