The West needs Turkey if it sees Russia as a top threat
Important decisions will be taken in the near future concerning Turkey’s future relationship with the West and its place within the Western political and security structure.
The EU Council will discuss measures against Turkey when the heads of the state and governments of 27 member countries meet on Dec. 10 and 11. In the same week, the United States Congress will likely vote on the 2021
National Defense Authorization Act which includes a special section about implementing the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey for purchasing the S-400s from Russia.
Both processes will certainly have implications on Turkey’s ties with the United States and the European Union, meaning they could have a long-term disruptive impact on Turkey’s place and the roles it has been playing within the Western alliance for decades. Consequently, isolating Turkey and distancing it from the West could create some very serious gaps within the Western security architecture.
For the record, the NATO 2030 report cites Russia as the top threat for the alliance in the coming decade and recommends that NATO countries adopt strategies to counter it. It will also be no surprise to see Washington adopt a sharper stance against Russia under the incoming Biden administration, which will try to activate the trans-Atlantic unity to this end.
That leaves a very important question: What benefit would the West get by imposing sanctions on a country like Turkey, which defended the alliance’s southern flank against the Soviets throughout the Cold War and is countering Russia in various conflict theaters like Syria and Libya?
It was Turkey that stopped an onslaught by the Syrian army, which is heavily backed by Russia, in Syria’s Idlib province and contributed to the launch of a political transition process. It was again Turkey that protected the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli against General Khalifa Haftar’s troops, who are backed by Russia, France and some Gulf countries.
If the inter-Libya peace process is possible today, it’s thanks to the Turkish intervention, as many responsible and unbiased government officials from both Washington and Europe have said. Turkey’s support for Ukraine and its firm denunciation of the Russian annexation of Crimea should also be considered an example of the constructive role Turkey is playing in its region.
Turkey’s relationship with Russia is pragmatic and prioritizes regional stability and security. Turkey has made it clear that its deepening bilateral dialogue with Russia is not an alternative to its ties with the West, particularly NATO.
Without question, the last couple of years have generated questions in the West about Turkey’s intentions in the foreign policy realm. However, Europeans should also question their stances toward Turkey in the same period and whether they are also to blame for this growing distance.
As recently stressed by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the inability of the United States and the European Union to show up in said conflict areas has paved the way for Russian penetration. Maas also cites Turkey’s growing presence in those areas without clarifying why Turkey has been abandoned all this time. They should also explain why they decided to withdraw the Patriot air defense system from Turkey when their ally most needed it. Or why the United States did not sell the Patriots to Turkey, pushing it to purchase S-400s from Russia.
Yes, there is a problem today between Turkey and the West, but putting all the blame on Turkey is unfair.
Now, Washington and Brussels are about to make another mistake by casting Turkey away further from the Western political hemisphere. Imposing sanctions on Turkey at the behest of Greece, Greek Cyprus and France will just reflect the European Union’s lack of strategic vision.
The eastern Mediterranean dispute can only be resolved through multilateral dialogue – not unilateral actions like Greece and Greek Cyprus have been pursuing over the last two decades.