The distrust is not confined to the think tank community. Shortly before assuming his new position, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Turkey a “so-called ally” and openly questioned Erdogan’s trustworthiness. Washington and her European allies will join forces. It did not take long for the State Department to act on Biden’s new – one is tempted to say ‘traditional’ – guiding principles of US diplomacy. German mediation has been the main driver of the resumption of the Turkish-Greek diplomatic process. The Washington-based analyst goes on to paint a grim picture of the state of US-Turkish affairs: “The Turkish government views the United States as a strategic threat rather than an ally, and a growing majority in Washington have come to view Turkey the same way.”
Listening to the pundits, it’s hard to overhear that Erdogan’s Turkey has an image problem in the United States. EU-Turkey relations have deteriorated dramatically. The appointee is a staunch loyalist of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Among the various controversies at hand, the S-400issue is arguably the most serious. For the Americans, Ankara’s S-400 deal with Putin’s Russia has been, and will continue to be, a red flag. For similar but not necessarily identical reasons, the Europeans too are not on good terms with Erdogan. Meanwhile, the Turks have engaged in a notable diplomatic effort to repair the damaged relations with the European Union. What we are seeing for the moment is a good-cop-bad-cop scenario with Washington cracking the whip and Europe, particularly Berlin, playing the mediator and showing a friendly face. The coming months will show whether this division of labor will lead to a behavioral change in Turkish politics. Ever since, not a week has gone by without verbal scuffles between the two governments. No state can give order to Turkish courts on judicial proceedings”, the Turkish foreign ministry said as it lashed out. In response to the police crackdown against students protesting against Erdogan’s appointment of a highly unpopular new rector at Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University, Washington made a fundamental point: “The US prioritizes the protection of Human Rights and stands shoulder to shoulder with all those fighting for democratic freedoms,” the spokesman of the State Department said. “Turkey is a state of law. This, in turn, led to a de-escalation of a potentially explosive situation on NATO’s southeastern flank. Among the first statements on Turkey from the Biden camp after coming into office was that the US stands firm on the sanctions: “We continue to urge Turkey not to retain the system,” the State Department said. Russia and Turkey agreed to a ceasefire in Syrian Idlib starting from 06 March. In recent years, the quality of this relationship has gone from bad to worse. Since its founding, the head of the university was chosen in a free election process, February 13, 2021. “Turkey has increasingly found itself on the wrong side of almost all of Washington’s friends,” writes Nicholas Danforth. The Turks argue they had no choice but to buy Russia’s rockets after the West refused to sell weapons of an equal quality. The United States – and with it, the world in general – is seeing the first indications of a radical policy shift, with possible far-reaching implications. Since his incarceration in 2017, Kavala has become a symbol of the peaceful resistance against Erdogan’s surging authoritarianism. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Good cop, bad cop? His policy towards Turkey will be more pro-active and value-based. Shortly thereafter, the State Department called for the immediate release from prison of Turkish philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala. It is not clear yet how Ankara will cope with Washington’s tough talk. EPA-EFE//SEDAT SUNA
The war of words is proof of the degradation of the bilateral relations. For the Americans, the purchase of the weapons is a political sin akin to betrayal and needs to be corrected before things get back to normal. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, used the term “watershed moment” when talking about EU-Turkey relations. Clinical Psychologist Melis Akyurek sits in her Istanbul home with an ankle bracelet attached to her right leg after she was placed under arrest for having taken part in a protest against the appointment of a new rector of Bogazici University. When Erdogan invested in the hyper-modern weaponry he must have been aware that by so doing he crossed a red line. US policy was guided by a laissez-faire-approach towards Trump’s personal friend – Erdogan. Under the threat of EU sanctions, Ankara has withdrawn its research vessels from the disputed maritime zones. I advise against too much optimism. Biden will end the coziness. In the final days of the Trump administration, the US Congress imposed sanctions on Turkey over its possession of the Russian missile system. The government in Ankara will sooner or later need to get used to the new rhetoric, and possibly more. The main reason for the downward spiral are – to quote from the conclusions of the EU leaders’ summit in December – Turkey’s “unilateral actions and provocations” in the dispute over energy claims in the Eastern Mediterranean. epa08272926 Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shake hands during a joint news conference following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 05 March 2020. EPA-EFE//MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV
These are not good times for Turkey’s relations with the West. With Donald Trump in the White House, everything was more relaxed. The new president’s emphasis on democracy, freedom and the rule of law as guidelines for American foreign policy have not go unheard in the Turkish capital. Berlin has made it clear it will continue to work for a rapprochement between Athens and Ankara. The Americans and Europeans have announced that they intend to work together to address global challenges, including on how best to deal with Erdogan’s Turkey. While Ankara’s democratic backsliding, the dismal state of human rights and the rule of law used to top the list of Western concerns, Erdogan’s assertive – one may also call it aggressive – foreign policy decisions are now the main cause of discord. One major point of contention that radiates beyond the bilateral level, and affects Turkey’s relationship with the Western Alliance as a whole, is the issue of Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system. More than other problems, it symbolizes the advanced alienation in the strained relationship. How the US and Europe want to deal with Erdogan’s Turkey
By Ronald Meinardus
Political commentator and analyst, he heads the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s office in Istanbul. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL MANDATORY CREDIT
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shake hands during a joint news conference following bilateral talks in the Kremlin. European diplomats in Ankara refer to a downward spiral to describe the relationship.