Commentary, Politics

Turkey and Russia-Iran turbulence

It is too early to describe the joint Western reaction against Moscow as a new cold war. Unlike the Cold War, the current confrontation does not stem from ideological differences. Quite the contrary, both Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts to transform his country into a strong global power and Trump's "America First" policy reflect a similar brand of nationalism.

The supposedly weakening NATO took a united stand in the wake of a former Russian spy’s poisoning in London. The joint decision by Western governments to expel alleged Russian spies was a huge diplomatic success for the United Kingdom. Still, it was noteworthy that the United States stole Europe’s thunder by kicking out 60 Russian diplomats.

Currently under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller over his alleged role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, U.S. President Donald Trump sent a strong message to domestic audiences by taking a strong stance against Russia.

First of all, it is too early to describe the joint Western reaction against Moscow as a new cold war. Unlike the Cold War, the current confrontation does not stem from ideological differences. Quite the contrary, both Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to transform his country into a strong global power and Trump’s “America First” policy reflect a similar brand of nationalism. Again, Putin faces criticism for violating international norms, but Trump has significantly weakened the idea of a Western bloc by shunning multilateral agreements such as NATO.

The two sides of the Atlantic Ocean have a variety of disagreements today. Europeans are unhappy with Washington’s newfound nationalist fervor and attempts at transforming the global trade regime. Trump’s eagerness to launch a trade war against China and cancel the Iran nuclear deal, among other things, are unpopular in Europe.

Still, Europe and the U.S. could potentially work more closely against Russia. In the Western public, there is an emerging consensus on the need to stop Russian expansionism under Putin. It is possible to view Washington’s strong response to the spy row as a new stage in Trump’s Russia policy. After all, former U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to reset U.S.-Russian relations, along with Washington’s attempt to bring Moscow to its knees by hitting it with economic sanctions after the annexation of Crimea, failed to yield the desired results.

In recent years, Putin has skillfully exploited Washington’s unwillingness to meet its global responsibilities. In addition to strengthening Moscow’s influence in the Middle East by intervening in the Syrian civil war, Putin mounted pressure on Europe. At this point, the U.S. is not just searching for a new policy on China, North Korea and Iran, it also must work with NATO members in Europe to contain Russia. The current situation maximizes Turkey’s geopolitical and strategic significance in the international arena. Despite the various problems plaguing the country’s relationship with the EU, European leaders committed to continue talks at the summit in Varna, Bulgaria last month. To be clear, this decision was not simply about the refugee crisis. Instead, it reflected Ankara’s important role in efforts to promote European security and as a potential counterbalance to Russia and Iran. Although Ankara provided a limited response to the spy crisis, saying that using chemical weapons was a crime against humanity, it is possible that Turkey’s allies will expect the country to take a stronger stance against Russia. As the West concentrates on Russia and Iran, Turkey will encounter new opportunities but will be compelled to make some difficult decisions, even in some limited areas. Moving forward, Turkish diplomats will work on the S-400 missile defense deal with Moscow, the emerging balance of power in Syria and Iran’s containment in the Middle East. It is no secret that a new wave of turbulence will hit the region due to Western actions against Russia and Iran.

Under the circumstances, Ankara seeks to accomplish some goal in its fight against the PKK terrorist organization and its Syrian affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG). Last month, the National Security Council issued a written statement reiterating the country’s commitment to use hard power if the YPG refuses to leave Manbij. According to sources, the meetings between Turkish and U.S. officials have been going well and it would not be a total surprise if YPG militants withdraw from Manbij soon. The main source of disagreement between Turkey and the U.S., however, relates to the YPG militants east of the Euphrates. From Washington’s perspective, it is time to formulate a new Syria policy provided that the Syrian civil war sets the tone for the U.S.’s relations with Russia, Iran and Turkey. Although U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) calls many shots on the ground, recently appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton could have a serious impact on U.S. policy in Syria. To be clear, a recent discussion between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron on the need to cooperate with Turkey in Syria was a good sign. Meanwhile, CENTCOM made it clear that it would keep walking down the same road by overseeing the creation of the Syria’s Future Party in an effort to blend YPG militants and Sunni Arabs.

Source: Daily Sabah

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Burhanettin Duran received his B.A. in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University in 1993 and obtained his Ph.D in Political Science from Bilkent University in 2001. Currently, Dr. Duran is a Professor at Ibn Haldun University and the General Coordinator of SETA Foundation.