U.S.-Turkish differences on background of NATO summit

The Senior Researcher of the Department of Contemporary History of Central and South-Eastern Europe at the Institute of Slavic Studies, candidate of historical sciences Ilgar Mammadov
U.S.-Turkish differences on background of NATO summit

A NATO foreign ministerial meeting took place on April 3-4 in Washington, which saw serious disagreements between the United States, on the one side, and Germany and Turkey, on the other, in the context of discussions on Russia.


On April 3, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has drawn attention of Turkey and Germany to their dealings with Russia, saying that Ankara makes "reckless decisions" and warning Berlin it risks becoming a "captive" of Moscow.

Pence voiced U.S. opposition to Turkey's purchase of a Russian air-defense system, saying: "Turkey must choose. Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making such reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?"Washington has said it is halting deliveries to Turkey related to the F-35 program in response to Ankara's purchase of the Russian missile system.

On April 3, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington and warned, in stark language, "of the potentially devastating consequences of unilateral Turkish military action" against the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria. Highlighting the wide-range of issues that impact U.S.-Turkish relations, Pompeo also demanded "the swift resolution of cases involving unjustly detained" U.S. citizens and local staff who were employed at U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey.

Cavusoglu said that it was "unacceptable" for Washington to insist that Turkey cannot buy a defense system from another country but would not sell any to Turkey either. The Turkish minister said that "the S-400 deal is a done deal and we will not step back from this." [1] "We are not choosing between Russia and any other allies. We don't see our relations with Russia as an alternative to our relations with others. Moreover, nobody, neither the West nor Russia, should or can ask us to choose," he added. [2]

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay in response to Pence's comments said "The United States must choose. Does it want to remain Turkey's ally or risk our friendship by joining forces with terrorists to undermine its NATO ally's defense against its enemies?" [3]

Washington's statements were a reaction to deepening Turkish-Russian cooperation.

Despite the fact that Turkey has repeatedly voiced concerns for its national security over the presence of the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, the U.S. has shown no sign of a coherent stance and has attempted to justify its close partnership with the terrorist group in the name of its fight against ISIS (banned in Russia). [4]

But the problem does not end there. During the press briefing on April 2, State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino was asked about Turkey's ruling party contesting the March 31 elections, that it lost in Istanbul and Ankara. The journalist asked whether the party's challenge to the election results could undermine their integrity. Palladino said that free and fair elections are essential for any democracy, and it means acceptance of legitimate election results are essential, and the United States expects nothing less from Turkey. [5]

The Justice and Development Party's reaction was not long in coming. It condemned the U.S. attempts to influence the results of Turkey's local elections. On April 4, AK Party Spokesman Ömer Çelik, referring to comments made by U.S. State Department spokesman, said that it was incomprehensible for him to make such a statement which could be interpreted as meddling in the election process and results in Turkey: "No foreign government or body's statement will serve as the source of legitimacy for the election results." Celik added that only Turkey's Supreme Election Council (YSK) could give legitimacy to the vote. [6]

Analysts say the Turkish lira could ultimately be the casualty of any U.S.-Turkish showdown, as was the case last year because of the U.S. sanctions over the detention in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson. Growing financial concerns about the Turkish economy saw Turkey's Central Bank forced to use unprecedented measures to support the currency earlier this month to quell heavy lira falls. The currency declines were triggered by local Turks converting savings to foreign currency, along with international investors exiting the market amid economic concerns. [7]

Analysis and conclusions

The number of disagreements between the U.S, and Turkey is growing. These are concerns about U.S. policy in Iraqi Kurdistan, the U.S. S-400 ultimatum and sanctions in this regard, interfering in Turkey’s elections, supporting the YPG, refusing to extradite Gulen, demanding release of U.S. citizens accused of participating in the 2016 coup attempt, financial sanctions. Public ultimatums of senior U.S. officials and Turkey's public opposition to it suggest that the parties are committed to their positions and are likely to uphold them. It is obvious that the United States no longer relies on Turkey. The change in the current government and the partition of the country, along with the division of neighboring countries, seem like the most likely U.S. goals. It will only cause further deepening of contradictions and tensions.

Turkey has been brought back to 1945, when, due to the territorial claims of the USSR, it was forced to seek protection from the United States, then joined the Western bloc. Now it's exactly the opposite. The U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish forces linked to the PKK and an ultimatum regarding the Russian air defense system designed to protect Turkey are considered by Ankara as a security threat and cause concern. Moreover, this threat is created and supported by the Americans. The interests of Turkey and Russia coincide here. Cooperation on Syria and the Turkish Stream, not to mention other projects, has brought Moscow and Ankara closer. Opportunities have been opened for Russia, but there can be others. The danger of separatism, relations with Greece and Armenia are considered the key unresolved issues of Turkey's national security. Holding dialogue on these issues, deepening military-technical interaction, considering measures to counter currency instability could be new areas of partnership between Turkey and Russia. It could serve the further rapprochement of the two countries, as it was a hundred years ago, when young countries struggled with the collective west. This cooperation would ensure national security, could change the balance of power in the Middle East and South-East Europe.

[1] US Vice President Warns Turkey, Germany Over Deals with Russia, April 04, 2019 // Radio Free Europe. Radio Liberty. Russia. 

[2] Johns D. US-Turkish tensions Rise Amid Warnings of Rupture, April 04, 2019 // Global Security. Weapons of Mass Destruction. 

[3] US Vice President Warns Turkey…

[4] US fails to address Turkey’s security concerns in plans for Syria, 05.04.2019 // Daily Sabah. Politics. Diplomacy. 

[5] Department Press Briefing, April 2, 2019 // US Department of State. Press. Department Press Briefing. 

[6] AK party condemns foreign interference in Turkey’s election, 05.04.2019 // Daily Sabah. Politics. Elections. 

[7] Johns D. US-Turkish tensions Rise Amid Warnings of Rupture, April 04, 2019 // Global Security. Weapons of Mass Destruction.