Why is Turkey clashing with countries it calls its ‘friends’

One by one, clashes have been witnessed between Ankara and all these “friends,” the latest case involving the Russian leader. Through the entire course of the history of the Turkish Republic, it is possible that relations between Turkey and Russia were never as good as they had been with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin in power. The two leaders have had — until now — a relationship based on mutual trust, with clear red lines and “gentlemen’s agreements” shaping things. Even the fact that Turkey and Russia were supporting different sides in Syria didn’t seem to affect the Putin-Erdogan relations. The common denomiNATOr that has bound Erdogan and his “friend” Putin until today has been their mutual tendency to resist political values such as Western style democracy, pluralism, transparency and accountability. They have also both been interested in cooperating when it comes to arenas of easy profit, notably energy. Under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, Turkey has maintained a lower profile and less of an assertive foreign policy presence in Central Asia than during any other republic government. Ankara has been careful not to make an entrance into Putin’s energy basin in any way that would openly compete with Russia. In fact, under the AKP, Ankara went as far as declaring some of the Turkistan opposition in China “terrorists” so as to maintain good relations with Beijing; while making it clear it stood on the side of land unity for China, Ankara also appealed to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to take it on as a member, saying “save us from the gates of the EU.”

So the question needs to be asked: how is it that the same Turkey, who was enjoying such strong and good relations with Russia, decided to solve a minor air space violation not with diplomacy but rather by bringing down a jet, thereby causing a military clash and many firsts on the NATO front? Although Turkey has had a few incidents in the past where it has brought down aircraft belonging to other countries — though always within the framework of engagement rules — announcements about these incidents have always been made to the public by the military’s General Staff headquarters. This time, why did the Turkish public hear about it from President Erdogan directly? Also, which of the two leaders was the first to break the gentlemen’s agreement that helped shaped the relations between them?

Did Turkey try to reclaim its esteem?

Is what we are seeing an attempt by Ankara to regain some lost esteem, by firing on a Russian jet and then looking Moscow straight in the eye? After all, this is the same Turkey whose own planes have been brought down in the past, whose ship was hit on international waters by both Israel and Libya, and whose consuls have been kidnapped. But if, perchance, this is the case, then why only a few minutes after the plane came down did NATO call an emergency meeting?

It seems quite odd that the same politicians who have relied until now on tired Middle Eastern style clichés about “foreign powers allied on a crusade,” or “this and that lobby” and a whole host of other conspiracy theories go knocking on NATO’s doors the moment that there was gunfire exchanged. If in fact Turkey fired on that Russian jet believing that NATO would come to its rescue, then we need to hang a big padlock on the front gates of our Foreign Ministry and tell someone — a son in law, a cousin, anyone — to come and watch the business while we hide in the corner.

From the very first days of the Syrian crisis, the attitude of the West has been something akin to “I’m staying out of this one; if Turkey really wants to get in, though, it should get on its rain boots and head over.” Just as NATO has never squared off against Russia in the wake of the latter’s presence in both Ossetia and the Ukraine, it is going to react accordingly in this situation as well. And in this vein, the first reactions after the jet came down to come in from our strategic partner, the US, were also notable. Pentagon spokesperson Steve Warren said: “It is an incident between the governments of Russia and Turkey. It is not something which concerns the US.” This statement alone appears to be a clear and concise summation of some of the problems we’re about to face in the near future.

What sort of retaliation can we expect?

The Russian public is not accustomed to these sorts of situations. Nor is the Turkish public accustomed to their country firing on a superpower’s military jets. The most recent situation we have to look to is when Turkey bombed the Russian ports in Sivastopol and Odessa — a participatory act that was part of World War I — and I think we can all recall how that film ended. There is now very serious pressure being placed on Putin to retaliate somehow against Turkey. Moscow now perceives Ankara as a backstabbing enemy whose real aim herein is to protect the terrorists. Putin, who believes strongly that Erdogan has trampled the red lines between them, has declared “They betrayed me.” There is little doubt that Moscow is already preparing to release documents that will damage Turkey’s reputation and standing on the global level. It is also likely that Moscow will now fiddle with both energy and foreign trade faucets, trying to trigger economic imbalance in Turkey. What’s more, in its aim to overcome its dependence on Moscow’s natural gas, Ankara had awarded a bidding tender for new nuclear energy facilities to a Russian firm.

The fact that we have arrived so quickly at a flashpoint with Moscow, despite what appeared to be such strong relations, is cause for us to question our foreign policy choices.

It appears likely that Turkey, in favoring short-term interest choices over long-term planning, is going to be seen by the rest of the world as a typical Middle East-style country in its choices.

Why is Turkey always wrong?

With Ankara choosing a set of foreign policies based not on principles and values, but rather on its interests alone, it is now destined to experience in relations with Moscow something similar to what it had not long ago with both Damascus and Tehran: intense and close ties, followed by clashes.

Our archives are open and clear; many times in the past, we have asserted that when forming foreign policy relations with countries whose values we do not share, there are going to be limitations as to how close we get and that we need to operate on this reality. When Turkey was busy holding joint cabinet meetings with the Assad government, those who gave warnings were scorned as not being able to understand the “new Turkey.” It appears that those at the helm of Turkey were blind to the concrete borders that define relations with neighbors, no matter how wonderful it may be to foster closer relations.

After all, if your security fears are legitimate and you act within the framework of engagement rules, you can bring down any plane you wish, whether it be Russian or American. But where was this bravado when just yesterday Ankara was appealing to the SCO to take it, or handing over its presence in the lands of Central Asia to Moscow on a silver platter? When you do not share decision-making process styles or values with the same countries you champion as being your “friends,” it is inevitable that you will experience clashes with them sooner or later. Last week, for the first time ever, a NATO member brought down a Russian plane. Though this might make Ankara a “hero” for some on the domestic front in the short term, it will be seen in the outside world as proving that Turkey is an unpredictable actor. Don’t misread me though; the Syrian problem is just one of the AKP’s historic mistakes. And Ankara’s failure to read the situation correctly on both domestic and foreign fronts is something for which we may well pay even more heavily in the near future.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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