AMANDA – Dealing with Ankara becomes increasingly challenging

Dealing with Ankara becomes increasingly challengingIn todayand#39s Turkey, one day Ankara declares that relations with its partners in the West and strengthening democracy are a priority, only to take measures to undermine civil liberties and freedoms and brand the very same partners part of a conspiracy plot against the government the following day. At breakfast, Turkeyand#39s leadership says ties with the EU are crucially important, but by dinner time the EU has been told to keep its nose out of Turkeyand#39s business with Ankara getting into bed with the Kremlin.

This state of affairs is becoming increasingly frustrating for Turkeyand#39s Euro-Atlantic partners. Turkey is a long-standing strategic ally of the West, deeply embedded in the Euro-Atlantic structures.

A NATO member since 1952, Turkey is no ordinary member Not only does Ankara have the second-largest military after the US, it is also the southeastern flank, making it a crucial cog in the NATO apparatus. At the crossroads between the East and the West, a bridge between the Black and Caspian seas, Turkey is a geostrategic lynchpin.

Yet today, Turkey has become the most controversial NATO member, often at odds with its allies, accused of pushing policies that are frequently out of sync with its Euro-Atlantic partners.While the US continues to call Turkey a strategic partner, trust between Washington and Ankara has nose-dived.

The approach of Turkeyand#39s leadership toward a number of issues has left many in Washington grinding their teeth in frustration. This includes the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as IS), with Turkey accused of taking steps to help IS rather than having a committed approach to supporting efforts to wipe them out, and Russiaand#39s illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine.

Ankaraand#39s only very mild critique of Russiaand#39s aggression despite the high importance that Turkey places on territorial integrity, Ankaraand#39s refusal to support sanctions on Russia and the fact that President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan rolled out such a thick red carpet for the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin a few weeks ago, set alarm bells ringing. With Putin having undermined European security and ErdoIan pursuing an increasingly unpredictable foreign policy, there is deep concern about what the consequences of an ever-closer relationship could be, and hence, Ankaraand#39s flirting with the Kremlin is of significant concern.

The fracturing of ties between the West and Russia has been a window of opportunity for ErdoIan. Russiaand#39s desire to have Turkey as a key partner has underlined Turkeyand#39s strategic importance.

Despite the fact that Putin and ErdoIan do not see eye to eye on many things, there are still many things that connect them They both began as reformers, only to move toward a macho, authoritarian-style governance, both having created a vertical power (the one at the top decides and everybody else accepts it) and both have the narrative that the West is conspiring against them While ErdoIan is yet to give a final green light to Russia, we should not presume that he will not, simply because of Turkeyand#39s long history with the West. ErdoIan wants to remain popular, particularly with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) heading into parliamentary elections.

Keeping the Turkish economy on a sound footing is one of his priorities, and if a sweet deal with Russia can do that, then he may go ahead. Aware of the Westand#39s unhappiness, ErdoIan is making the most of this situation, as it increases his clout and ability to negotiate on key issues important to him Unfortunately, it also further reduces the Westand#39s influence on Turkey.

This was clearly visible following the recent visit of the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. Almost as soon as she returned home, the police operation arresting numerous journalists was launched, fully violating media freedom, when only a few days earlier Ankara had told her how committed they were to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the mediaWhile neither the EU nor NATO may like the current approach of Turkeyand#39s leadership, it seems there is little they can do about it.

While Turkey may not always act like a transatlantic ally, its location, military clout and long history in the alliance, including particularly close ties with the US military, give it leverage, making Turkey an irreplaceable component of the transatlantic community, for better or worse.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman