The United States and Turkey are on a collision course. Although the two countries have been NATO allies for nearly 70 years, that partnership has gradually deteriorated over the past few years. KINGSLEY OPURUM attempts an X-ray of ties between the two countries which have taken a real nose-dive in the last six months.
On December, 2020 United States President Donald Trump’s administration slammed sanctions on its NATO ally , Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air defence system, setting the stage for a further confrontation between the two nations as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
The move comes at a delicate time in frosty relations between Washington and Ankara, which have been at loggerheads for more than a year over Turkey’s acquisition from Russia of the S-400 missile defence system, along with Turkish actions in Syria, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish defence ministry rejected claims that the S-400 systems will jeopardise NATO systems. “President Trump himself has admitted on many instances that Turkey’s acquisition was justified,” the ministry said in a statement.
It said Turkey “will retaliate in a manner and timing it deems appropriate” and urged “the US to reconsider this unfair decision”.
The US sanctions target Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries, the country’s military procurement agency, its chief Ismail Demir and three other senior officials. The penalties block any assets the four officials may have in US jurisdictions and bar their entry into the US. They also include a ban on most export licences, loans and credits to the agency.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently condemned US sanctions on Turkey over the purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system as “illegitimate”.
“This is, of course, another manifestation of an arrogant attitude towards international law, a manifestation of illegitimate, unilateral coercive measures that the United States has been using for many years, already decades, left and right,” Lavrov said, according to Russian news agencies.
In November last year, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey was prepared to discuss with the US its “anxiety” over the interoperability of the S-400s and the F-35s. The US reacted coolly to the suggestion and Pompeo thereafter, pointedly did not meet any Turkish government officials on a visit to Istanbul.
Turkey tested the missile defence system in October for the first time, drawing a condemnation from the Pentagon.
Ankara insisted that it was forced to buy the Russian system because the US refused to sell it American-made Patriot missiles, adding that its purchase of the S-400s was not a choice, but rather a necessity as it was unable to procure air defence systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms.
The Turkish government has also pointed to what it considers a double standard, as NATO member Greece uses Russian-made missiles.
Analysts have argued that US sanction on Turkey is ill-timed as such action may culminate in pushing Ankara out of NATO, which does not bode well for the international body.
With its mighty military deterrent against terror, Turkey not only makes NATO countries safer but also makes it stronger with its capacity, as stated by Western leaders and the alliance’s secretary -general.
Speaking two years ago to French daily, Le Figaro, NATO decretary -general, Jens Stoltenberg stressed Turkey’s importance.
“Turkey accommodates 3.6 million (Syrian) migrants,” he said, more than any country in the world.
He added: “Turkey is very important for NATO. To understand this, [we] need to look at the map and examine the geostrategic situation in Turkey.”
Just five days later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted Turkey’s geostrategic importance for NATO and called for greater unity and coordination among the allies.
“Turkey should remain a NATO member, and we should also work to ensure this. Turkey’s membership is of strategic importance for NATO,” she stressed.
However, although most or all Western countries support Turkey’s membership and note its importance in NATO, some leaders have criticized Turkey’s anti-terror operation in northern Syria launched in October.
On October 9, 2019 , Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU — has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the PKK’s Syrian offshoot.
Turkey is said to have been the international frontrunner in the fight against terrorism, especially against the terrorist YPG/PKK, Daesh/ISIS and FETO, the group behind the 2016 defeated coup.
The Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) and its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup on July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Turkey also accused FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.
Turkey is also among top five NATO allies giving sustainable support to the alliance mission through 1,100 personnel.
With about €90 million (nearly $100 million), Turkey is among the top eight allies that have contributed the most to NATO funding.
Around 570 Turkish personnel carry out duties under NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.
As part of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, Turkey is one of the “framework nations,” along with the US, Germany and Italy.
Supporting operations under the NATO banner in Iraq, Turkey is the alliance’s second-most contributing member after Canada aiding NATO missions in the country.
With 280 personnel, Turkey is a member of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) multinational peacekeeping force in the Balkans.
A key partner of the alliance, Turkey hosts a radar base within the NATO Ballistic Missile Defense architecture in the town of Kurecik in its eastern Malatya province.
Turkey also opened its Konya Air Base for the use of NATO AWACS planes.
Turkey plays a leading role in the development of relations between NATO and its partners, especially in the Balkans, Caucasus, and Middle East, and in the implementation of NATO’s open-door policy.
Turkey provides permanent naval assistance to NATO missions in the Aegean Sea, presenting surveillance, reconnaissance, and monitoring activities to prevent illegal crossings.
Turkey also supports Standing NATO Maritime Groups’ (SNMG) activities in the Black Sea, which is included as part of NATO obligations.
Moreover, Turkey also hosts LANDCOM, NATO’s land command, in the Aegean coastal province of Izmir.
The NATO Rapid Deployable Corps – one of nine NATO land forces headquarters with high readiness level – is also stationed in Istanbul. Turkey is also set to take command of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in 2021.
While condemning the action, President Tayyip Erdogan said that US sanctions imposed on Turkey over its purchase of Russian defence systems were a “hostile attack” on its sovereign rights and defence industry, and the move was bound to fail.
In his first public comments on the move, Erdogan said problems stemming from the sanctions would be overcome and vowed to ramp up efforts towards an independent defence industry, while criticising Washington for punishing a NATO ally.
“What kind of alliance is this? What kind of partnership is this? This decision is an open hostile attack on our country’s sovereign rights,” he said in a televised address.
“The real goal is to block the advances our country started in the defence industry recently and to once again render us absolutely dependent on them (United States),” he added.
“Surely there will be problems, but each problem will push open a door for us for a solution.”
Washington has maintained that the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems, which Ankara has rejected and said that S-400s would not be integrated into NATO.
President Erdogan said Ankara still produced close to 1,000 parts for the F-35 jets, despite being removed from the programme over the S-400 purchase. Turkey had also been due to buy more than 100 F-35 jets.
Erdogan’s Communications Director, Fahrettin Altun, said the sanctions would be a burden for Biden but that Ankara believed Washington would reverse “this grave mistake without delay”.
Altun added that the sanctions made Washington look like an unreliable ally within NATO.
“This crisis will go down in history books as a failure of US diplomacy. For the United States, which we see as an important ally, to experience such an eclipse of the mind, despite our efforts to protect our mutual interests on the basis of equality, is a loss for them,” he told Aksam newspaper.
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