Is the US-Turkey alliance at a breaking point?

Mandatory references to the US and Turkey as NATO’s “allies” and “partners” are increasingly being dropped as bilateral relations may approach breaking point over disagreements over Russia and Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who met his Russian counterpart on September 29 Vladimir Putin, said Turkey is not only continuing to purchase Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which has led to US sanctions, but is also considering closer defense cooperation with Russia, including aircraft engine development, shipbuilding and combat aircraft , as we report here.

As for Turkey’s role in the US F-35 fighter jet program, which has reportedly cost Turkey $1.4 billion, Erdogan took a take or leave stance on Sept. 30, saying: “either they give us our planes or they give us the money.”

Erdogan: US-Turkey trajectory ‘does not bode well’

Erdogan’s meeting with Putin followed what Erdogan viewed as a numbing of the US president Joe Biden at the UN General Assembly meetings in New York last month.

Never mind that Biden didn’t even spend the night in New York and met very few world leaders. Many heads of state and government delivered their speeches virtually this year.

Erdogan would have settled for a photo shoot and some forced or false bonhomie with Biden, especially for at least the illusion of leverage or balance ahead of a meeting with Putin on some thorny issues, including Ukraine and Syria (see below).

“I hope that, as two NATO countries, we should treat each other friendly, not hostile,” Erdogan said in New York. “But the current trajectory does not predict well. The point we have reached in our relations with the United States is not a good one. … I can’t say things have gotten off to a good start with Biden.”

“In terms of Erdogan’s image in Turkey, his performance in New York did not seem to have much impact, neither positive nor negative,” writes Cengiz Candar.

Erdogan’s meeting with Putin, after the flop at the UN, may have strengthened a further eastward orientation in Turkey’s foreign policy.

“Under Erdogan, Turkey is steadily moving towards a non-western trajectory in a multipolar world where China is emerging in the east,” Candar added. Erdogan’s Cautious Tone Regarding the… Uyghur issue his UN speech also reflected his efforts not to provoke outrage from Beijing. Meanwhile, Erdogan didn’t mince his words when it came to targeting the United States and the Western world.”

Putin tries to reconcile Turkey with Ukraine….

“Negotiations with Turkey are sometimes difficult, but we have always left Sochi with a positive outcome,” Putin said before the summit in Sochi. “We learn how to reconcile.”

But Erdogan’s stance on Ukraine has so far been difficult for Putin to reconcile.

“Turkey’s sale of drones to Ukraine and Erdogan’s pledge never to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea have been duly noted by the Russian side, which considers both issues critical to its national security and territorial integrity,” Fehim Tastekin writes.

“Erdogan reiterated his pledge in Crimea during his speech to the UN General Assembly after the Turkish Foreign Ministry declared that the Duma elections to be held in Crimea this month are ‘not valid for Turkey’,” he added. Touch kin. “In addition, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine was planning to set up a drone factory for the joint production of Turkey-made TB2 drones.”

“If Ankara had been able to restrain its response to Moscow on the matter,” Tastekin concludes, “Turkey could have leveraged Russia’s annexation of Crimea in its negotiations with Russia. Instead, it has kept its zero-sum position and met the wrath of Moscow .”

… while maintaining pressure on Turkey in Syria

Putin examines whether the time is right for a Syrian military strike on Idlib, the likely latest stand of jihadist and Turkish-backed groups opposing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Air Force jets have pounded rebel positions in and around Idlib, extended their attack into Turkish-occupied zones in the mainly Kurdish enclave of Afrin and near Tell Tamir in the so-called “peace source zone” that Turkey occupied in its latest cross-border offensive against the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2019,” reports Amberin Zaman.

Putin may be encouraged by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a sign that Washington is stepping back from “endless wars,” as US-Russian diplomatic contacts over Syria have picked up, if Vivian Salama | discussed in a recent Al-Monitor podcast.

Putin met with Assad on September 13, two weeks before his meeting with Erdogan. Assad would like to push through in Idlib, but Putin is a more cautious and deliberate player, seeking more certainty about how things will play out in Ankara and Washington.

Idlib is controlled by former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (“Liberation of the Levant” or HTS). Under its agreement with Russia, Turkey is charged with reducing the influence of jihadists. HTS is seeking a makeover from its previous image and “refuses calls from al-Qaeda affiliates Hurras al-Din (Guardians of Religion Organization) to resolve their differences through Sharia arbitration,” Khaled Al-Katebo reports from Aleppo.

AN US drone attack an al-Qaeda leader killed in Idlib last week.

From Russia’s perspective, Turkey is failing in its stated mission to clean up Idlib. From Turkey’s perspective, a Russian-backed Syrian attack on Idlib would exacerbate the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Turkey’s biggest concern is that any large-scale offensive on Idlib will drive up to a million Syrians to the Turkish border,” writes Zaman.

For Erdogan, the endless war in Syria has become a liability in Turkish domestic politics.

“Resentment is mounting towards the estimated 3.7 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, and those sentiments are being cynically exploited by the opposition ahead of the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections,” Zaman wrote. . his poll numbers are sliding to unprecedented lows, Erdogan is therefore concerned to maintain the status quo in Idlib, at least until then.”

Pinar Tremblay got it here on the upcoming election, noting that “opposition parties such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP) have benefited from anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment and growing security vulnerabilities.”

“Turkey recently suspended the issuance of the Temporary Protection ID card – known as Kimlik – for Syrian refugees in need of life-saving treatment in Turkish areas, replacing it with a medical tourism document.” Sultan Al Kanjo from Idlib.

Metin Gurcan reports that several recent high-profile retirement requests by general officers may be another sign of growing dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s Syria policy.

Putin is also wary that a Russian-backed Syrian attack on Idlib could be a stumbling block to a Turkish offensive against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria (AANES), writes Kirill Semenov.

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian-Kurdish armed groups that make up the bulk of the SDF, terrorists with ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The disagreements between the US and Turkey over the SDF have proved irreconcilable and bitter.

On September 29, Erdogan referred to: Brett McGurk, the coordinator of the United States National Security Council for the Middle East and North Africa, as “actually support terrorism … he is director of the PKK and the YPG.”

Putin feels an opening to pursue his long-standing plan to come to an agreement between the Syrian Kurds and Damascus that would be acceptable to Ankara – a revision of the 1998 Adana Agreement, which defused Turkish-Syrian tensions over the PKK.

Russia, Semenov writes, is “trying to push the Syrian Kurds into a dialogue with Damascus, but without input from the US. The implication is that the Syrian Kurds themselves must begin to distance themselves from the United States” in case the US takes a step back in Syria, as it did in Afghanistan.”

Deadlock as ‘deep suffering’ continues in Syria

Neither Biden, Putin, nor Erdogan seem ready to break the current status quo without any further signal about what comes next, some sort of fragile stalemate that could break at any moment.

Erdogan cannot completely dump the United States, as he and Putin are not on the same page in Syria and Ukraine. He needs at least the illusion of an option when dealing with Putin to stay in the game. This is also an asset for the US. The frustration for the Turkish president is that his foreign policy is personal and top-notch, as Gurcan writes. He and Putin meet and talk often. Erdogan and Biden, on the other hand, aren’t even trying to fake it these days.

Meanwhile, Syrians continue to suffer.

In addition to this “horrific death toll”, referring to at least 350,000 documented Syrian deaths in the civil war, UN envoy to Syria said Geir Pedersen reported to the Security Council this week“We can add other measures of deep suffering from more than a decade of conflicts. More than 12 million Syrians have been displaced – that is half of the pre-conflict population. Tens of thousands remain detained, kidnapped or missing. The poverty level is approaching the 90 percent after a decade of conflict, mismanagement and corruption, and now the impact of the Lebanese economic collapse, COVID and, indeed, sanctions Syria is divided into several de facto zones, with international players thronging the theater, as well as violent episodes who continue to test the relative calm of the past 18 months.”

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