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The US is pushing Turkey into Russia's arms

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and President of Russia Vladimir Putin (R) in Moscow, Russia on 5 March 2020 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and President of Russia Vladimir Putin (R) in Moscow, Russia on 5 March 2020 [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

Ten months after the Biden administration took office and Turkey has begun to reset its relations with key US allies in the Middle East. They include Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It has also begun to pursue a role for itself in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Yet, the Biden administration remains reluctant to agree with Turkey on a number of issues.

Despite warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, in 2017 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a deal worth $2.5 billion with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the delivery of Moscow's S-400 missile defence system. In August this year, President Joe Biden announced that the US was prepared to maintain the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Turkey after it went ahead with the purchase of the S-400 missiles.

After the sanctions were applied, Turkey turned to Russia as a source to strengthen its strategic capabilities. Moscow viewed Ankara as a regional asset to increase its own authority and influence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey is also unhappy that despite both being members of NATO, the US has chosen not to support Ankara in its battle against terror organisations, viewing Washington as a backer of outlawed groups which carry out attacks on its soil. Ankara accuses the US of collaborating with the People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, a group which it maintains is affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Additionally, last year, US senators announced a bill expanding sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream natural gas pipelines and targeting the projects which Washington says will boost Moscow's economic and political influence in Germany and other European countries.

Those two factors have become significantly worse during the Biden era, pushing Turkey to cooperate with Russia further, even though Putin is not Ankara's trusted ally; especially in Syria. In fact Turkey has repeatedly accuses Russia of violating the Sochi ceasefire agreement in Syria.

READ: Turkey's Erdogan to discuss F-35 jets with Biden in Glasgow

Despite these major differences, both Moscow and Ankara are careful not to allow geopolitical divergences jeopardise their bilateral trade. Turkey has continued to strengthen its economic ties with Russia, moreso than with the US. Turkey depends heavily on Russian gas exports and millions of Russian tourists bring valuable hard currency into the country. At the same time, Turkey has become a main exporter of agricultural and textile products to Russia.

Turkey is also an important member of NATO and hosts essential NATO military bases, as well as being a partner in the so-called "war against terror" and a line of defence against threats in the Middle East. Yet, the USA has applied CAATSA sanctions on its NATO partner Turkey, but not against India, which has also purchased the powerful Russian missile defence system. These kinds of unfair policies leave Turkey no alternative but to engage with Russia especially on countering terrorism in Syria and the coordination of energy policies.

During an interview with the New York Times on 16 December 2019, Biden expressed the need to support a new leader for Turkey. "What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership," he said.

There is now a growing perception that Biden has adopted a hostile stance toward the Erdogan government because of their Islamist background. Clearly, the Biden administration should recognise that Turkey is not a clan society but a mature democracy. Therefore, if the US seeks to keep strong relations with Ankara as a NATO ally, and as a part of its Middle East policy, it must abandon its "sanctions diplomacy" and see acknowledge that Turkey is an advanced democratic ally with a population of no less than 86 million people.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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