Turkey-US Spat: Is US driving Turkey into the arms of Russia?

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On July 25, 2018, Andrew Craig Brunson, the American pastor who is living in Turkey, was released from jail confinement (of more than a year) to serve house arrest due to health problems. Brunson, a-50-year old pastor was arrested during the purges that took place after the failed coup d’état attempt in Turkey in 2016.

The American pastor was arrested on charges of espionage and terrorism. Currently, he is facing 35 years in prison pertaining to the charges that have been leveled against him.

Bilateral relations between the old partners of the Cold War and NATO allies, namely the United States and Turkey have been strained ever since the 2011 Arab Spring movement that took entire North Africa and the Middle East by storm. But the current imprisonment of Pastor Brunson proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Although the imprisonment of Brunson is a big issue in itself, but the ongoing diplomatic and economic row between the US and Turkey that ensued after the imprisonment of the American pastor is actually the result of a long history of subterranean tension between Washington and Ankara, as stated by Alexander Kazamias, a professor of politics at Coventry University.

The Turkish President Erdogan refusing to back down, decided to lash out at the US, urged his nation to buckle-up as the country is now facing a trade-war and stated that the current trend of unilateralism that the US is subjecting to is utterly disrespectful which if not reversed will force Turkey to look for new friends and allies.

The dispute between the two countries goes much deeper than it seems. The incumbent US President has shaken up the international order in an unprecedented manner, where his hawkish foreign policy has targeted the friends and adversaries of America alike. Currently, President Trump has embarked on the policy of containment with regards to Turkey with the aim of stopping the growing political clout of the country in the Middle East, especially with regards to its increasing role in the Syrian Civil War and its improving relations with Iran and Qatar.

The US resentment towards Turkey is also supplemented with the recent rapprochement with Russia, strong opposition of the American backed Kurds and the intensification of disputes with highly significant allied of the US in the Middle East such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Matters between the United States and Turkey took a turn for the worse when on August 10, 2018; President Trump authorized the doubling of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports of Turkey, devaluing the strength of Turkish Lira which lost 30% of its value in the current month up till now.
The Turkish Lira was being traded 4.7 to the dollar till last month which has now come down to 6.4 to the dollar. The Turkish President Erdogan refusing to back down, decided to lash out at the US, urged his nation to buckle-up as the country is now facing a trade-war and stated that the current trend of unilateralism that the US is subjecting to is utterly disrespectful which if not reversed will force Turkey to look for new friends and allies.

The staunch stance of President Erdogan, combined with the statements by the Turkish Foreign Minister and Presidential Spokesperson and the failure of several negotiations between the US and Turkish officials for the solution of this issue, which would have resulted in the release of the American pastor Brunson and probably the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, might have given the impression that Turkey is all ready to fight it out in this trade-war imposed by the US but the mixed statements by Turkish officials and the office of the Turkish President and the worsening state of the Turkish currency and economy tell a different story.

The current depreciation of the Turkish currency has also raised many questions inside of Turkey regarding the fundamentals of the economic model of President Erdogan, especially after his re-election.

First, on one side President Erdogan stated that if the US behaviour towards its allies did not change, Turkey might start looking for other friends and allies. While in another statement by the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that relations with Russia are not an alternative to relations with US and EU while criticising the insincerity of the EU towards Turkey in the face of American pressure. The benign language adopted in statements made by the Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin also reveal the weak position of Turkey in the face of escalating tensions with America.

Although Turkish leadership is putting up a brave front by stating that it will not be dictated by America or any other country regarding its law and foreign policy, executing the trial of pastor Brunson which has an immense symbolic value and making state visits to ally countries like Russia and Iran. But viewing things from a realistically, these maneuvers although significant are majorly emblematic and won’t help the current situation of Turkey to a great extent.

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Truth of the matter is that despite displaying solidarity with Turkey in such testing times, such as by Russia, Iran and Qatar, an example of which is Qatar’s $15 billion investment package to Turkey, the reality is that the American pressure on the Turkish economy has left such a huge void in the Turkish economy which cannot be substantially filled by any of its other partners. Even the EU is apprehensive of investing in and dealing with Turkey since it might make their economies vulnerable to impacts of deteriorating Turkish economy.

The current depreciation of the Turkish currency has also raised many questions inside of Turkey regarding the fundamentals of the economic model of President Erdogan, especially after his re-election. Where it might seem that the current spat between the United States and Turkey is leading to the latter moving closer to Russia but the reality is that Turkish leadership and policy-makers are cognizant of the fact that the country is not in a position to stand up to the American pressure just yet, especially when its partners are not able to help them out in a tangible way.

The current deteriorating condition of the national economy should be kept in mind and relationship with its “other” partners should be realistically assessed before making any rash decisions vis-a-vis the United States.

The statement made by the Turkish Minister for Trade Ruhsar Pekcan is a proof of this when he stated earlier this month that, “The effects of this ill-advised action by the U.S. Administration will not only impact Turkey but will prove detrimental to American companies and workers as well. We implore President Trump to return to the negotiating table — this can and should be resolved through dialogue and cooperation.”

The Turkish leadership should view the current situation pragmatically and return to the negotiating table with the United States rather than subjecting to symbolism and loud aggressive rhetoric. The current deteriorating condition of the national economy should be kept in mind and relationship with its “other” partners should be realistically assessed before making any rash decisions vis-a-vis the United States. It is only in the best interest of Turkey to divorce single incidents and issues from its greater national interests as it is only in the art of diplomacy and negotiations that solutions to matters can be found in this age of globalization and interdependence.

The idea of transitioning of alliances from the US towards Russia and Eurasia might seem like an interesting and extremely attractive idea but analysing the current status of the Turkish economy and contemporary situation prevailing in the international arena, the proposition seems like an ill-advised strategy which is not based in solid foundation in a world which operates on the rules of objective truth.