Carlotta Gall, who in the 1990s became famous for her reports praising Maskhadov-Basaev’s Ichkeria, reports on the encouraging phenomenon for Russian opponents: Turkey and the United States seem to have temporarily reconciled. Ms. Goll explains this primarily by the actions of Trump.
Despite the noise in the press, he nevertheless diverted US troops from the Syrian-Turkish border, allowing Erdogan to create his own “security zone” there. And then Trump helped Erdogan to “protect” the Syrian province of Idlib from the Syrian troops, but now he is helping the Turkish intervention in Libya.
ISTANBUL – Ten months ago, the relationship between President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan was in the worst condition that could be mentioned. The sudden degradation seemed about to reach the level of armed clashes between US and Turkish troops on the Syrian-Turkish border — such were Erdogan’s threats. But Trump, for his part, threatened to destroy the Turkish economy.
But today, when the coronavirus threatens both of them with an economic recession and forces their opponents to unite, these two men have come under strong domestic political pressure. Not having especially many friends outside the borders of their countries, they may right now suddenly feel the mutual need for a friendly shoulder. This week, according to Turkish reports, Trump and Erdogan even exchanged a couple of jokes during a telephone conversation.
“To be honest, after our conversation tonight, a new era may begin in relations between the US and Turkey,” Erdogan said during a television interview on Monday.
The relationship between the two leaders often threw it into heat, then into cold. But now their stars, at least, maybe temporarily, have converged. The interests of the United States and Turkey agreed on several important issues – the very ones that Washington and Ankara have quarreled over in recent years.
Here the fact also helps that, despite the difference in their interests, the two men like each other and understand each other’s motives. Both have a pronounced tendency to pursue a policy of “strong leaders”, and they have involved their family members in some mutually beneficial business deals.
In recent months, Mr. Trump did not interfere with Turkish interventions in Syria and Libya, and even helped them. He thanked Turkey for letting an evangelical pastor from the United States arrested on its territory be released, although diplomats accused Turkey of taking a political hostage in connection with this pastoral story. Erdogan should also like the fact that the FBI opened a preliminary investigation into the main antipode of Mr. Erdogan – the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan accuses this man of organizing a failed coup in 2016. Gulen allegedly directed him from his voluntary exile in Pennsylvania.
Equally important is the fact that Trump avoided imposing sanctions on Turkey for the acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles. Meanwhile, such sanctions would deter Turkey from drifting further from the West. So says Asli Aydintashbash, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Affairs.
“It was he who saved Turkish-American relations,” the expert said about Trump. “If not for this strange Trump factor, we would have encountered the Russo-Turkish axis.”
Libya seems to be the most recent issue on which the two presidents reached an agreement. Mr. Trump essentially gave the green light to Erdogan’s military intervention in Libya. And this intervention fundamentally changed the essence of the conflict in Libya.
“During our telephone conversation, we came to some agreements,” Mr. Erdogan said this week about his conversation with Trump on the Libyan topic, without specifying, however, what kind of agreements they were.
President Trump showed a very weak interest in Libya, and also signaled his rather unstable position on the question of what should be the outcome of the war in Libya.
Formally, the Trump administration supports the UN-recognized Faiz Sarraj government. But Mr. Trump nevertheless had a telephone conversation with Libyan field commander Khalifa Haftar, a former CIA agent who launched an attack on Tripoli last year with the support of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
This spring, Turkish forces came to the aid of the Saraj government, saving him from defeat and turning the course of the war in a completely different direction. There are all indications that Washington is not opposed to this Turkish intervention.
This can be concluded by the fact that Washington did not protest against the use of American weapons by Turkey during this operation. Ozgur Unluhisardzhikli, director of the Marshall Fund representative office in the United States, considers this fact an example of American support. The command of US troops in Africa, based in Europe, is also not opposed to see how Russia will be tamed in Libya, this expert believes.
“What Turkey has done to deter Russia, in my opinion, is quite convenient for the United States,” he said.
For Mr. Erdogan, this is a dramatic turn in his relationship with the United States. Last fall, he was on the verge of starting a war in northern Syria against the American troops stationed there – his own NATO allies. Erdogan also then thundered and thunder every day on the head of the United States for their support of Kurdish forces in the region.
Turkey has long complained that the Kurdish National Self-Defense Forces (YPG), which collaborated with US forces in the fight against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation – ed.), – that these units were at the same time the organization that organized the Kurdish uprisings Turkey for three decades.
The Pentagon’s arming and training of Kurdish forces on the southern border of Turkey was not only a threat to Turkey’s security. These actions became a source for a sharp diplomatic conflict between Turkey and Washington.
This problem was more or less eased when Mr. Trump withdrew American troops from an area near the northern border of Syria. Their influence was reduced to a small zone (with proven oil reserves – approx. Ed.) In the south of the country.
This decision by Trump to withdraw troops provoked panic in the US Congress and among Trump’s own military advisers over what many of them saw as a betrayal of long-standing Kurdish allies. But the sudden withdrawal of American troops opened the way for Turkey to seize control of a narrow strip of land inside northern Syria. Russia entered other border territories that remained unoccupied by anyone.
And today, Mr. Erdogan barely ever mentions American support for the Kurdish forces, although this support continues.
A new joint offensive by Russian and Syrian government forces in Idlib, the last province under the control of rebels in Syria, led to a new coincidence of interests between Turkey and the United States.
The attack on Idlib (a province that has proven to be a haven for terrorists, a place where the United States destroyed the head of the Islamist terrorist organization al-Baghdadi a little earlier – approx. Ed.) Led to the devastation of several towns and villages near the line of fire and caused the outflow of a million refugees to the border of Turkey – and all this in conditions of cold and poverty. Turkey, using the intelligence support of the United States, then sent troops to the Syrian province of Idlib to stop the offensive of the Syrian army.
Before that, President Erdogan used his personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree on a series of truces. [по Идлибу]. But the winter offensive of the Syrian army with Russian air support [против боевиков в Идлибе] It was marked by such destructive power that it pushed Turkey to open opposition to the actions of Russia. Of decisive importance was the strike of the Russian Air Force on the Turkish military convoy, which killed 34 Turkish soldiers in February.
“There has always been an illusion that Turkey in this big game was in the same team as Russia,” expert Aydintashbash said. “Now this illusion is destroyed.”
The US Special Representative for Syria, Mr. James Jeffrey, openly praised Turkey’s actions to deter the Syrian-Russian offensive on Syrian territory. He noted the importance of maintaining a bridgehead in Syria for the Syrian opposition. “We strongly support the ceasefire, we are entirely for the hostilities of Turkey,” said James Jeffrey during a video conference with the Atlantic Council in April.
This shift in positions of the parties does not mean, however, that Turkey will completely turn its back on Russia, analysts say.
“Turkey is simply pursuing a balanced policy,” says Miss Aydintashbash.
And yet, the main American pain poisoning relations with Turkey – nevertheless, Turkey’s successful purchase of Russian S-400 missiles – this problem remains unresolved.
Having serious economic difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Erdogan softened his tone, trying to gain time for economic recovery. He has not yet activated the anti-aircraft missile system purchased from the Russians, although such a move was already expected in April. Many analysts believe that Erdogan simply decided to wait to evade US sanctions, as well as negotiate some kind of profitable deal with the US central bank (Federal Reserve).
Even if Erdogan does not complete this deal, reducing tension with Washington could help improve the overall investment climate – this is the opinion of Mrs. Aydintashbash, working for the Western think tank.
“Are we dealing with a new phase of cooperation? I think now it’s just a window of opportunity that suddenly opens,” says Mr. Unluhisardzhikli from the US Marshall Fund in Turkey. Carlotta Gall – Head of Istanbul New York Times