Turkey’s foreign policy today is one where it balances its position between both Russia and the United States than align too deeply with either, Dr. Dimitar Bechev wrote in an article for the Carnegie Moscow Centre.
Since coming to office, President Joe Biden has opted to forego paying a call to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Bechev writes that the reasons are two fold: an ideological disinclination to speak to autocrats abroad and a conscious shift to a more transactional foreign policy towards Turkey.
Biden previously called Erdogan an “autocrat” during his campaign for president and he has already shown his willingness to rebuke even ones who are considered American allies like Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). On the shift towards transactionalism, Bechev said Biden is “giving Turkey a taste of its own medicine” by interacting with it when necessary and when it is within U.S interests to do so.
“Since at present U.S. foreign policy does not prioritize either the Middle East or the Black Sea region, Erdoğan’s services are not required,” said Bechev in his article.
Erdogan last year was slow to congratulate Biden on his victory, appearing to hold out hope former President Donald Trump’s baseless election-fraud lawsuits would return an ally to power. After his inauguration, Biden’s administration called out human rights abuses in Turkey and his deputies have raised it in each interaction with Turkish counterparts. Turkey’s readouts of calls or meetings with the U.S always omit any mention of human rights.
The two do share some common positions, namely opposing Russian aggression towards Ukraine and Turkey’s hosting of the troubled Afghanistan peace talks, but Biden’s administration has not lessened its focus on issues in the relationship. For example, the administration has not dropped its demand for Turkey to abandon the S-400 missile system from Russia if it wants any sanctions relief, even as Turkish ministers throw around their own proposals.
Bechev assesses that with no reset likely with Biden, Erdogan will “have no choice than to stay close to Russia.” His remarks at the meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky that aimed to assuage Russian concerns about Turkey’s partnership with Kyiv showed Erdogan’s disinclination to challenge Russia at the moment.
In the end, Bechev suggests Erdogan will likely continue a “multi-vector foreign policy” with other powers and that this orientation is “should be perfectly comfortable for the Russian leadership.”