Turkey’s see-sawing foreign policy between the United States and Russia is emblematic of a foreign policy driven by national interests over values, The Independent’s Borzou Daragahi wrote on Sunday.
Daragahi made his case by pointing to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to the United Nations followed by a trip to Sochi. In New York, Erdogan addressed the UN General Assembly like his fellow world leaders, but on the sidelines vented his frustrations about not securing a meeting with US President Joe Biden. Erdogan remarked that relations with its long-time strategic partner were “not good” and the worst in his entire 18 years in power.
Soon after, Erdogan traveled to Russia on September 29 to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin. There, the two appeared to greet each other warmly after not meeting in person for over eighteen months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From New York and Sochi, Erdogan pledged to go ahead with a new delivery of S-400 surface to air missiles from Russia and flirted with the idea of cooperating with Moscow on fighter jets and submarine deals.
Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons against warnings from the US led to sanctions against its defence industrial sector in December 2020. Ankara has condemned the move and has tried in vain to convince Washington to lift the sanctions without surrendering the S-400.
Daragahi argues that Erdogan’s apparent snub of US desires in favour of ties with one of Washington’s strategic foes showcases how much Turkish foreign policy is being led by perceived national interests over shared values.
As it relates to Russia, Turkey is menaced by the specter of an assault on Syria’s last rebel-held territory of Idlib province in the country’s northwest. Erdogan met with Putin in part to head off another Russian-sanctioned offensive into Idlib, which would risk pushing millions more refugees across the Turkish border.
For its part, Turkey has thwarted Russian interests in Syria by occupying a chunk of its north with no clear end of its presence in sight. It also directly challenged Russia in Libya and the south Caucasus by taking a side opposite of Moscow.
Turkish military support for Ukraine and Poland are also sources of irritation for Russia, especially in the former case where Ankara vocally issues reminders that it rejects Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.
What these incongruencies showcase in Daraghi’s article is that international partnerships today are less fixed than in the past, with no permanent set of either friends or foes. These, he continues, are part and parcel of an international landscape that is becoming ever more multipolar in its appearance.
“In the end, Turkey will make allies with the west or east,” writes Daragahi. “Simply put, it pursues its own interests, and in that way it is acting like many other nations that refuse to be pinned down by age-old alliances.”