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August 20, 2018

New friends?


August 20, 2018

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times on August 11, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s partnership with the United States is in jeopardy, and warned that Ankara could start looking for new allies.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have sunk to their lowest point in decades earlier this year over a number of issues, including the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson on terrorism-related charges.

“Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives,” Erdogan wrote in the comment piece.

Since the start of the crisis with the US, the Turkish president had already been saying that Turkey could seek new partnerships with a wide range of countries, “from Iran, to Russia, to China and some European countries”. He also expressed interest in entering Turkey into the BRICS block.

Only a couple of days after Erdogan’s latest threat of “start looking for new allies”, on August 13, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov travelled for an official visit to Ankara, where he addressed a meeting of Turkish ambassadors and discussed an upcoming Syria summit with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. The four-way summit, which will be attended by the leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany, is expected take place in Istanbul on September 7.

Lavrov’s visit to Turkey gave the appearance of a Russian-Turkish rapprochement, with both foreign ministers expressing their desire to strengthen bilateral relations between the two nations. This was not surprising to many, as Erdogan had already expressed such an intention and as both countries are now in a similar foreign policy situation.

Russia, after the events in Ukraine, damaged its relations with its main political and economic partner, European Union. Moreover, the sanctions that have been in effect since 2014 not only halved the exchange rate of the rouble, but also led to a permanent deficit of the Russian budget.

Turkey is moving – albeit at a slower pace – in a similar direction. Ankara’s relations with Western countries are becoming increasingly tense. As result of endless disputes between Turkey and the West, the Turkish economy is stagnant, and the lira has collapsed.

Nevertheless, despite their growing problems with the West, the perceived rapprochement between the two countries does not seem to go beyond words. Neither country appears eager to find an alternative to the Western world. On the contrary, the ultimate goal for both the Turkish and the Russian leaderships is to restore relations with their usual partners – the US for the former and the EU for the latter.

The statements made by both Lavrov and Cavusoglu after their meeting in Ankara regarding “positive trends in trade and economic relations” and “trade turnover growth of 40 percent” should not fool anyone. The trade turnover between Russia and Turkey, although it reached $ 21.6 bn in 2017, is still far from where it was before Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015, causing a major strain in relations between the countries (In 2014, the trade turnover between Russia and Turkey stood at $ 30 billion).

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Is Turkey really looking for alternatives to the West?’


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