Biden gives Erdoğan ‘a taste of his own medicine’ – Carnegie

U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent reference to “Turkish genocide against Armenians in 1915” was a slap in the face delivered to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for clear strategic reasons, according to Dimitar Bechev, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“In essence, the United States is giving Turkey a taste of its own medicine,” Bechev said.

“On Erdoğan’s watch, the relationship between the two NATO allies has degraded to a transactional partnership of convenience. Turkey has been sitting on two chairs, doing geopolitical business with Russia and calling on the United States on a case-by-case basis when interests happen to converge.”

The new Biden administration is taking a very different approach with Turkey, in an effort to distinguish itself from its predecessor . With former U.S. President Donald Trump in power, Turkey avoided major sanctions over its purchase of Russian-made S-400 missiles.

In 2017, Turkish President Recep Erdogan brokered a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the S-400 missile system. The S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system to pose a risk to the NATO alliance.

Despite warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, Turkey accepted the first of four missile batteries in July 2019. A week later, the United States cut Turkey from the programme to produce the F-35 fighter jet, which the U.S. military calls the most advanced technology yet produced. All other NATO allies are participating in the programme.

These sanctions were relatively light, Bechev noted, but Biden takes a completely different approach.

“Now Biden’s team is turning the tables, applying its own version of transactionalism. America will reach out to Turkey if the need arises. Since at present U.S. foreign policy does not prioritise either the Middle East or the Black Sea region, Erdoğan’s services are not required. Let the Europeans deal with Turkey, with the 2016 refugee deal up for renewal and trouble brewing in the Eastern Mediterranean. The United States has other fish to fry.”

Faced with this turnaround, Ankara has tried to “play the Russia card,” Bechev said.

“Turkey, its government asserts, is the only NATO member that has proven willing and able to check the Kremlin’s expansionism.”

Turkey has fought against Russia’s proxies in Syria and Libya.

In Syria, Turkish drones played a major part last year in a series of devastating attacks on Russian-supported Syrian armoured forces that caught some military observers by surprise and helped bring a Syrian government offensive against rebel areas to a halt. 

In Libya, Russia and Turkey emerged as the most consequential players on opposite sides. Turkey intervened sending troops and drones in support of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord, and enabling it to beat back Haftar’s forces, which had been supported by Russian mercenaries.

And Turkey intervened against Moscow in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute which pitted Armenia against Azerbaijan - the latter, an area that had been very much under Russia’s influence.

But Washington “is not ready to cut Turkey any slack,” Bechev insisted.

“The United States is sticking to its guns and demanding that Turkey give up the Russian missiles. As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it in his Senate confirmation hearing, ‘the idea that a strategic—so-called strategic—partner of ours would actually be in line with one of our biggest strategic competitors in Russia is not acceptable.’

Washington is also touting further sanctions against Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, in addition to those imposed at the tail end of Trump’s tenure over the purchase of the S-400s.”

With no reset with the United States on the horizon, Erdoğan has no choice other than to stay close to Russia, Bechev said.

“Turkey remains the weaker party in the ‘cooperative rivalry’ the two have forged during the past decade.  Erdoğan’s will press on with a multi-vector foreign policy balancing between the West, Russia, and—increasingly—China.  That is a state of affairs that should be perfectly comfortable for the Russian leadership.”