Turkey’s relations with Russia are tactical, not strategic, ex-minister says

Turkey’s former defence minister, Fikri Işık, has said that Turkey’s relations with Russia are tactical rather than strategic, and that Turkey would continue to be a loyal member of NATO, Voice of America reported.

During a Turkish Heritage Foundation webinar on Thursday called “The Future of the Transatlantic Military Alliance” with retired United States Admiral James Stavridis, Işık said that even though Turkey has close economic ties to Russia and needs to liaise with Moscow to solve issues such as the conflict in Syria, it still remains strategically aligned with NATO. 

''We know Russia very well. Having close relations, especially in the economic field, does not mean that these relations are strategic relations… these relations are not strategic relations, they are tactical,” he said. 

“Turkey will continue to be a loyal member of NATO. But Russia is also our neighbour. You can choose your friends and allies, but not your neighbours. You should have good relationships with your neighbours,” Işık said.

Işık defended Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 defence system, as he said that the United States had not approved the sale to Turkey of its Patriot missile system, so Ankara was obliged to turn to Russia. 

The United States has said Turkey’s Russian S-400 air defence system is not compatible with NATO systems and threatens the stealth capabilities of the new fighter jets. 

Stavridis said the idea that Turkey should leave NATO over the spat was “nonsense” and that Ankara had a central role in the alliance. He suggested that a technical solution could be found to the dispute.  

Stavridis said NATO would likely conduct training and exercises to coordinate military support and medical personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that with “stronger emphasis on medical diplomacy and humanitarian operations, NATO can be stronger than ever”. 

Işık mentioned that the current situation provides a “huge opportunity for the world to show solidarity, and NATO’s main role is spreading solidarity”.

Işık said that the biggest current threats to NATO were from terrorist activities, proxy wars, irregular threats, and cyber threats. "We must be ready to fight against all types of threats caused by the instability of the world order," Işık said.