Rift between Turkey and US widens after the coup attempt

Turkey is warming up to Russia hoping Moscow will prevent the creation of Kurdistan if it facilitates Russian flow of gas. It has also shown willingness to work with Iran to stabilize the region. Turkey’s focus has dramatically shifted from the region to its own economic well-being. This new approach will certainly smooth its way into the wider regional block being led by Russia on the strategic front and China on the economic front. If that happens, it will be a major loss for the U.S. mid-east policy that needs Turkey for its strategy, especially in controlling oil flows of the Middle East and, now, its natural gas.

President Recep Erdogan’s declaration of a state of emergency in Turkey on Wednesday amid a crackdown against thousands of members of the security forces, judiciary, civil service and academia after a failed military coup speaks volumes about where Ankara’s politics is heading toward.

urkish President Erdogan is seen amid his supporters at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (C) with his supporters at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

While Erdogan dismisses fears that he is becoming authoritarian and that Turkish democracy is under threat, the events unfolding there will have a significant impact on its geopolitics and foreign policy which were showing signs of shift even before the coup attempt.

Turkey’s friction with the West and its rapprochement toward Russia was a clear sign of this shift and the rift between them has widened after the coup attempt.

Erdogan is blaming the coup bid on the U.S. for its failure to extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania resident accused of masterminding the plot, despite his repeated requests.

For the West, the loss of Turkey to Russia would imply a major geopolitical setback as it would lift the blockade the West has created against Russia’s gas supply route to Europe via Ukraine. Washington has been obstructing the construction of a Russian gas pipeline across Turkey to Greece (the so-called “Turkish Stream”).

For Russia, this is a significant development.

Russia realizes that it needs Turkey to facilitate the flow of gas. Were Turkey to become “southern hub”, Russia would no longer need Ukraine for this purpose.

By showing its willingness to become Russia’s “southern hub,” Turkey will be fulfilling its own gas needs. Reconciliation between them, therefore, suits their vital interests in the region (Putin has already ordered to lift sanctions on Turkey and pave the way for restoring economic and cultural ties between the two countries.)

Amid reports of Kurds, backed by the U.S., getting closer to capture Al-Raqqa in northern Syria, Erdogan is hoping to get Russia’s help to prevent the creation of Kurdistan.

For Russia, this would not be problem if its presence in the region becomes stronger by weaning Turkey away from the West/NATO.

Once its fears of Kurdistan are allayed, Turkey need not support Islamic State or any other terror network in Syria or Iraq.

Turkey has already shown its willingness to work with Iran to ‘stabilize’ the region and Tehran has positively responded. Three days after the attempted coup in Turkey, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called up Erdogan and discussed the prospects for peace in the region.

Rouhani said Tehran welcomed the return of stability in Turkey which “will contribute to strengthening peace and stability in the entire region. We have no doubt that some superpowers, as well as terrorists, do not want stability to reign in Muslim countries. We must, therefore, all join together to fight the terrorists for the sake of stability in the region and the world as a whole.”

If Turkey sheds its Wahhabi-inspired jihadist strategy and engages positively with forces countering it, Moscow and Tehran would find renewed interest in maintaining strong ties with Ankara.

Turkey’s dramatic shift in foreign policy is linked with Erdogan’s change of focus from the region to his own country. Erdogan was late to recognize the need for pragmatism in the country’s foreign policy. Also he was unable to turn his back on the old Ottoman dreams. That is changing.

Turkey’s new policy approach is based on its economic well-being which has been the basis of the weight and influence the country has been enjoying in the Middle East. Its economy had considerably gone down over the past few years and dipped further after its direct involvement in the war in Syria and Iraq.

But the economic turnaround Ankara is hoping for cannot take place without peace in the region which requires co-operation with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Knowing this, Erdogan is showing a reconciliatory approach toward Assad. This change of heart turned “Assad the enemy” into “Assad the brother”, said Idris Baluken, the parliamentary group leader of Turkey’s People’s Democratic Party.

Baluken believes secret negotiations are underway between Turkey and Syria and a formal “letter of apology” has possibly been sent to Syria to show Turkey’s seriousness in mending its ways.

Turkey’s new approach will certainly smooth its way into the wider regional block being led by Russia on the strategic front and China on the economic front.

Were this to happen — and it is likely to happen due to the brewing stress between Turkey and the U.S. over Gulen’s extradition to Turkey — it will turn out to be a major loss for the U.S. mid-east policy that needs Turkey for its strategy, especially in controlling oil flows of the Middle East, and now its natural gas.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at salmansheikh.ss11.sr@gmail.com

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