Not a foot in Turkey: Blinken’s talks in Ankara ended in nothing

Recently, the interest of Western countries in Turkey has been enormous, but it is far from always explained by the disasters that have befallen the country. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited the country last week. Last Monday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken flew to Ankara. Both urged Turkey to agree to the entry of Sweden and Finland into the alliance. Both failed. Why – tell Izvestia.

Swedish wall

During his visit, Jens Stoltenberg announced the multilateral assistance provided by the alliance for the regions affected by the earthquake. In addition to the assistance already provided, the NATO Disaster Response Coordinating Center announced the establishment of a tent city for 2,000 people in Iskenderun. However, as it soon became clear, the main issue on the bilateral agenda is still the fulfillment of Turkish demands regarding the membership of Sweden and Finland. The alliance is urging Turkey to make a decision. Back in May last year, Stoltenberg expressed understanding of Ankara’s arguments, but stressed that the existing differences regarding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Fethullah Gülen’s organization (FETA) should be resolved as soon as possible.

Temporary campground in Antakya, Turkey

Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias

Nine months later, the NATO Secretary General believes that both countries have made sufficient efforts to deserve the approval of their applications. “I think that Sweden and Finland have taken important steps towards NATO. At the same time, I consider Turkey’s concern in the field of security justified. One of the points of the Tripartite Memorandum was the fight against terrorism. At the same time, I think that the time has come to approve the applications of both countries,” he said after the talks.

However, the Turkish side, apparently, was not satisfied with the proposals, and its position did not change. Indeed, the actions with the burning of the Koran have stopped, assistance is being provided to the victims of the disaster, however, the main point of the requirements – the actual cessation of the activities of the PKK in Sweden – is still not fulfilled. At the same time, Erdogan told Stoltenberg that Turkey was ready to consider Finland’s application separately from Sweden’s. “The tripartite memorandum clearly spells out who should take what steps. Last week, President Erdogan told Stoltenberg that we could take a different position on Finland’s NATO membership,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu said.

Turkey insists that the West take into account all its concerns, and, according to Ankara, this should be done on each issue separately. That is why it considered the option of separately approving the Finnish application acceptable. Alina Sbitneva, a researcher at the Department of the Near and Post-Soviet East, INION RAS, expressed this opinion in an interview with Izvestia.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde at NATO Headquarters in Brussels

Photo: Global Look Press/Keystone Press Agency/Wiktor Nummelin

– Cavusoglu’s statement regarding Finland’s membership clearly indicates that Turkey adheres to specific positions in the negotiation process on each of its points. At the same time, it doesn’t matter at all to her with whom to discuss issues on the bilateral agenda: with the leadership of the North Atlantic Alliance or with its leader, the United States, the expert noted.

Interests are constant

For Anthony Blinken, who arrived in Ankara on February 20, the issue of NATO expansion was also among the priorities. However, he was eventually moved down the list after the republic’s position on the conflict in Ukraine and sensitive points in bilateral relations. The official State Department press release said that Blinken and Erdogan discussed support for Ukraine, as well as “the need for closer cooperation on bilateral issues, including in the areas of defense, energy, trade and collective security.” However, judging by the statements made at the end of the meeting, no full understanding was reached on any of these points.

Turkish officials have done everything in their power to demonstrate the independence of their position. At a joint press conference with Blinken, Cavusoglu announced that his country would remain neutral towards Russia. “Turkey does not join the sanctions. We follow the decisions made by the UN,” the Turkish minister said. At the same time, he added that Ankara will also not help Russia bypass these sanctions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during their meeting at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey, February 20, 2023.

Photo: REUTERS/Burhan Ozbilici

The position is as consistent as it is natural, taking into account the existing economic ties, the grain deal and the fateful project of the South European gas hub for Turkey. All this can make Ankara one of the leaders of the emerging new “non-aligned movement”, without forcing it into additional obligations. At least as long as the benefits of such balancing outweigh the likely risks.

Blinken mechanism

On the trade front, there are tensions between Ankara and Washington over Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter program, which the White House implemented because of Ankara’s decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense systems. At the end of January, Erdogan did not miss the opportunity to remind counterparties of their failure to fulfill their obligations under the deal. “We were promised F-35 aircraft, but they did not keep their word. Although we paid about $1.4 billion. There are no planes, and the money has not been returned. We always keep our word and expect this from our partners,” the Anadolu agency quoted the Turkish president as saying.

Recently, no significant results have been seen in Turkey’s negotiations with representatives of the West. First of all, this is due to the Turkish government building a new geopolitical role for the country, which provides for treating itself as an equal, notes Alina Sbitneva.

Fighter F-35

Photo: TASS/Zuma

– The main thing that Ankara points out every time is a change in its geopolitical status. The Turkish leadership makes it clear to its counterparties in every possible way that their country will no longer play games initiated by the United States, and that it is a big mistake to consider it a “junior partner” of the United States in the region, the Izvestia interlocutor said.

In October 2021, the United States offered Turkey to purchase 40 F-16 aircraft, components and weapons for $20 billion as compensation for a broken contract. However, a decision on the sale can only be made after the appropriate approval of Congress. And it, in turn, depends on whether Turkey approves the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO.

With this simple layout, coupled with an offer of assistance in overcoming the consequences of the earthquake, Blinken came to Ankara. However, for the Erdogan government in a year of catastrophes and elections, it is especially important to show leadership and subjectivity, and such an overt attempt to buy his benevolence was met with the same thinly concealed irritation. “Ankara does not accept linking the issue of purchasing F-16 aircraft from the United States with certain conditions. Our hands should not be tied. We also expect the soonest lifting of all sanctions against Turkey,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference following the meeting.

Su-35S fighter

Photo: TASS / Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

By the way, in September last year, the head of the Turkish defense industry department, Ismail Demir, warned that if the deal on the F-16 does not take place, the country will consider the possibility of acquiring Russian Su-35S fighters.

Blinken’s statements and the proposals he brought confirmed the fears of the Turkish leadership, said Valery Lukyanov, senior lecturer at the Department of the Middle East at the Eastern Faculty of GAUGN.

– It is noteworthy that Blinken evaded answering the question about supporting Kurdish organizations and formations in northern Syria. For Ankara, this could mean that neither Washington nor its NATO allies are ready to refuse to cooperate with them. And for Turkey, this is a matter of complex regional security. Erdogan was generally very formal about the meetings with Stoltenberg and Blinken. He showed that he was still ready to listen to the West, but did not receive offers that he could consider acceptable. And the difficult situation in which Turkey finds itself after the natural disaster has not yet had an impact on its position, the expert concluded.

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