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Date: 6 July 2022 Author: Kacper Gatlik
The stalemate in US-Turkey relations has been broken
Joe Biden supported the position of Turkey, which agreed to the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO before the negotiations at the Madrid summit, thanks to the signing of a tripartite memorandum. The decision was made that the most important pillar of NATO’s new defense doctrine was the fight against terrorism. This issue may be considered individually by the states of the North Atlantic Treaty as the forces of the alliance may not necessarily jointly undertake specific actions in the fight against Kurdish or any other terrorism. Turkey’s compromise allowed to face the situation that has been going on since May 2022.
US President Joe Biden spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayip Erdogan on June 27, 2022, the day before the Madrid summit in connection with Turkey’s NATO veto. The Turks then entered into talks with the alliance side on June 28, 2022, and as a result of a change in the Turkish position on Finland and Sweden, the Turkish leader had the opportunity to hold a face-to-face conversation with the American president on June 29, 2022. The politicians met in Madrid for an hour-long meeting for the first time after a year-long break. Within the framework of consultations closed to the media, support for Ukraine was raised; Turkey has declared that it will be the guarantor of security for Ukraine (as part of the United Nations plan promoted by Turkey), i.e. in the case of de-mining of the Odessa port (which may take up to 3 months), Turkey will also take care of transporting Ukrainian grain by sea to the port of Konstanz (ultimately to Africa) as part of an international sea convoy. The topics of the talks also included security issues in the region, including Turkish aspirations in the Mediterranean, i.e. the Syrian issue and the conflict with Greece. The meeting of the two presidents was possible thanks to the signing on the initiative of Turkey of the so-called “memorandum on Sweden and Finland in NATO”, which allowed the Turks to lift a veto against the accession of two new countries to NATO.
After the meeting of the Turkish president with the President of Finland, Saula Ninisto, the Prime Minister of Sweden, Magdalena Anderson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (he was not part of the agreement), it was decided that Turkey, Sweden and Finland would cooperate in the field of intelligence in combating terrorism, including maintaining the recognition of the PKK, i.e. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is a terrorist organization (Sweden has been recognizing the KKP as terrorists for 40 years). It has not been possible as President Erdogan wanted to link the YPG (Party of the Kurdish Democratic Union of Syria) with the Kurdish Labor Party. On the other hand, Sweden and Finland lifted the arms embargo for Turkey, which had been in force since 2019. The leaders of Sweden and Finland also agreed not to send arms to the YPG and FETÖ, i.e. the terrorist group of Turkish oppositionist Fethullah Gulen, who is considered by the Turkish leader to be responsible for the military coup on June 15, 2016 in Turkey. It is worth noting that no international entity has associated the abbreviation FETO with any terrorist organization. This is a new abbreviation used for this memorandum, so Turkey used a non-existent name in an international document to then convey to its own public that it is fighting Turkey’s largest oppositionist ahead of the 2023 elections together with allied partners. The next step in admitting new members to NATO will be voting in the parliaments of the member states on the ratification of the accession protocol for Sweden and Finland signed by all members of the alliance on June 28, 2022 in Madrid. There is a fear that the Turks will break out and their parliament will not support the accession protocol, as Sweden and Finland are skeptical about the requirements of the Turkish side about which there is no information in the memorandum. According to Sweden, the list of 73 people whose deportation is demanded by Turkey does not exist and the Swedish Supreme Court has not taken up and does not want to extradite citizens of Kurdish origin for two decades, people associated with Gulen for 6 years, and does not see a possible change in the direction of its policy in the future.
Turkey maintained a veto within the organization’s structures so as not to accept new members of the alliance until material or political benefits were obtained from the United States. No wonder then that at the moment when the expected results were not achieved from May 2022 (from the moment of submitting applications for admission to the alliance by Sweden and Finland), Turkey withdrew its veto, coming out of the face after signing the tripartite agreement, obtaining a propaganda victory. They managed to connect smaller Kurdish organizations and the Turkish opposition with the PKK party, although the memorandum itself does not mention this. It should be emphasized that the withdrawal of the veto took place before the summit itself, and the Memorandum itself is not a binding document, so its provisions will be examined only by the judiciary of three Member States. The issue of extradition is the responsibility of the binding parties and the asylum legislation of Finland and Sweden is liberal in that in the Scandinavian countries people with refugee status or life threatening conditions are not allowed to be deported under the principle of non-refoulment. Sweden is known for upholding human rights, so it seems unlikely that it could expel refugees or its citizens of Kurdish origin as this would damage their image (2% of the entire Swedish population are Kurdish ethnicity). Turks cannot be sure that the agreement will be respected. Its provisions do not apply to terrorism in the Turkish sense, so Sweden and Finland may also recognize organizations such as the “Gray Wolves” or the “Muslim Brotherhood” as a terrorist organization because they are supported and financially supported by the Turkish Republic.
Turkish support for US actions is now needed by Joe Biden, because Turkey, as the largest country in the region after Ukraine and Russia, is able to be involved in ensuring stability in the Black Sea due to its population, geographic and military position and potential. Currently, Turkey has attempted to mediate in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, and in the past has conducted bilateral talks with Russia to ensure the security of the South Caucasus in the context of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Interestingly, Joe Biden, by undertaking a dialogue with Tayip Erdogan, runs the risk of ostracism from American congressmen. The American political discourse on Turkish issues is strongly influenced by the Greek lobby, which represents the interests of the Greek minority on the territory of the United States. Even during the telephone conversation between Erdogan and Biden, the US did not want to support Turkey in the current dispute in the Aegean Sea between Ankara and Athens over the coastal islands and the continental shelf in the Mediterranean. The compromise on the part of Turkey regarding the admission of new members to NATO restored the possibility of pursuing business relations between the United States and Turkey in the military dimension after a temporary stalemate in bilateral relations. Currently, both parties are renegotiating the implementation of the contract for Erdogan to buy 40 American Lockhead F-16 fighters from the United States and to modernize 80 Turkish F-16s already in use by the Turkish air force. The talks were suspended even before the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis after the Turkish Republic purchased the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-missile system in 2017, which meant that Turkey was excluded from the F-35 aircraft project in 2019, in which it was a strategic partner since 1999.
In June 2022, the Pentagon agreed to implement the contract for the new F-16, but the five-year debate in the American congress on Turkey’s membership in the group of American allies negatively affects the actual implementation of the entire project, despite the change in the political orientation of President Tayip Erdogan in the recent time. Nevertheless, the sudden change of the Turkish position contributed to a positive development of events and the implementation of the most important issue in Europe for the United States at present, i.e. NATO membership of strong European economies with military and technological potential in the Baltic Sea basin, i.e. Sweden and Finland. If Turkey were to uphold its veto in the event of the Madrid summit, the United States would have to resort to measures that the Turkish economy would not withstand, i.e. sanctions.
In the Black Sea basin, other allies, such as Ukraine, have limited opportunities due to the war with Russia, and Romania or Bulgaria have specific goals of geopolitical cooperation with stronger than each other in Europe, such as France or Germany, and their economic and military potential is much smaller than that of Ukraine or Turkish. So there is still Turkey. The situation in the Middle East region has been so complicated since the Americans’ withdrawal from Syria in 2020 that Turkey is now the only real partner of the United States in the region (with a stable apparatus of power after 2016) after Israel and Saudi Arabia (a country also unspecified allied orientation). Medium-sized countries of significant importance in the region from the time of the Cold War: Iraq, Syria or Iran, are unable to engage in dialogue with the United States. The present-day Iran is reluctant to cooperate again as in the past under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, due to the strong influence of radical Islam and the loss of Western credibility in this area. The US president sees the need to have a strong partner in the region, which is Turkey, who, despite his own opinion, not necessarily convergent with the US (the Turks are planning an invasion of ANEES, i.e. Northeast Syria without the American blessing), is able to pursue its own power policy in the region (e.g. fight against the Kurdish militia and Syrian Daesh) and the similarity of the Palestinian issue to the Kurdish one may eliminate the potential hostility of Israel and Turkey due to converging interests in Syria (fight for influence with Assad and Russia) and having a common rival in the region of Iran.
As in the past, Turkey is achieving its political goals thanks to the so-called “blackmail” of international partners with the Kurdish question and the balancing act between the United States and the Russian Federation. Already in 2019, Turkey wanted to make the issue of support under the collective defense of NATO’s eastern flank countries dependent on Poland to support the Turkish operation in Syria against the Kurdish group (militia) YPG after expelling Turkey from the F-35 aircraft program. In the current situation, the group of states recognizing the Kurdish issue as a threat has been expanded, according to the Turkish media and the Turkish government side (Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ), “this is a victory for the Turkish nation and the Turkish Republic, and the issue of extradition is still valid.” The press and public relations adviser of basin.adalet.gov.tr argues that NATO’s collective defense can only be achieved if the security of individual members is ensured. The Turkish effort to combat Daesh in Syria is contributing to the security of the alliance. According to this website, it can be seen that countries such as Sweden, France, Germany and the United States have been supporting terrorist organizations for a long time. Therefore, reaching a consensus on a common definition of terrorism and the assessment of support for an organization on the basis of one’s own vested interests will remain a matter of dispute. The ambiguity of the actions of the President of Turkey puts strong pressure on the West, which raises the question of what position can Turkey adopt in the event of the victory of the Russian Federation in the eastern part of Ukraine? Will President Erdogan not try to rejoin the camp of non-democratic countries, including Russia, Iran, and China, to re-gain material or political benefits through pressure on the west?
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