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The authoritarian, Islamist leader of the Republic of Turkey delivered a shot in the arm to embattled Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin this week, by threatening to block the accession of Finland and Sweden to the NATO military alliance.
Some observers believe Russian influence with Ankara could be one of the factors behind Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declaration regarding the two Nordic nations, and not just Turkish complaints against them being a kind of haven for Kurdish refugees, which it views as terrorists.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MARCH 05: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during their talks at the Kremlin on March 5, 2020 in Moscow, Russia. Erdogan is having a one day visit to Russia to discuss the war conflcit in Syria. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine Turkey has not sanctioned Russia, unlike most NATO members who have. It has reportedly become a safe haven for Russian oligarch money and it has already thumbed its nose up to the U.S. when it purchased Russia S-400 air missile defense system which led to U.S. sanctions in 2020.
U.S. officials raised alarm bells that the S-400 deal with Russia could endanger NATO security and jeopardize American-Turkey intelligence sharing.
Marshall Billingslea, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former assistant Secretary General of NATO, told Fox News Digital, “It is important to understand that Turkey is playing the same game today that it is always has played in the region with respect to Turkey taking stances that benefits its own interests and run counter to NATO’s.”
He continued that Ankara is an “independent actor and took stances that had benefits for the Russians,” Billingslea said. He cited one telling example when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Turkey closed access to the Black Sea. The closure prevented U.S. naval vessels from aiding Georgia.
However, Turkey’s independence of action also means it delivered drones to Ukraine, the NATO expert noted. The Turks work “to benefit their interests,” he said.
Theodore Karasik, a fellow on Russian and Middle Eastern Affairs at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, told Fox News Digital that Turkey wants to “avoid being on Russia’s target list later.”
Erdogan recently announced the return of Syrian refugees living in Turkey back to their country, and Russia’s cooperation is necessary for this due to its strong presence in the Syrian Arab Republic, noted Karasik.
The Turkish and Russian “struggle over shipping issues” could be an additional worry for Erdogan, said Karasik. If the Western powers sanction Russian vessels, Ankara could be confronted with demands to close the vital Dardanelles shipping route to Russia’s maritime industry,” he continued.
Karasik added that Erdogan is “using the Finnish and Swedish applications to garner favors from other countries so Turkey benefits in the end.”
Erdogan’s efforts to destabilize the NATO alliance gained traction after a segment of the Turkish military launched an unsuccessful coup against him in 2016.
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Mehmet Yalinalp, who was dismissed from the military following the failed coup while he was serving as the head of NATO’s air command strategy in Germany, whose email was recently quoted in a book, titled “Erdogan Rising: A Warning To Europe,” by Hannah Lucinda-Smith, where he noted the change of views on NATO: “As the historical purge of thousands of military personnel takes a faster speed, I and my Turkish colleagues observe a considerable rise of ultra-nationalist, anti-western sentiments within our military and throughout our state departments.”
Yalinalp noted that new Turkish military personnel in NATO “have a radical mindset, some question the values of NATO and even hate Western organizations, while holding pro-Russia/China/Iran sentiments.”
Burak Bekdil is prominent Turkish political columnist who wrote for Hurriyet Daily News for 29 years, and is now a fellow for the Middle East Forum, told Fox News Digital : “I called Erdogan Putin’s man in NATO though there are nuances to my more ideological assessment. Erdogan feels at home comfort when he deals with authoritarian leaders like himself, instead of liberal democrats who remind him of Turkey’s widening democratic deficit.”
Bekdil, who was fired from Hurriyet Daily News in 2017, for writing critical articles about Turkey on a US news site, added that” There is also a transactional Erdogan who is programmed to use the West and its institutions, including NATO, where it’s useful and confronting them when that is useful. Despite the transaction-himself, Erdogan has been Putin’s man in NATO, too, for ideological reasons as well: His ideological raison d’etre is pillared on a rigid anti-West thinking.”
Some commentators say enough is enough and Turkey should be kicked out of NATO. Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, said recently, “I don’t think Turkey belongs in NATO. I’ve been saying this for a decade.
“It is time to expel Turkey from NATO. Let it go to Russia, let it go to China. Good riddance,” Pipes declared.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during the NATO summit at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 14, 2021. (Reuters/Yves Herman/Pool/File Photo)
A member of NATO can withdraw under Article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty. According to the NATO charter, “Any party may cease to be a party after one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the government of the United States of America.” There is, however, no mechanism in the charter to expel a member.”
Pipes, a veteran observer of the Anatolian nation, said, “Turkey was from 1952 to 2002 a very good ally for NATO, but for the past 20 years, it has been a very bad one. Not even an ally… it pursues policies that are hostile to NATO, it’s aggressive towards NATO members, members like Greece, it engages in the invasion of Syria, it threatens Europe with Syrian migrants. The Turkish government sees Europe as a transactional relationship.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in an effort to settle the dispute over Finland and Sweden on Wednesday.
Blinken noted that Finland and Sweden submitted their NATO applications “and this of course is a process, and we will work through that process as Allies and as partners.”
He did not delve into the diplomatic spat over Turkey tossing a wrench into the NATO application process for the two Nordic countries.
Cavusoglu, for his part, said Turkey and the U.S. needed better cooperation and again relayed Turkey’s stated opposition to Finland and Sweden’s joining NATO. “We see the threat in our region, and that’s the reason we see that Finland and Sweden want to be NATO member, new member. Turkey has been supporting the ‘Open Door’ policy of NATO even before this war. But with regards to these possible candidates, or already candidate countries, we have also legitimate security concerns that they had been supporting terrorist organizations. And there are also export restrictions on defense products.”
The “Open Door” policy is laid out in Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty and states that any European nation that is “in a position to further the principles of the Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area” can seek membership.
Questions sent to the Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. and the Turkish foreign ministry were not returned, but some fierce critics of the Turkish government say it’s not so much about Putin but it’s how Erdogan has pinned the blame on Finland and Sweden for allegedly providing refuge to Kurdish secessionists.
“Neither of these countries has a clear, open attitude toward terrorist organizations. How can we trust them?” Erdogan said in defending his planned veto, adding that Sweden has served as a “hatchery” for terrorist organizations. Erdogan views the two northern European countries as showing sympathy for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that seeks an independent state within Turkey’s borders.
Pro-Kurdish demonstrators protest against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the political repression that followed July’s failed military coup, in Cologne, Germany Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. People showing flags of detained Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK , leader Abdullah Ocalan. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) (The Associated Press)
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist who would likely face arrest if she returned to Turkey, told Fox News Digital: “There are many Kurdish politicians, human rights activists and political refugees in Finland and Sweden. The Turkish government sees them as ‘terrorists’ and appears to be blackmailing these two nations into extraditing them to Turkey. European nations also seem to understand the Kurdish plight and are sympathetic to Kurdish efforts for political equality in Turkey.”
She continued, “Turkey’s blocking of Sweden and Finland is also an attempt to bully the West into bowing down to whatever economic, political, and military demands Turkey might have. It is similar to Turkey’s previous attempt to blackmail the European Union with an influx of immigrants and refugees [from Syria and elsewhere].”
For NATO to allow Sweden and Finland’s membership all 30-members must vote yes. Yet, while many observers believe Turkey could eventually come around inasmuch as its demands are met, however there is for now one world leader who is profiting from the spat, and that is Vladimir Putin.