Less than a day after Turkey's surprising pivot toward Russia, when in his first post-coup trip abroad Turkey president Erdogan flew not to a western, or NATO, ally but instead jaunted over the Russia to fix and cement future ties, including among other a resumption of work on the mothballed Turkish Stream gas pipeline, NATO appears to have gotten rather defensive, and in what some commentators dubbed an "odd move", reminded Turkey that it is still an ally member.
From NATO's secretary general:
In view of speculative press reports regarding NATO's stance regarding the failed coup in Turkey and Turkey’s NATO membership, let me stress NATO's very clear position.
Turkey is a valued Ally, making substantial contributions to NATO's joint efforts. Turkey takes full part in the Alliance’s consensus-based decisions as we confront the biggest security challenges in a generation. Turkey’s NATO membership is not in question. Our Alliance is committed to collective defence and founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, human rights and the rule of law. NATO counts on the continued contributions of Turkey and Turkey can count on the solidarity and support of NATO.
The NATO Secretary General spoke to the Turkish Foreign Minister on the night of the attempted coup and later with President Erdogan, strongly condemning the attempted coup and reiterating full support for Turkey’s democratic institutions. He expressed support for the elected government of Turkey and respect for the courage of the Turkish people. He also conveyed his condolences for those who had lost their lives during the coup attempt.
While we don't doubt that Turkey - and Putin - are well aware of NATO's stance on Turkey, which allegedly hosts over 50 US nuclear bombs at Incirlik and thus is an indispensable member of the alliance, and one with megatons of leverage, Turkey pressed on today with its recent "anti-western" agenda, when it said earlier today that the European Union was making grave mistakes in its response to Turkey's failed coup and was losing support for EU membership from Turks as a result.
As Reuters notes, Ankara has argued that the United States and Europe have shown undue concern over a crackdown following the abortive July 15 coup but indifference to the putsch itself.
"Unfortunately the EU is making some serious mistakes. They have failed the test following the coup attempt," foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with state-run Anadolu Agency. "Support for EU membership used to be around 50 percent of the population, I assume it is around 20 percent now."
Surely that will come as good news to Merkel who has been pressured by Turkey to accelerate the country's accession into Europe as part of the refugee deal struck in March, and which Erdogan has threatened to abandon unless Turkey gets a visa-waiver for travel into the customs union.
Meanwhile, as reported yesterday, Erdogan on Tuesday took a big step toward normalizing relations with Russia, meeting President Vladimir Putin in a visit to St Petersburg, his first foreign trip since the failed putsch. The visit was closely watched in the West, where some fear that both men, powerful leaders critics say are ill-disposed to dissent, might use their rapprochement to exert pressure on Washington and the European Union and stir tensions within NATO, the military alliance of which Turkey is a member.
The visit also explains NATO's urgency to preempt any potential "concern" by Turkey that it may have to retaliate. Cavusoglu said Turkey's rapprochement with Russia was not intended to unsettle Europe or the United States. However, he also warned the West against the possibility of one day "losing" Turkey.
"We are not amending our relations with Russia to send a message to the West," he told Anadolu. "If the West loses Turkey one day, it will not be because of Turkey's relations with Russia, China, or the Islamic world, but rather because of themselves." The warning has been duly noted, much to Putin's delight.
Meanwhile the Russian president said Tuesday said Moscow would gradually phase out sanctions against Ankara, imposed after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border nine months ago, and that bringing ties to their pre-crisis level was the priority. Cavusoglu also indicated that Turkey could find common ground with Russia on Syria, where they have been on opposing sides of the conflict. Moscow backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey says Assad is a dictator who must be removed.
"We think similarly regarding the ceasefire, humanitarian aid and (the need for) political resolution in Syria. We may think differently on how to implement the ceasefire," he said. He also said that Turkey was building a "strong mechanism" with Russia to find a solution in Syria, and a delegation including the foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials will go to Russia on Wednesday for talks.
And so, having tentatively roped in Turkey into Russia's growing sphere of influence, yesterday Putin made an unexpected beeline for Europe's latest casualty: the UK itself. As the Telegraph reports, Putin and the UK's new PM Theresa May, spoke for the first time since she took office and both expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of Russian-British relations.
The announcement by the Kremlin could herald the start of improved relations between the two countries that have been strained since the 2006 poisoning death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko and the Ukraine crisis, among other issues.
In the phone call, which Moscow said was initiated by Britain, both leaders "expressed dissatisfaction with the current parameters of cooperation in both the political and economic sphere".
The Kremlin said Mr Putin and Mrs May agreed to develop a dialogue between security agencies on issues related to aviation security, and made plans for a face-to-face meeting in the "near future".
The statement noted that Mrs May confirmed Britain's intention to participate in ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first British Second World War convoy in the Russian city Arkhangelsk this month.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Mrs May spoke on the phone with the Russian president.
"The Prime Minister noted the importance of the relationship between the UK and Russia and expressed the hope that, despite differences on certain issues, they could communicate in an open and honest way about the issues that mattered most to them," the spokesman said.
"The Prime Minister and president agreed that British and Russian citizens faced common threats from terrorism, and that co-operation on aviation security in particular was a vital part of the international counter-terrorism effort."
It would appear that contrary to Obama's infamous summary, Russia is no longer quite as "isolated" as the West believes...