Globalist Analysis

Turkey Undermines NATO, Yet Again

Erdogan saves Putin’s Belarusian ally by playing spoiler role within NATO.

Takeaways


  • Erdogan’s latest rush to save Putin-ally Lukashenko shows how far the Turkish president will go to express solidarity with his fellow strongmen in Russia and Belarus.
  • The spoiler role Erdogan plays within NATO will raise skepticism about Turkey within the transatlantic alliance.
  • JoeBiden should remind the Turkish leader of the basic tenets and values of the transatlantic alliance.
  • A frank conversation about the spoiler role Erdogan has been playing on behalf of Putin, to the detriment of Europe’s security, is called for.

Turkey has once again signaled who it considers to be among its true friends. The country has reportedly used its veto power as a member of NATO to water down an official condemnation of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

The condemnation sprang from Lukashenko’s forcing down of a passenger plane, in order to arrest Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist on board.

Alas, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s move to protect Russia’s Belarusian ally is only the latest case of collusion between Ankara and Moscow to undermine NATO.

EU response

Lukashenko’s ploy to arrest Protasevich has drawn vocal criticism worldwide. The European Union has decided to introduce sanctions in response.

On the day of the incident, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that the development was a “serious, dangerous incident which requires international investigation.” He called on Belarus to ensure the safe return of the crew and all passengers.

A few days later, NATO issued a statement condemning the “forced diversion” of the plane. The statement also declared its support for, “measures taken by Allies individually and collectively in response to this incident.”

Turkey’s constant blocking

However, according to Reuters, Turkey blocked the punitive steps that Baltic allies and Poland had pressed for.

Ankara also prevented calls for additional Western sanctions on Belarus and the release of political prisoners there.

On May 31, in his interview with Kommersant, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei also confirmed that Ankara opposed stronger action by NATO and stated, “we are grateful to Turkey for such a position.” He added, “we have absolutely close, friendly relations with this country.”

This follows two earlier episodes where Ankara similarly watered down NATO’s harsher response to Russia.

Al-Monitor reports that Ankara diluted the wording of a statement expressing solidarity with the United States over Russia’s cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies.

NATO’s “Elephant in the Room”

Turkey did this again with another statement that voiced concern over Russian military intelligence’s blowing up of ammunition storage depots in the Czech Republic in 2014.

Turkey further blocked a NATO defense plan for Poland and the Baltic states for over six months, until June 2020. This had prompted the New York Times to label the country, “NATO’s ‘Elephant in the Room.’”

Erdogan-Lukashenko lovefest

Erdogan and Lukashenko also have a history of rushing to the aid of one another. In August 2020, the European Council had declared Belarus’s disputed presidential election “neither free nor fair.” It refused to recognize the results.

Yet, Turkey’s Erdogan was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Lukashenko. In doing so, he was in the company of other authoritarian leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Erdogan-Lukashenko lovefest goes back to Erdogan’s 2017 power grab in Turkey. Amidst the global condemnation that followed, Lukashenko was one of the first to congratulate his Turkish counterpart.

“Brotherly” relations

The following year, when Erdogan won Turkey’s presidential election, Lukashenko claimed that Minsk and Ankara had established “truly unique brotherly relations.” The Belarusian president also highlighted the potential of “strategic bilateral cooperation.”

Collusion between Ankara and Moscow to undermine NATO is nothing new. When Turkey signed a missile deal with Russia in 2017, it became the first NATO member to purchase big-ticket military hardware from Moscow.

Unprecedented sanctions against Turke

Since then, Turkey also became the first NATO member that the United States has sanctioned in keeping with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

This Act targets significant transactions with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors.

Similarly, Turkey’s cross-border military operations in Syria have drawn criticism for strengthening Russia’s political and military footprint in the war-torn country.

This has been at the expense of the United States and its Syrian-Kurdish-led partners in the fight against the Islamic State.

Drifting further away from NATO

Turkey was once a pro-Western bulwark on NATO’s southeastern flank. But under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey continues to drift away from, and play a spoiler role within, the transatlantic alliance.

Erdogan’s latest rush to save Putin’s ally Lukashenko shows how far the Turkish president will go to express solidarity with his fellow strongmen in Russia and Belarus.

The spoiler role Erdogan plays within NATO will further raise skepticism about Turkey within the transatlantic alliance. It also runs counter to Turkey’s expressed interest in Ankara gaining a role in the European Union’s defense mechanisms.

Need to set the record straight

The upcoming NATO summit in mid-June is an opportunity for Turkey’s NATO allies to set the record straight.

U.S. President Joe Biden should use his scheduled bilateral meeting with Erdogan as an opportunity to remind the Turkish leader of the basic tenets and values of the transatlantic alliance.

For European members of NATO, this would also be a good time to put an end to their appeasement policy toward Erdogan.

A frank conversation about the spoiler role he has been playing on behalf of Putin to the detriment of Europe’s security is called for.

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About Aykan Erdemir

Aykan Erdemir is the senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former member of the Turkish Parliament.

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