Turkey accuses US of aiding ISIL and other terrorist groups. Is Turkey falling out with the US and warming to Russia?

by omouggos

Foreign Ministers of Russia and Turkey shake hands, symbolic of the improving relations between the two countries.

Foreign Ministers of Russia and Turkey shake hands, symbolic of the improving relations between the two countries.

In theory Turkey and the US are allies. Both are members of NATO and during the Cold War Turkey acted as an important strategic buffer against the Soviet Union, so much so that American nuclear weapons were, and still are1, stationed there. Furthermore, as a consequence of Turkey and the US being NATO allies, and based on historical precedent, one would presume that Turkey would be antagonistic towards Russia, the supposed arch-enemy of NATO.

At one time such a view of Turkey was valid, as evinced in November 2016 when Turkish fighter-jets shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber, an incident which at the time had me speculating that a possible armed conflict between Turkey and Russia was about to erupt, which in the worst case could precipitate a nuclear war between NATO and Russia.2 However, with time geopolitical conditions, as influenced by the pursuit of national interests, have changed, so that the previously accepted theory no longer coincides with the current reality.

Based on recent developments in the region and on statements emanating from Turkey, it is becoming apparent that relations between Turkey and the US are souring significantly, while at the same time those between Turkey and Russia are greatly improving.

Is Turkey turning against the US?

There are many within Turkey who believe, or at the very least want others to believe, that the US, along with some European countries, is supporting terrorist groups such as FETÖ, ISIL, PKK and PYD in an attempt to destabilize Turkey. Such accusations became prevalent in the Turkish media following the July 15 attempted coup. Probably the best example of such views is provided by Ibrahim Karagül, a pro-Erdoğan columnist for Yeni Safak, who basically believes that the US is attempting to depose Erdoğan and partition Turkey into numerous statelets.3

It is one thing for a journalist such as Karagül, however close he is with Erdoğan, to accuse of the US of supporting terrorist groups, but it is quite another thing when high ranking Turkish officials, including the President himself, publicly make such accusations. Over the last few days this is in fact what has been occurring.

Seemingly ticked off by Western allegations that Turkey has been supporting ISIL, on Tuesday (Dec 27) Erdoğan made his own recriminations.4 He started off by saying “They [anti-ISIL coalition forces] were accusing us of supporting Daesh.” Then he continued:

“Now they’ve all vanished and they’re giving support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG and the PYD. It’s very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos.”

To ensure no one dismissed his statements as some type of off the cuff gaffe, two days later, Erdoğan remained adamant and reiterated his allegations against NATO:5

“NATO allies must stand with their partners in Syria, not with terrorist organizations. … You sent arms to terror organizations, but then say, ‘We sent ammunition, not arms.” We don’t buy that or accept it. Even though we are partners in NATO, you are giving this support to terrorist organizations, not us. Are the terrorist organizations your partner in NATO? If we are strategic partners in NATO, then you should stand with us.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also claimed, “The U.S. has been giving arms to the YPG, period. … The reason why the YPG is putting pressure on the U.S. is because they want to bridge their terror cantons. The U.S. wants to use the YPG for its Raqqa offensive.” Not surprisingly the Russians are convinced by Turkey’s recriminations as Aleksey Pushkov, head of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted, “Erdoğan is right, there are many things showing U.S. support for terrorist organizations. It is absurd for the State Department to claim the opposite.6

Of course the US are vehemently denying such serious allegations. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner called them “ludicrous” stating they have “No basis for truth, as you can all imagine. I don’t think anyone could look at our actions on the ground leading the coalition in northern Syria, in Iraq, and say anything other than that we’re 100 percent behind the defeat, destruction of Daesh.7

The US Embassy in Ankara released the following statement:8

“The United States government [USG] is not supporting DAESH. The USG did not create or support DAESH in the past. Assertions the United States government is supporting DAESH are not true.
The United States government has not provided weapons or explosives to the YPG or the PKK–period. We repeatedly have condemned PKK terrorist attacks and the group’s reprehensible violence in Turkey.”

The Turkish media didn’t seem too convinced by the above statement, with the Pro-Erdoğan Güneş daily likening US Ambassador John Bass to Jihadi John, calling him “liar John.9 Karagül criticized the US ambassador’s denial, writing he “is lying to our people’s faces” and “is mocking and ridiculing the entire country.10

US Ambassador “Liar” John Bass being compared to Jihadi John.

Russian-Turkish relations are improving

Putting aside one’s amazement of a leader of a fellow NATO nation accusing the US of supporting ISIL, what is most interesting in this whole Turkish-American spat is as relations between these two countries become more and more strained, relations between Turkey and Russia are inversely improving.

On Thursday (Dec 29), the two countries, along with Iran, announced that they have finalized a ceasefire agreement between the Assad regime and the rebels.11 Conspicuous by their absence from the negotiations of this ceasefire agreement was the US. (I guess the major players in the Syrian Civil War have come to the valid conclusion that dealing with the US is of little use and is probably a hindrance.)

Another example of increasing Russia-Turkish cooperation in Syria is that, according to the Turkish military, Russian warplanes are conducting airstrikes against ISIL around al-Bab, a town in northern in which the Turks along with their rebel proxies are attempting to capture from ISIL.12 Furthermore, it has been revealed that the Russian air strikes were facilitated by Turkish military intelligence.13 One has to wonder whether this Russian-Turkish military coordination in al-Bab was spontaneous or was it agreed upon during the ceasefire negotiations?

It should also be noted that during the same speech Erdoğan accused the US of aiding ISIL, he also complained “Even though the U.S.-led coalition has failed to keep its promises [pledging air support] in our operation to liberate Al-Bab, we will rid the city of Daesh terrorists, no matter what.14 So Turkey’s ally the US is not providing aid in their ostensible fight against ISIL, while Russia now is. However the US is beginning to provide air-support to Turkey’s operation against al-Bab, most likely in response to Russia’s assistance.15

Further indication that Turkey’s relations with Russia are improving at the expense of relations with the US come following the latter’s decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s supposed interference in the US elections. In response to this situation Çavuşoğlu made a statement, which at best can be considered neutral but which also could be interpreted as being critical of the US. He stated “[tensions] will serve nothing but add to the existing problems. We do not want to go back to the Cold War era. There is already a pile of problems around the world.16

Who would have thought over one year ago following Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber, that instead of outright conflict between these two countries, they are now successfully cooperating with each other. I guess one should always expect the unexpected. However, while Turkey currently appears to be aligning with Russia and moving away from the US, this does not mean that in the near-term future or beyond, that this state of affairs will continue. Turkey may once again have rising tensions with Russia and improved relations with the US.

Obama’s failed foreign policy

The vicissitudes of Middle Eastern foreign relations aside, what is particularly note worthy, even comical, about this unfolding situation, is that it is partly the result of President Barack Obama. Many believed that when the multicultural and suave Obama became President in 2008 that he would usher in a new era of US foreign policy in which America’s world image and international relations would be greatly improved. But alas this was not the case, and in fact the opposite has occurred with many nations thoroughly disliking Obama and feeling alienated by him.

Case in point Turkey. In June Erdoğan expressed his disappointment with Obama stating:17

“We were very hopeful when Mr. Obama picked Turkey as the first country to visit when he took the seat. … Unfortunately our expectations did not come true. For example, in the economic fields, the ties declined instead of improving. Our expectations in foreign politics were also not fulfilled. … We could not show a strong presence together on Syria and Iraq.”

A consequence of Turkey’s disillusionment with Obama is their shift towards Russia, as Putin is seen as a more reliable and capable partner. That Turkey is currently aligning with Russia, is particularly irksome to the US, as according to Obama and others in the establishment, Russia is a villainous nation, one with the temerity to interfere in the US election and the power to establish their preferred candidate Donald Trump as President.

Of course I don’t believe such nonsense, but nonetheless it is clear the Obama and company, for whatever reason, valid or not, see Russia as a great threat to their desired geopolitical world order. As such it is amusing that Obama’s ineptitude is helping to strengthen their main foreign enemy by pushing Turkey into Russia’s hands.

This is why I also find it amusing that the left and even some of the right is warning that Trump is going to undermine US relations with other countries, yet they fail to mention or realize that what they are so fearful of occurring has already happened under Obama. Even if Trump is unskilled in the craft of foreign relations, he will still have a long way to go before he reaches the ineptitude and poor leadership of Obama.

O Mouggos

References and Notes

[1] It should be noted that some of the American nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik airbase have been transferred to Romania following the aftermath of the July 15 attempted coup, due to safety concerns, not only of terrorists trying to steal the nukes but even possibly Turkey themselves. See my post Update on the failed Turkish coup. Part 5 The nuke situation in Turkey.

[2] Turkey Downs Russian Jet. Beginning of NATO Russia Confrontation?

[3] For an idea of Karagül’s world view here is a recent editorial of his: http://www.yenisafak.com/en/columns/ibrahimkaragul/no-fear-but-hope-nobody-can-make-turkey-step-back-2035131

[4] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/erdogan-says-us-led-coalition-gives-support-to-terrorist-groups-in-syria.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107834&NewsCatID=352

[5] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-us-in-fresh-spat-over-terror-support.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107886&NewsCatID=510

[6] http://www.dailysabah.com/war-on-terror/2016/12/28/russian-official-says-erdogan-right-in-us-support-for-daesh-as-us-embassy-denies-claims

[7] https://www.turkishminute.com/2016/12/28/us-erdogans-remark-us-led-coalition-supports-isil-ludicrous/

[8] http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-29/us-denies-it-created-isis-accuses-turkey-spreading-fake-news , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/us-embassy-in-turkey-us-is-not-supporting-isil.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107843&NewsCatID=358

[9] https://www.turkishminute.com/2016/12/29/pro-erdogan-paper-likens-us-ambassador-jihadi-john/

[10] http://www.yenisafak.com/en/columns/ibrahimkaragul/cease-fire-its-no-longer-about-syria-turkey-is-under-attack-2035232

[11] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/truce-declared-in-syria-on-turkish-russian-plan-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107899&NewsCatID=352 , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/erdogan-putin-discuss-syria-truce-astana-talks-over-phone-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107919&NewsCatID=510

[12] http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/12/29/503986/Russia-Syria-Turkey-Bab , http://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/russia-bombs-daesh-terrorists-in-al-bab-for-the-first-time-2588616 , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/russian-aircraft-carried-out-air-strikes-in-syrias-al-bab-area-turkish-military.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107923&NewsCatID=352

[13] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/russia-hits-isil-in-al-bab-on-turkish-military-intelligence.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107968&NewsCatID=352

[14] http://www.dailysabah.com/war-on-terror/2016/12/27/erdogan-says-us-led-coalition-failed-to-keep-its-promises-turkey-will-liberate-al-bab

[15] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/coalition-jets-strike-isil-in-syrias-al-bab-after-long-delay-turkish-fm.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107973&NewsCatID=510

[16] http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/12/31/504171/Turkey-Cavusoglu-US-Russia-stirring-up-of-tensions , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/tension-between-us-russia-serves-nothing-turkish-fm.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107975&NewsCatID=510

[17] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/erdogan-disappointed-by-obama-putin-.aspx?PageID=238&NID=100391&NewsCatID=510