Ankara and Moscow have been reliable partners in the past and that spirit of cooperation now appears to be, with NATO and Russia relations on the line, more important than ever.
Ankara has waded knee-deep into the long simmering standoff between Russia and the United States over NATO expansion, suggesting that Moscow is being too “one-sided” in its call for a security agreement with the Western military bloc. Turkey, however, a NATO member since 1952, failed to mention its vested interests in Ukraine by way of military contracts that are fueling tensions on Russia’s border.
Following Moscow’s public release last month of a Russia-US draft security agreement, which stipulates that the US “take measures to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and deny accession to the Alliance to the former USSR republics,” Turkey complained that the document might not be acceptable to both parties.
“For any proposal to be accepted, it should be acceptable by both sides. Russia made some proposals. But maybe NATO seeks the same kind of guarantees from Russia. This is not a one-sided issue,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.
Ankara’s remark provides a tragically myopic and selective reading of history. The really “one-sided” nature of the standoff involves the 30-member military bloc steadily encroaching on Russia’s borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite Western assurances back in 1990 that NATO would not advance “one inch eastward,” today the bloc abuts the Russian border in the Baltic States of Estonia and Latvia, while volatile Ukraine regularly clamors for membership. Here marks the red line that will not be crossed without some response from Russia.
“The United States of America shall take measures to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and deny accession to the Alliance to the former USSR republics,” the draft agreement reads in no uncertain terms.
Additionally, in a clear nod to Ukraine, the Russian draft stipulates the United States’ commitment not to build military bases in former Soviet states that are not NATO members; not to use their infrastructure to carry out any military activity; and not to develop bilateral military cooperation with them.
It’s important to note that NATO expansion has not been occurring inside of a vacuum, but rather in step with some reckless moves on the part of the United States, particularly its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Signed in 1972, the document imposed strict limitations on anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems used in defending areas against missile-delivered nuclear weapons. After George W. Bush pulled out from the ABM in 2001, ostensibly from some “rogue threat” against Europe, Russia was forced to research and develop hypersonic weapons impervious to any missile defense system.
Although Russia has now achieved what even Western observers call ‘superiority’ when it comes to such weapons, allowing NATO to open franchises smack on the Russian border would present a huge challenge to any defensive technologies regardless of its sophistication. In fact, the only way to defeat a threat in such proximity would be preemptively, either through negotiations or otherwise. As military leaders are fond of saying, ‘all options are on the table.’
Unfortunately, however, where the Western capitals see smoke and mirrors coming from Moscow, Russia sees parallels between the Russia-NATO impasse and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
“You know, it could quite possibly reach that point,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said when asked if things could get as far as to repeat the Cuban Missile Crisis. “If comrades on the other side fail to understand us and keep doing what they are doing, we might wake up at some point to see something similar, if that’s what further developments will suggest.”
“That would be a total failure of diplomacy, a failure of foreign policy,” he went on to say. “But there’s still time to try to reach an agreement based on reason.”
Back to Turkey. It’s no secret that Ankara, which has long hedged its military bets between NATO and Russia, has been helping to foment tensions in the Donbass by selling combat drone systems to Kiev. That is a hefty footnote to Ankara’s lecturing of Moscow that got conveniently left out of the mainstream media account.
Ankara’s excuse that this aviation technology is “no longer a Turkish product, but belongs to the country which buys it,” sounds a bit like a drug-exporting country claiming it is not responsible for any ill effects the dangerous contraband may cause abroad, even though it has all of the means at its disposal to halt the exports.
Although every country has the freedom to sell military weapons abroad, to knowingly arm a country in the midst of internal strife – and at the exact nexus point where NATO and Russian geopolitical interests collide – is a monumentally reckless move, loaded with all sorts of potential disaster. Any technological deliveries that give one side in the Ukrainian civil war a perceived sense of military advantage risks, at the very least, fracturing the Minsk Protocol of 2015 that delivered a tenuous ceasefire to the region.
With such grave matters at hand, Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Jan. 2 pledged to improve ties during a telephone call.
After exchanging holiday greetings, the leaders summed up the main results of bilateral cooperation and reaffirmed their intention to further promote the mutually beneficial partnership between Russia and Turkey, the two sides confirmed.
International topics were also touched upon, including proposals to develop legal agreements that would «guarantee the security of the Russian Federation, as well as the developments in Transcaucasia and issues related to the Syrian and Libyan settlement process,” according to a statement from the Kremlin website.
Ankara and Moscow have been reliable partners in the past – most notably in their mutual fight against Islamic State in Syria – and that spirit of cooperation and mutual partnership now appears to be, with NATO and Russia relations on the line, more important than ever.