Those with a Cold War mentality have still not been able to apprehend the new reality that in an age of multilateralism in pursuit of win-win relations, Turkey can have positive relations with both Russia and the United States, as well as multiple other nations and economic blocs. Many such leftover Cold Warriors in Russian “intellectual” circles, western “intellectual” circles and beyond, continue to misrepresent Turkey as a nation being manipulated by America and Russia simultaneously when if anything the opposite is true. The objective reality however, is that because of Turkey’s vital role as a reinvigorated power in western Eurasia and because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s firm stance as an exponent of global multipolarity, Turkey is in the position of making the most out of all its partnerships whether with Russia and the US, China and Pakistan, as well as friends throughout Africa and parts of the Arab world – notably the wealthy Qatar.
When it was revealed that Donald Trump made his decision to call for the withdrawal of US troops from Syria in the midst of a phone conversation with the Turkish President, three things were immediately clear. First of all, Trump realised that preserving the NATO alliance was far more valuable in the long term than occupying part of Syria with the assistance of the notorious YPG/PKK terror organisation. Secondly, Trump understood that while Erdoğan harbours no specific desire to harm US interests, as the President of Turkey, he will prioritise Turkish security over American geostrategy. As Donald Trump is fond of naming his policy “America first”, surely Erdoğan’s desire to put the safety of Turkish civilians first must have resonated clearly with the US leader. Finally, as the phone call with Erdoğan was the proximate cause of the US withdrawal form Syria, the Turkish President also made it clear that a regional based anti-terror operation and accompanying peace process will deliver far more sustainable results than one planned in distant Washington. Self-evidently and according to his own subsequent Tweets, Trump fully agrees.
Thus, the US and Turkey reached a win-win conclusion to a long running dispute not long after the issue of the convicted terrorist Andrew Brunson was resolved to the overall mutual satisfaction of both sides.
And yet while some have stated that the Erdoğan-Trump win-win deal over Syria was somehow an attempt to distort the progress of the rapidly growing Russia-Turkey partnership, such voices were as mistaken as those who stated that Turkey could or even should act in an irrational manner towards the US. The fact of the matter is that the Russo-Turkish partnership extends well beyond Syria. In terms of cooperation in the development of Turkey’s first nuclear power station, to the Turk Stream gas pipeline, to expanded bilateral trade and cultural exchange – cooperation with Turkey in Syria in the Astana Format (with Iran) as well as bilaterally, is just one of many key long term areas in which Moscow and Ankara are building a strong partnership. If any further proof of this was needed, Turkey remains steadfast in its desire to purchase Russian S-400 missile defence systems while also guaranteeing that if Turkey also receives US patriot missiles, Ankara will not share the internal workings of any one of these systems with that of the respective rival superpower.
Beyond this, wile foreign direct investment into Turkey has rapidly increased with EU partners leading the way, China has also vastly increased its investments in Turkey as both nations continue to cooperate closely within the framework of the Belt and Road. As Turkey forms a vital part of the Belt and Road initiative, while Pakistan has invited Turkey to participate in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it is likely that well before mid-century, China might become Turkey’s leading economic partner. This partnership would of course benefit not only China and Turkey but also Pakistan, Iran and Europe.
In respect of Iran, it is important to highlight the fact that shortly after Trump’s announcement of a US troop withdrawal from Turkey, the Turkish President hosted Iranian President Rouhani and a large Iranian delegation during which time Erdoğan re-emphasised the importance of good neighbourly relations with Iran and a firm commitment to opposing US sanctions on Tehran. Thus, while Trump acted save NATO by avoiding a US-Turkey schism over the YPG/PKK terror group, Turkey also showed robust independence in strengthening fraternal ties with Iran – in spite of US threats regarding so-called second party sanctions. Indeed, it was Turkey’s unequivocal attitude towards maintaining an economic partnership with Iran that helped to attain a temporary second party sanctions wavier from Washington in respect of Ankara’s continued purchases of Iranian energy.
Finally, while some in the Arab world seek to draw Russia into a possible confrontation pitting Damascus against Turkey in the race to fill the void left by soon to be withdrawn US troops in Syria, the Russian President’s recent fraternal new year greeting to his Turkish counterpart makes it clear that there is no external pressure that can threaten the success of the Russo-Turkish partnership in Syria or anywhere else for that matter.
Turkey has therefore been able to attain a position where both major international powers and regional partners look to ask what they can do for Ankara rather than ask what Ankara can do for them. The result in all cases is a win-win outcome that vindicates foreign policy moves taken by Turkey which may seem bold in terms of their action steps, but which are ultimately deeply practical in terms of securing regional peace through prosperity – all the while building new partnerships and strengthening old ones on the basis of mutual respect.