NATO’s 2nd-largest military is ‘bending’ to Russia — and leaving the US out in the cold – Business Insider


putin erdogan
Russian
President Vladimir Putin with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey’s
prime minister, after a news conference in Istanbul in
2012.

Osman
Orsal/Reuters


The US was not invited to a meeting held Tuesday in Moscow
between Turkish, Russian, and Iranian officials aimed at solving
the crisis in Syria — and it’s not the first time Washington has
been left out in the cold.

The US
was also shut out
of negotiations between Russian officials
and Syrian rebel factions hosted by Turkish officials in Ankara
earlier this month. Those talks ultimately led to a fragile
cease-fire and evacuation deal in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo,
where fighting intensified in recent weeks.

Though the two countries are on opposite sides of the war in
Syria — with Turkey supporting the opposition and Russia
supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad — Turkish officials
reportedly signed a Russian proposal to end the conflict, titled
the “Moscow Declaration,” during their meeting in the Russian
capital on Tuesday.

“This is Turkey bending to Russia,” Aaron Stein, an expert on
Turkey and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told
The New York Times
on Wednesday. “This is putting a fine
point on Turkey’s policy of ‘Assad must go’ no longer being the
policy.”

The Turkish-Russian rapprochement — which has been ongoing since
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to his Russian
counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for Turkey’s shooting down a Russian
warplane in November 2015 —
is likely to continue
after the assassination of Russia’s
ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, in Ankara on Monday.

Statements released by Russian and Turkish officials in the
aftermath of Karlov’s death suggested the countries
were determined
not to let the incident derail their renewed
friendship, while Erdogan and Putin said the assassination had
only strengthened their resolve to jointly fight terrorism.

Officials and lawmakers in both countries, meanwhile, have
implied that the US may have played a role in Karlov’s
assassination, an insinuation
the US State Department has vehemently denied
.


karlov
Andrey
Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at the art gallery in
Ankara, Turkey, on Monday before he was killed by an
assassin.

Burhan
Ozbilici/AP


In any case, analysts say, those declarations both explain and
foreshadow the countries’ increasing coordination in the Middle
East — and their evolving hostility toward the US.

At this point, “Moscow has almost everything it wants from Ankara
in Syria,” said
Soner
Cagaptay
, the director of the Turkish program at The
Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Including Turkish
acquiescence to Aleppo’s fall.”

Forces backing Assad, including Iranian-led Shia militias and
Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, recently took back the rebels’ last
enclave in eastern Aleppo amid heavy airstrikes from Russian and
Syrian warplanes.

Turkey has long been staunchly opposed to Assad but has softened
its calls for him to step down, and deprioritized its support for
the Syrian opposition, amid its rapprochement with Russia and
fears that an autonomous Kurdish zone will be established along
the Turkish-Syrian border.

Given Turkey’s dependence on Russian energy and tourism, moreover
— and the current tensions between Turkey and the West over its
poor human-rights record and censorship of the press following an
attempted coup in July — it is in Ankara’s interests to maintain
the pace of its diplomacy with Moscow.

“I don’t think we should be surprised to see Turkey moving closer
to Russia given the more immediate benefits that Russia can
deliver,” Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst at the Israel
Policy Forum,
said in early October
.

‘It’s just a free-for-all’

As the Turkish-Russian relationship gets stronger, US-Russian
relations have reached their lowest point since the end of the
Cold War. The State Department formally cut off its bilateral
channels with Russia over what it called “war crimes” in Syria in
early October, and President Barack Obama has threatened to
retaliate against Moscow for a hacking campaign during the
presidential campaign that US intelligence agencies believe was
designed to help President-elect Donald Trump.

Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing the Russian news agency RIA
Novosti, that nearly all communication channels between the US
and Russia had been frozen. But the State Department denied that
there had been a break in dialogue.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what is meant by this comment,
but diplomatic engagement with Russia continues across a wide
range of issues,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told
Business Insider.

“That we have significant differences with Moscow on some of
these issues is well known, but there hasn’t been a break in
dialogue,” he added. “Indeed, as we noted, Secretary Kerry spoke
by phone with Foreign Minister Lavrov just yesterday about the
situation in Syria.”

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has continued to meet and
speak regularly with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov,
about Syria since the State Department formally suspended
negotiations with Russia over Syria in October. But the US has
not been present at the two most consequential Syria meetings
held in the past month in the Turkish and Russian capitals.

Russia has been quick to take advantage of the tensions between
Turkey and the West.

“Russia understands that nobody gives you anything, you just have
to take it, and in this environment, with the US retreating
faster than the other side can advance, it’s just a
free-for-all,” Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, told The New York Times.

“When the Turks, the Iranians, and the Russians all agree on a
process without the US being in the room,” he added, “you realize
there is a problem for us.”

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