In new geopolitical equilibriums, Turkey and US can mend ties

Various geopolitical issues, in which Turkey has taken active steps in recent years, are quickly developing and on two key fronts, the conflict has given way to reconciliation.

Various geopolitical issues, in which Turkey has taken active steps in recent years, are quickly developing and on two key fronts, the conflict has given way to reconciliation.

In Libya, Tripoli and Benghazi agreed to form a united government and hold elections in 18 months with Ankara’s requirement that the new Libyan government upholds that country’s November 2019 agreements with Turkey. Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of Libya’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), who reversed his decision to step down, also knows that Tripoli would fall into coup plotter Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s hands without Turkish involvement.

Again, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh ended with an agreement aligned with Azerbaijan’s interests. Baku regained control over seven regions and several towns, formerly occupied by Armenia, and created a land corridor to the exclave Nakhchivan.

Russia and Turkey, too, made strategic accomplishments in the Caucasus. The deployment of Russian troops to Nagorno-Karabakh and the creation of a land corridor between Turkey and Azerbaijan were the nations’ main accomplishments.

The Kremlin prevented Azerbaijan from capturing the entire region, upon liberating Shusha, by forcing Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to sign the cease-fire agreement. At the same time, an armed conflict in the Caucasus was temporarily shelved before Joe Biden’s inauguration as president of the United States in January.

The settlement is not permanent, since the status of the Armenian-occupied parts of Nagorno-Karabakh remain unclear. It is still possible that the U.S. and European states will have that conversation in the future.

It is still necessary to closely monitor developments; the situation in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh are characterized by settlements – allowing Turkey to prepare for the Biden presidency.

After all, the incoming U.S. president, currently focused on the transition and building his team, is expected to personally oversee foreign policy. Experts believe that Washington will pursue a rapprochement with Europe in order to contain Russia.

The Biden administration’s Middle East policy, too, is likely to reflect that priority. The transatlantic alliance’s revival is not easy, and it will be difficult to contain Moscow, which filled the power vacuum that the Obama and Trump administrations left behind.

The Russians scored a lot of points in Europe, the Black Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at a low price. To roll back those developments, Washington has to cultivate shared interests with European nations, starting with Germany.

In the regions where Russia exerts some level of influence, including conflict zones in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, the other heavyweight is Turkey. Ankara both cooperates and competes with Moscow.

Turkey’s critics, who criticized Ankara for working with Moscow and, specifically, purchasing the S-400 air defense system, must take into account the following factor: Turkey as a country has critical importance for the Western alliance seeking to deal with Russia under fresh terms. Moving forward, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2015 could be viewed as an advantage.

There are two key points: First, Turkey, a leading NATO ally, balances out the Russian influence in Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, the country can play a constructive role, as the Western alliance, which the Biden administration will attempt to restore, seeks to compete with Moscow.

Turkey is more than just another foreign policy issue for the Biden administration. Let us recall that Ankara is at the negotiating table and on the ground in many parts of the world today.

Indeed, initial statements from Washington and Ankara have been quite positive. Michael Carpenter, a foreign policy adviser to Joe Biden, said that the incoming administration did not intend to impose devastating sanctions against Turkey, which is a promising start.

Likewise, Erdoğan stressed the importance of strategic interests in his letter of congratulations to Biden, as Vice President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu expressed their intention to work with the incoming U.S. administration. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar mentioned the compatibility of the S-400 and F-35 fighter jets.

The S-400 issue will initially put to test the bilateral relationship. To make the most out of the next four years, the international system will move toward a new geopolitical equilibrium, and Washington and Ankara must turn over a fresh leaf.

[Daily Sabah, 16 November 2020]

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