Situation in the Middle East and Black Sea Region and Possible Restarting of Turkish-American Relations
Director of the Center for International Studies of International Black Sea University
President of the George C. Marshall Alumni Union, Georgia – International and Security Research Center
Professor of the International Black Sea University
It is well known that military-political cooperation between the two leading NATO states, the United States and Turkey, has deteriorated significantly over the past two years.
Specifically, if both countries are interested in ending the Assad regime in Syria, Washington and Ankara may be the main reason for US dissatisfaction with Syria - mainly the military support of Kurdish formations fighting the Assad regime on the Turkish state border. For its part, Turkey views armed formations created by Syrian Kurds as terrorists. In addition, official Ankara fears that a possible intensification of separatism in the Syrian - populated region of Syria could have an effect on activating separatism in the Kurdish - populated regions of Turkey 's southeastern provinces. The worse the relationship between Washington and Ankara, the closer the relationship between Ankara and Moscow became. For example, in 2017, the trade turnover between Russia and Turkey amounted to 23, 36 billion dollars, which is 37% more than in 2016, and already in 2018, according to various data, the trade turnover between the two countries exceeded 30 billion dollars (Chitadze, 2019). In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated a meeting of leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran over the Syrian issue. Moscow and Ankara were actively discussing the implementation of "Turkish Stream" gas pipeline project, by which Turkey will import additional volumes of natural gas from Russia. On January, 8, 2020, both countries formally launched the Turkish Stream pipeline (EURACTIV, 2020).
In the wake of the deteriorating relations between the United States and Turkey, the process of rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow was under way in the military. For example, a clear confirmation of this is the fact that Moscow has agreed to sell NATO member Turkey modern S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, which has annoyed the Pentagon. In response, US military congressmen working on the military have demanded a halt to the delivery of F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets to Turkey (REYNOLDS, 2019).
US – Turkey Mutual Interests
Taking into account, that despite some differences in the national interests of USA and Tukey, it can be assumed that the sides have more common geopolitical, security or economic interests, which can be explained by the following factors:
Both countries support the position about ending the Assad regime in Syria;
Both countries have the common interests to destroy so-called “Islamic State”;
USA considers Turkey as a main transit and distributor country in the framework of Energy projects, which should be implemented in the region bypassing the Russia (TANAP, TAP) and which should play the significant role in the energy security of the US allies in Europe;
Turkey represents the important transport corridor in the framework of “Great Silk Road” (Europe-Asia transport corridor) project, which should be implemented bypassing the territory of Russia and its implementation is mostly in the interest of USA (despite some agitations of official Washington related to the active policy of China within this project);
Turkey has important geopolitical position between Middle East and Black Sea Region and stability and security environment in both Regions is significantly depended on the position of official Ankara;
For USA is not acceptable to rapprochement of the Turkey-Iran and Turkey-Russia relations, which was reflected in the trilateral meetings – Russia-Turkey-Iran summits;
At this stage, due to the military operations of Turkish Armed forces in Syria, Official Washington desire to take advantage on disagreements between Turkey and Russia related first of all the situation around Idlib province of Syria, also between Turkey and Iran, when official Tehran made the statement related to the requirement related to the withdrawal of the Turkish troops from Syria. The same as it was mentioned concerns Turkey-Russia relations, because Turkey had military confrontation with the government forces of Syria in the northern part of this country. At the same time, those forces were supported and equipped by Russia;
Taking into account, that in December 2019 Donald Trump administration decided to deploy again US troops in Syria, USA and Turkey have interests in dividing the spheres of interests in Syria, US (with about 600 military serviceman) will protect the oil fields in Syria and at the same time, Turkish troops will be the guarantee of security near the Turkey-Syria border;
In this regard, the strengthening the positions of USA and Turkey as NATO member countries in Syria, will decrease the influence of Russia and Iran (especially after the increasing the confrontation between USA and Iran due to the killing of Iranian General) in this country and in the Middle east as a whole;
USA and Turkey have strong military potential. USA is at the first (more than 1 million military serviceman) and Turkey at the second place (more than 600 000 military serviceman) according to number of troops among the NATO member countries. Both countries spend more than 2% of their GDP of Defense (Fiorentino, 2019). Thus, both countries can cooperate with each other within the joint fighting against international terrorism and implementation joint peacekeeping operation, as it was held in case of Afghanistan within the ISAF mission;
US Military Interests in the Black Sea Region and Role of Turkey
Based on the current realities, USA intends to increase its military potential in the Black Sea Region. Particularly, taken into consideration the activation of military presence of Russia in the Black Sea Region – when more than 30% of Armed forces of Russia are deployed in the Southern Military District of this country (Chitadze, 2017), which covers the Caucasus and Black Sea Region, also ballistic missiles systems of Iran with 2000 km range - NATO and USA are forced to take the adequative measures for the balancing the situation, which will cause the deployment of the analogical ballistic missiles in Central and Eastern Europe – including Black Sea Region.
As it was mentioned, one of the main places of confrontation can become Black Sea Region. If USA decides to deploy in Romania the antimissile systems IJIS and Patriots, there are possibilities of the deployment by Russian side the antimissile elements in the occupied territories of Georgia (first of all in Abkhazia) and Ukraine (Crimea). Furthermore, Russia has the special program for the working over the producing the rocket "Land Rifle" and also the ground-based hyperbaric missiles series.
In general, US intelligence service fixed, that Russians started the examination of the new cruise missile and its admission to the armed forces, the range of action of those systems is more than 500 kilometers and can reach even 2000 kilometers. Russian presents the counter arguments, according to which USA deployed in Romania and Poland antimissile systems and those systems can be used as an anti-missile-rocket missile, as well as a "Tomahawk" type cruise rocket from the land (Basilaia, 2019).
For the preventing the possible geopolitical expansion from the Russian side in the Black Sea Region, USA has taken some preventive steps for the resistance of the Imperialistic policy of Kremlin. Particularly, one of the examples of US possible activation in the Black Sea is the entrance of American military ship “Donald Cook” in the Black Sea.
This sheep is equipped with the tactical rockets and artillery systems and implemented several military exercises with the coast guard service of Georgia and other Black Sea countries (Resonance, 2019). It should be pointed out, that ships can be located about 60 units of cruise missile “Tomahawk”, which causes the agitation from the Russia side (Chitadze, 2019).
From its turn, according to some reliable sources, Russia at this stage posses 11 comparatively small ships, which are equipped by the rocket systems “Calibre” and this system is analogy of American “Tomahawk”. Also, submarines working on diesel - from 3 to 5 nuclear submarines. Their common potential is 96 missiles, so, less for the three times, than that of those American ships, which are located near the territory of Russia in the Black and Baltic Sea Regions, but, despite of this fact, the increasing the military presence of Russia in the Black Sea space represents the real threat for the international democratic community (Chitadze, 2017). Thus, for the balancing the Russian interests in the region and activation of the security policy of NATO and US in the wide Black Sea Area, it is important to take into consideration the position of Turkey, on which according to Montreux Convention (signed in 1936) is depended the permission of the entrance through the two straits on the territory of Turkey – the Bosporus and Dardanelles the military ships in the Black Sea. The Convention gives Turkey full control over the Turkish Straits and guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime. It restricts the passage of naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states (Rozakis, 1987).
Economic interests between USA and Turkey
Both countries have economic interests to each other. Particularly, the volume of trade between two countries in 2017 prevailed 24 billion USD. Volume of US Export was about $12.7 billion and Turkey from itself exported the product on US market for $11.2 billion.
According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Turkey supported an estimated 68 thousand jobs in 2015. Among of them 48 thousand supported by goods exports and 20 thousand supported by services exports.
Furthermore, it should be pointed out, that USA is the main importer to the Turkish market of aircraft (volume of import in 2018 $2.1 billion USD), mineral fuels ($1.2 billion), iron and steel ($1.1 billion), machinery ($753 million), and cotton ($685 million) (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 2019).
Turkey from itself is one of the main supplier of the US market with machinery ($1.2 billion in 2018), vehicles ($1.1 billion), carpets and other textile coverings ($591 million), iron and steel ($559 million) etc.
U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Turkey (stock) was $4.3 billion in 2017 U.S. direct investment in Turkey is led by manufacturing, wholesale trade, and finance and insurance.
Turkey's FDI in the United States (stock) was $2.0 billion in 2017, up 18.1% from 2016 (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 2019).
Thus, no one state is interested in the deterioration the economic relations with each other. Particularly, USA is agitated, that trade turnover of Turkey with Russia prevails for about twice the trade Turnover between USA and Turkey. Thus, USA is interested to increase the trade volume and by this way to provide more loyal attitude of Ankara toward USA instead of Russia.
From its turn, Tukey was agitated with the introduction the new custom barriers by Trump administration, which negatively affected on the rate of Turkish national currency – Lira. Thus, official Ankara has no interests of the possible increasing the custom tariffs on the Turkish products, which are exported to the US market.
Visit of Turkish President Erdogan to USA in November, 2019
Based on the above-mentioned mutual interests, it was not by accident, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the United States on November 13, 2019 for a working visit.
During his visit, Erdogan was accompanied by his wife Emine Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoglu, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Defense Minister Hulusi Akari, Trade Minister Ruhsar Fekjan, Deputy Chairman of the Justice and Development Party Mahir Unal, Press Secretary of the same party, Omer Çelir Althoun d A. Press Secretary Ibrahim Kalin.
The presidents of Turkey and the United States held their first meeting at the White House Oval Office in a narrow format that lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Before the meeting, the US president noted that he had a long-standing friendship with Erdogan.
“We have been very good friends since our dating. It is a great honor for me to host Erdogan and his wife. They are highly respected in their region and state. Relationships are good, now we will look at what we can do, "Trump said.
According to the Head of the White House, within the framework of the meeting with the Turkish president he will have the opportunity to discuss the issue of supply of Russian anti-aircraft missile system "S-400" to Ankara and implementation of the fifth generation F-35 fighter program. The US leader noted that they are actively working to resolve Turkey's involvement in the F-35 fighter program.
Trump spoke of Ankara's efforts to resolve the migration crisis, noting that the EU does not provide sufficient financial support to Turkey on this issue. He said the biggest aid to refugees is still being provided by Turkey
He also thanked his Turkish counterpart for the agreement on the "situation on the Turkish-Syrian border" and noted Ankara's special role in the fight against the terrorist organization – “Islamic State”. Trump said the United States would leave a limited number of military missions in Syria to protect the oilfields in that state (M2B, 2019).
Furthermore, the US president has pledged to boost trade with Turkey to $ 100 billion.
"Today's trade volume between Ankara and Washington is $20 billion. I am confident that we will be able to reach $ 120 billion a year, ”the US president concluded (M2B, 2019).
Turkey is ready to start new relations with the United States
Ankara and Washington have close partnerships and stand united in the fight against terrorist organizations that threaten the national security of the two states. This was stated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting with Donald Trump. According to the Turkish leader, some supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are concerned about Turkish-American agreements over Syria's north-east, and a widespread misinformation campaign is underway against the operation "source of peace".
"Turkey is committed to the agreements with the United States, and both sides will work together to achieve peace and stability in Syria," Erdogan said.
Erdogan on American air defense systems
The Turkish president has informed his US counterpart of the readiness to purchase a "Patriot" anti-aircraft missile system if Washington is prepared to provide favorable conditions.
"We can get different views about Russian S-400s and American F-35s. I told Trump about wanting to buy the Patriot system if I got a good offer, "Erdogan said (M2B, 2019).
US Resolution on Recognition of Armenian Genocide Blocked in US
Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the US Senate Committee on Legal Affairs, said after meeting with Erdogan that he would block an upper house resolution on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Under the statute of the upper house of Congress, any senator has the right to seek consent from the legislature to consider or pass a bill or resolution. The senator also has the right to block the legislative initiative himself.
According to the Turkish President, the US House of Representatives' recognition of the Armenian Genocide casts a shadow over Turkish-American relations.
“This resolution negatively affects our relations and creates a negative mood in our society. Historians, not politicians, should work on what happened 104 years ago. Turkey is open about this. We have opened archives, over a million documents. Everyone has the right to come and study them. Ankara is convinced that it is right on this issue, "Erdogan said.
Pentagon chief: "Turkey's return to our ranks is important"
According to Mark Esper, Turkey is moving away from NATO because of the invasion of Syria and the purchase of Russian weapons.
“We need Turkey and we want it back in our ranks. They have been good allies for many years, including in the past during the Korean War and now in the course of the Afghan operation. Consequently we need to continue to build ties, especially at the military level, to ensure strong relationships that will help us through this difficult time, ” Esper said.
The head of the Pentagon also commented on the US military contingent in Syria, noting that eventually there will be between 500 and 600 troops in the northern part of the state for the protection the oil fields in this country.
From its turn Trump also commented on Emmanuel Macron's latest statement on NATO, in which the French president says the North Atlantic Alliance has a big problem due to lack of coordination among American and European partners. Later he added, that "Turkey and the international community are disappointed with Macron's statement"(M2B, 2019).
The possible improvements of the relations between USA and Turkey can be positively reflected on the security environment in the Black Sea Region, because it is necessary to point out, that strengthening of the NATO`s position in the Black Sea without taking into account the Turkish factor will be difficult. Thus, in the interests of the western countries should be the establishment good relations between USA and Turkey, otherwise, Tehran will have more opportunities to strengthen its influence in the Middle East and Moscow can take advantage and increase its geopolitical influence in the strategically important Black Sea Region.
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