Turkish-Russian Rapprochement Shouldn’t Worry the United States

Turkey’s recent flirtation with Russia, by mending fences, is designed as a
signal to the United States, its major NATO benefactor, that Turkish ire is
up over perceived lukewarm Western support for its broad domestic crackdown
after the recent failed coup attempt. In addition, the Turks are angry that
the U.S. government has not quickly extradited Fethullah Gulen, who lives in
self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and whom they accuse of fomenting the coup.
The excessively wide purge in Turkey – resulting in the firing of 60,000 military,
judicial, governmental, and educational personnel and the arrest of 16,000 alleged
coup participants – has been designed to get rid of Gulen supporters in key positions.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister said that NATO hadn’t satisfied
Turkey and that it needed to look elsewhere – read Russia – for more
defense cooperation. Yet US ambivalence toward the coup and President Tayyip
Erdogan’s subsequent crackdown is justified. Although a military coup is almost
never a good thing, the massive purge by Erdogan, already demonstrating prior
autocratic tendencies, will skew Turkey toward authoritarianism anyway. And
US extradition of Gulen back to Turkey without hard evidence that he had engineered
the coup would violate the rule of law, which the United States still has but
which is rapidly eroding in Turkey.

Even before the coup occurred, Erdogan had rekindled the civil war with Kurdish
separatists in Turkey’s southeast to overcome his own weakness in an election.
In addition, over recent years, Turkey has been a bad US ally by allowing radical
Islamist fighters (including those of ISIS and al Qaeda), their military supplies,
and funds to flow across its southern border and into the Syrian civil war;
Erdogan has been trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al Assad, a former

Also, although Russia has been accused in Syria of targeting moderate rebels
opposing its ally Assad, instead of bombing ISIS, the Turks have received no
public criticism from the United States for doing something similar. Syria’s
Kurds have been one of the few groups in that country to fight ISIS, but the
Turks have put a higher priority on bombing them than on fighting that brutal

Only recently, after ISIS began attacking targets in Turkey did the Turks tighten
controls on a still porous border and allow the United States to bomb ISIS in
Syria and Iraq from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey near the Syrian

Turkey is flirting with Russia because it is unhappy with the United States,
much as backwater developing countries tried to play off the two superpowers
against each other during the Cold War. Turkish-Russian relations sank to a
new low when the Turks shot down a Russian military jet, which was supporting

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