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As Turkey's Relationship With West Sours, Russia Comes Calling

Putin and Erdogan at the G20 Summit in Antalya in November
Putin and Erdogan at the G20 Summit in Antalya in November
Ceyda Karan


ISTANBUL Having survived the coup attempt is not enough to put our minds at ease in Turkey. Turkey is on a road that doesn't lead to a pluralistic and democratic system. We wake up to a new nightmare every day about our nation's direction. What's happening on Turkish soil is worrisome. But it's our changing foreign policy that warrants our attention.

The coup attempt happened during the weakest period of the Islamist regime that governs Turkey today. The government was tired of verbally battling the U.S. and the European Union: with the U.S. on free speech, with Europe on the cartoon crisis and the refugee deal. Beyond the U.S. and EU, Turkey was suffering from its involvement in the Syrian war through jihadist groups. It was also dealing with the fallout from shooting down a Russian warplane. A deal with Israel to normalize diplomatic relations grew messy and had the potential to cause an ideological break within the Turkish government. The prime minister at the time Ahmet Davutoglu was held responsible for these foreign policy decisions and forced to resign.

Today, after averting the coup attempt, there is a new crisis in our foreign relations. On the EU front, we are wrestling because of the death penalty issue and the matter of visa-free EU travel, a decision that has previously been postponed.

And that's just the beginning. The real issue concerns the U.S., which is suspected of being involved in the coup plot. Turkey's demand for the extradition of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup, has already caused a minor crisis. But extradition appears unlikely as U.S. favors asylum for dissidents when it is in their political interest. That said, in response to Turkey's firm stand, deportation is still a possibility. Washington's decision will signal the fate of our future bilateral relations.

Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signaled the high stakes in our relationship with the U.S. when he implied that Turkey's actions could have consequences in terms of its membership in NATO. In fact, Kerry didn't say that Turkey's membership in the alliance was in jeopardy. He just underscored that there are requirements to be a member and "NATO will indeed measure very carefully what is happening in Turkey." Kerry emphasized the importance of "common values," "constitutional order" and "rule of law." Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary general, echoed these points in his statement.

It's been a long time since Turkey's relations with the West got so toxic. The time when Davutoglu and Hillary Clinton (as the former foreign minister and secretary of state respectively) were on the same page is far behind us.

Now, Erdogan's apology to Russian President Vladimir Putin could be a sign of change in the direction of Turkey's foreign policy. As a matter of fact, Putin was the first one to call Erdogan after the coup attempt. Turkey's decision to take a Eurasian position in response to the West is a development that increases Turkey's strategic value to Russia. Is it really possible for Turkey to side with Eurasia while the country is greatly integrated in the global economic system? What would this position cost us?

On Tuesday, Moody's announced that the corporation is considering downgrading Turkey's credit rating and Fitch said that Turkey's credit profile will be affected because of the political risks raised by the coup attempt and the government's harsh response. So how far can Turkey go with this change in foreign policy in terms of the economy?

The Russia and Turkey alignment also requires policy changes in Syria and the Middle East. In Turkey's increasingly religious environment, what will happen after these changes? How will these developments affect the fight against ISIS and the jihadist militia that is now a part of Turkey? Questions are endless but changes in Turkish foreign policy certainly paint a dark picture.

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