Turkey: Russia relations no substitute to NATO

NATO stressed its ‘very clear position’ of continued support for Ankara a day after Erdogan visited Russia

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Turkey remains a “strong” member of NATO, the presidency said on Wednesday, after a hugely symbolic visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Russia raised questions about its future in the alliance.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara’s NATO membership -- which dates back to 1952 -- was not “mutually exclusive” with relationships with other countries like China and Russia.


“There is no argument that Turkey should not remain a member. It is something important. We are a strong member,” he told reporters during a briefing at the presidential palace in Ankara.

Kalin said: “We do not see this as a zero sum game. We do not see (relations with other countries) as mutually exclusive, we see it as mutually empowering.”

However, Kalin also said that it is normal for Turkey to “seek other options” on defense cooperation as it has not received the expected support from its western friends and NATO allies after the Atlantic alliance stressed in the same day that Ankara is a “valuable” ally.

Kalin told reporters at roundtable meetings in Ankara that Turkey still expected positive steps from the European Union on visa-free travel but a change in its approach on terrorism was out of the question.

Ankara has been incensed by what it says is an unfair response by the West to the July 15 abortive putsch. Turkish officials say NATO allies have shown more concern about the following crackdown than expressing solidarity with the government that a military faction attempted to topple.

His comments came shortly after NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Turkey’s NATO membership was “not in question,” in a statement issued in response to “speculative press reports.”

There have been reports in Turkish media of possible NATO and U.S. intelligence involvement in the failed June 15 coup. A columnist for the Haber Turk newspaper suggested the attempted putsch was planned by a secret NATO network.

Instead, NATO stressed its “very clear position” of continued support for Ankara.

“Turkey is a valued ally, making substantial contributions to NATO’s joint efforts,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Wednesday.

Lungescu said NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, strongly condemned the attempted coup, and reiterated “full support for Turkey’s democratic institutions.”

“He expressed support for the elected government of Turkey and respect for the courage of the Turkish people,” she noted. “He also conveyed his condolences for those who had lost their lives during the coup attempt.”

She also added that “NATO counts on the continued contributions of Turkey, and Turkey can count on the solidarity and support of NATO.”

Statement after visit to Russia

NATO’s statement also comes the day after Erdogan made a highly-symbolic visit to Russia to mend fences, sparking speculation that Ankara’s close ties with the West could be at risk.

Turkey is the second largest military power in US-led NATO and is a crucial ally as the West faces unprecedented conflict and upheaval across the Middle East.

Erdogan has sharply criticized the United States and the European Union for not doing more to show support in the aftermath of the bloody coup.

He has also bristled at their warnings that he should not undermine human rights and democratic norms in the subsequent crackdown which has netted thousands of people.

In the statement, Lungescu recalled that Stoltenberg had telephoned Erdogan in the immediate aftermath of the abortive putsch

EU making ‘mistakes’ over failed coup

In a related story, Turkey said on Wednesday the European Union was making grave mistakes in its response to the failed coup and was losing support for EU membership from Turks as a result.

Ankara has argued that the United States and Europe have shown undue concern over a crackdown following the abortive July 15 coup but indifference to the putsch itself.

More than 240 people, many of them civilians, were killed when a faction of the army commandeered tanks and warplanes in an attempt to topple the government. More than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation since.

“Unfortunately the EU is making some serious mistakes. They have failed the test following the coup attempt,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with state-run Anadolu Agency.

“Support for EU membership used to be around 50 percent of the population, I assume it is around 20 percent now.”

Turkish accession talks have progressed only slowly since beginning in 2005, with several key EU countries expressing doubts the country could be ready for membership in the foreseeable future. Similarly, support in Turkey itself for the ambition has fluctuated.

(With AP, AFP, Reuters)

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