As you know, in July this year at the NATO summit in Vilnius, the key topic was the issue of the alliance’s enlargement and the Turkish parliament’s decision on Sweden’s membership. President Erdoğan at that time promised his allies to take a favorable view of Sweden’s status in NATO, provided Stockholm supports Turkey’s accession to the EU.
In other words, the Turkish leader did not emphasize the problem of Kurdish separatism in Vilnius and did not strictly adhere to the list of extradition to Ankara of Kurdish extremists who had found refuge in Sweden. For many experts, such unexpected changes in Erdoğan’s position were not unexpected, but only confirmed the sophistication of his abilities at diplomacy and trade negotiation.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the Lithuanian summit, Recep Erdoğan held important talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden. As some media outlets noted, the US promised Turkey a change in its attitude toward Ankara for a positive solution to the Swedish issue. In particular, Washington assured military deliveries of modernized F-16 fighters and spare parts for them, as well as the allocation of an additional $13 billion to the Turkish economy.
However, despite his status, the US president cannot provide military aid to a foreign country without a decision of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. The head of this committee, Democrat Robert Menendez, even after the NATO summit in Vilnius, opposed sending military supplies to Turkey, linking a positive solution to this issue with a change in Ankara’s behavior and the cessation of Turkish threats to its neighbors (in particular, Greece, Cyprus, and the pro-American Kurds of Syria and Armenia).
In response to Senator Menendez’ intransigence, Erdoğan slightly changed his position on Sweden and stated that the solution of the Swedish issue is the prerogative of the Turkish parliament, whose convening is postponed to the first half of October this year due to the early seasonal vacations of the parliamentary body.
It is clear that democracy in Turkey has made certain achievements, even though it retains national peculiarities, where the opinion of the head of state still has priority (and the ruling party retains a majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, TGNA). Erdoğan does not wear “rose-colored glasses,” and he understands better than anyone else that linking Sweden’s NATO membership with Turkey’s EU membership is unlikely to be recognized by Brussels. Therefore, Ankara raised the bar of inflated expectations in Vilnius, as it retains hopes for the solution of other pressing issues in relations with Western partners. These include military deliveries of F-16 fighter jets and their spare parts, an impressive amount of financial aid for the Turkish economy, which is going through a serious crisis, as well as easing of some procedures on the part of the EU (for example, the abolition of the visa regime for Turkish citizens).
Meanwhile, as October approaches, a corruption scandal has unexpectedly unfolded in the United States against Senator Robert Menendez and his wife Nadia Arslanian for allegedly illegally lobbying for Egyptian interests and taking large bribes in the process. Whether this is the case or not is still under investigation, but the fact is that the decision was made to suspend Menendez from the chairmanship of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
To be fair, it should be noted that such scandals with corruption charges against Menendez have been brought against him in the past, but then the charges were refuted by the subsequent course of the proceedings. Time will tell how it will be this time, and time is of the essence in this case. The US is simply giving Erdoğan an opportunity to decide on the fate of Sweden’s membership and related issues in the first half of October this year, and depending on the decision of the TGNA, Washington may make some decisions on Turkey itself.
In Turkey, and especially in Azerbaijan, the above-mentioned judicial and personnel decision against Robert Menendez was received with special enthusiasm in the hope that the US Congress would upend the political and legal obstacles and satisfy the requests of Ankara and Baku on a range of topical policy issues (including military supplies of F-16 fighter jets and preferential loans for Turkey, as well as the exclusion of any sanctions and pressure on Azerbaijan in connection with the recent military events in Nagorno-Karabakh and anti-Armenian ethnic cleansing).
Some experts believe that the “Menendez case” was the result of pressure from the allegedly pro-Turkish and pro-Azerbaijani lobbying structures of the US Jewish Diaspora. However, despite the influence of Jewish organizations, it should be recognized that the key party in this story is the White House administration itself. The fact is that President Biden wants to accelerate the protracted process of Sweden’s accession to NATO and to continue the policy of pressure on Turkey in connection with Ankara’s circumvention of financial and other sanctions against Russia.
At the end of September this year, Reuters reported that high-ranking Turkish officials in a conversation with their American counterparts expressed confidence that in the first half of October the Turkish parliament will favorably consider the issue of Sweden’s admission to NATO. As a result, Hungary, another NATO opportunist, is expected to follow Ankara’s course.
Thus, with Robert Menendez no longer leading the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Turkey believes it has a better chance of getting F-16s and US financial support. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul said, “I think it’s more likely that this will be approved (i.e. the delivery of F-16 fighters to Turkey – A.S.), but Sweden has to be accepted into NATO. We’re saying we’re not going to consider it if you’re going to play hardball against Sweden.”
In the Senate, even without Robert Menendez, there are still hawks who are capable of blocking the US “military and other deals” with Turkey at any moment (like Republican Jim Risch, Gregory Meeks and Democrat Chris Van Hollen). Turkey’s fierce critics continue to insist that aid to the Turks is only possible if Ankara meets US conditions on Sweden, respects Greek airspace, opposes “illegal” Russian financial flows, and stops aggression against Syria’s Kurdish allies.
Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, who will replace Robert Menendez as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has so far refrained from commenting on his decision on the Turkish issue and has adopted a survivalist set of tactics.
Thus, Washington is trying to pressure Turkey into making decisions favorable to itself, where the anti-Russian thesis stands out as a refrain. Menendez in this regard is only a demon of “stick” if Ankara does not agree to Biden’s “carrot.”
How President Erdoğan behaves this time will also depend on the process of close partnership with Russia (including the ambitious Gas Hub and Zangezur Corridor projects). However, Turkey is not able to compete with the US for a long period of time, and the Turks are not going to leave NATO, as they are trying to demonstrate their opinion in organizational issues.
Erdoğan has shown himself to be a politician capable of “sitting” on several chairs at the same time (including those of the West, Russia and China). But such “diplomatic acrobatics” may not last long, as the political ligaments may not withstand the strain and break. And this will mean that Turkey’s “seasonal romances” will once again yield to the permanent choice of the external benchmark index. Whether this realization will be before or after the spatial connection with Turan, before or after the completion of the Russian Armed Forces’ special military operation in Ukraine, the near future will show.
Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.