Over the past month, ever since the “failed” Turkish coup, there has been a dramatic, and surprising, deterioration in the of Turkey with various European states, most notably Austria and Germany, as well as with the US, and NATO in general. This was confirmed once again earlier today when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu lashed out at NATO, in an interview with Russian Sputnik, saying the alliance is not fully cooperating with Ankara. More importantly, he hinted that Turkey would consider military cooperation with Russia.
In the interview, Cavusoglu said that Ankara has become alarmed at the lack of willingness shown by NATO to cooperate with Turkey, which is a member of the alliance. “It seems to us that NATO members behave in an evasive fashion on issues such as the exchange of technology and joint investments. Turkey intends to develop its own defense industry and strengthen its defense system,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu
And, as a result of Turkey’s rising animosity toward NATO, it appears to have handed yet another olive branch to the Kremlin: “In this sense, if Russia were to treat this with interest, we are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in this sector,” Cavusoglu said when asked about the possibility of working with Russia in the defense sphere.
It was Cavusoglu’s strongest rebuke of NATO to date. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency on August 10, he said that Turkey and Russia would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism, while adding that relations with NATO were not as satisfactory as he would have wished. He also proposed to bypass the dollar in bilateral trade between Turkey and Russia.
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” he said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO,” he told Anadolu.
Cavusoglu accused the West of treating Turkey and Russia like “second class countries” simply because they did not see eye-to-eye. “They consider Russia and Turkey to be second class countries, and they are outraged that these second class countries dare to criticize them… Therefore, faced with the straightforwardness and resilience of Erdogan and [President Vladimir] Putin, they feel very worried and anxious,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu’s criticism was not restricted to NATO, as he launched a broadside towards the West, saying it was largely responsible for the crisis in Ukraine. “Look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he told Sputnik. “They were always threatening the country and forcing it to make a choice between them and Russia. They were saying, ‘you will either be with us or with Russia.’ This course of action is futile. What is happening in Ukraine is a reflection of the main problems in the region.”
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To be sure, Russia has promptly taken advantage of these Turkish overtures, and in addition to the recent meeting between Putin and Erdogan where the two leaders vowed to boost economic and diplomatic ties, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament has suggested that Turkey could provide its Incirlik air base for Russian Air Forces jets in their campaign across the border in Syria, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
“Turkey could provide the Incirlik base to the Russian Aerospace Forces for its use in counterterrorism operations [in Syria]. This could become a logical continuation of Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s step toward Russia,” Senator Viktor Ozerov, member of the Russian Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti on Aug. 16.
According to Russian news agencies, Ozerov did not rule out that Ankara could offer the use of its air base after Erdogan’s reconciliatory visit to St. Petersburg last week, where he affirmed support for Russia’s anti-terrorist mission in Syria. “It is not guaranteed that Russia needs Incirlik, but such a decision could be regarded as Turkey’s real readiness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and not just pay lip service,” Ozerov was also quoted as saying.
Ozerov also clarified that the decision could be taken based on similar agreements made with Syria on the use of the Hmeymim facility and the latest use of the Hamadan airfield in western Iran to carry out airstrikes in Syria, the Russian news website Sputnik reported on Aug. 16.
Turkey opened its Incirlik base to the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition in July 2015 after a bilateral agreement was signed among both parties.
Notably, Incirlik airbase is where the US has stationed over 50 B61 nuclear bombs, as reported before. Which may explain why according to EurActiv, which cites two independent sources the US has “started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, against the background of worsening relations between Washington and Ankara.”
According to one of the sources, the transfer has been very challenging in technical and political terms. “It’s not easy to move 20+ nukes,” said the source, on conditions of anonymity.
Another source told EurActiv.com that the US-Turkey relations had deteriorated so much following the coup that Washington no longer trusted Ankara to host the weapons. The American weapons are being moved to the Deveselu air base in Romania, the source said. Deveselu, near the city of Caracal, is the new home of the US missile shield, which has infuriated Russia.
EurActiv has asked the US State Department, and the Turkish and the Romanian foreign ministries, to comment. American and Turkish officials both promised to answer. After several hours, the State Department said the issue should be referred to the Department of Defense. EurActiv will publish the DoD reaction as soon as it is received.
The Romanian foreign ministry strongly denied the information that the country has become home of US nukes. “In response to your request, Romanian MFA firmly dismisses the information you referred to,” a spokesperson wrote.
According to practice dating from the Cold War, leaked information regarding the presence of US nuclear weapons on European soil has never been officially confirmed. It is, however, public knowledge that Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy host US nuclear weapons.
Recall that earlier this week, a US-based Think Tank, The Stimson Center, warned that US nuclear bombs In Turkey are at risk of “Seizure By Terrorists Or Other Hostile Forces.”
As such, while unconfirmed, EuroActiv’s report does make strategic sense for the US and Romania, which is emerging as the new Eastern European focal point in the Cold War 2.0, even as NATO, and the US, quietly vacate Turkey. However, if even tangentially confirmed, it will merely accelerate NATO member Turkey’s recent, and abrupt, shift away from the US sphere of influence and into that of Russia, a move which would have the biggest geopolitical consequences for the global balance of power since the end of the Cold War.