Symbols are powerful.
The 46e President of the United States will pay the first foreign visit of his term to Europe. There he will participate in a series of events: the G7 summit in Cornwall, the NATO summit in Brussels, the first US-EU summit in seven years and a series of bilateral meetings.
On these occasions, Joe Biden will stress that the United States has no stronger allies than those of Europe and will continue to provide them with security guarantees, while asking them to strengthen their financial contributions to NATO.
It is worth recalling the NATO summit in May 2017 in Brussels to imagine how the European side will welcome an honest and courteous dialogue with an American president.
Beyond the diplomatic choreography, the transatlantic partners will have to deal with the important issues left by former US President Donald Trump, whose actions were characterized by unpredictability, sudden movements and a sort of affinity with the rulers. authoritarian. Trump has often boasted of his personal relationship with Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian Vladimir Putin.
He made decisions in favor of their policies, such as recalling troops from northeastern Syria or reacting to Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles only in the last few weeks of his tenure. Biden has a lot of broken porcelain to fix.
In geostrategic terms, the Trump presidency has offered golden opportunities to the Kremlin. The latter used them swiftly and effectively, in line with his dominant perception of NATO as a threat to Russia. The military consequences for the Atlantic Alliance are nothing short of critical.
After former US President Barack Obama refused to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey, Russia managed to sell its S-400 missile systems to Ankara, erasing the prospect of seeing “hostile” Patriot batteries deployed in Anatolia, its immediate southern neighborhood.
When, following the deployment of the S-400, the United States predictably canceled the sale of 100 F-35 stealth planes – potentially 120 in total – Russia benefited a second time from the elimination of ‘another “threat” on its southern flank.
Russia should now benefit from the disruptive effect of the division of the Turkish Air Force between a conventional NATO-linked component – mainly 293 fighter-bombers – and an anti-missile defense force equipped with Russian missiles. -400. The latter is incompatible with NATO systems and depends on the Russian Air Force for its maintenance.
And when the United States ousted Turkey’s aerospace partners from the F-35 industrial program, Russia once again profited from the weakening of Ankara’s future technological capabilities.
All things considered, with Russia’s strategy of strengthening its defensive position against NATO on its southern flank and Turkey’s declared policy of building a balanced relationship with all of its major partners – the United States, Europe, Russia, China – the transatlantic alliance faces a difficult conundrum.
Regardless of the way forward at the NATO summit on June 14, one thing is certain: the confidence of NATO partners in Erdoğan has been seriously shaken.
The latest example of Turkey’s disruptive stance was the hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius by Belarusian authorities in an attempt to snatch a political dissident. When it came to agreeing on a NATO statement in response to a scandalous act amounting to state piracy, the text had to be considerably watered down at Ankara’s insistence.
Paradoxically, Turkey’s ambivalent foreign policy is not exempt from major incidents with Russia, since the destruction by Turkey in November 2015 of a Russian Air Force plane on the border with Syria until the neutralization in February 2020 of a whole battalion of mechanized infantry by Russia in the same region. .
More recently, Turkey’s announcements about the sale of drones to Poland and Ukraine as well as its pronouncements in favor of Tatar minorities in Crimea have drawn criticism and warnings from Moscow. Perhaps these decisions will improve the atmosphere of the bilateral Biden-Erdoğan meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit.
Ankara has high expectations for the meeting, possibly due to an exaggerated perception of Turkey’s position in the alliance and a refusal to recognize the strategic damage caused by the deployment of the S-400.
If one assumes that Erdoğan’s political situation will allow him to agree to a freeze on the S-400 missiles and the Kremlin will go along with the decision, then hopes for a successful and qualified meeting are permitted. However, these are very risky predictions.
In addition, the long list of grievances between the two presidents results in so many pitfalls on the way to a peaceful relationship. They include the dismantling of the rule of law; withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women; absurd accusations of espionage against American (academic Henri Barkey) and Turkish (philanthropist Osman Kavala) citizens; a decision to support a two-state solution in Cyprus; and failure to respect the conclusions of the Berlin conference and UN Security Council resolution 2571 on Libya, among others.
In short, it may well be that beyond fine words about Turkey’s critical importance to NATO, the country’s position will simply shrink.
Perhaps only topical agreements will be reached on topics such as Turkish forces in Afghanistan or Turkey’s participation in NATO operations in the Black Sea.
This would be a telling result of the Biden-Erdoğan talks. This would confirm Turkey’s diminished status within the alliance and illustrate its willingness to pay the price for a more independent position on the world stage.