Whose Side Is Turkey On?

Whose Side Is Turkey On?

With the Financial Times reporting the steep rise in Turkey’s exports of dual-use goods to Russia, the time has come to draw the line.


The Financial Times published an alarming article on November 27 detailing how Turkey’s exports of military-linked goods to Moscow have soared. This should be a wake-up call for the United States and its allies about Turkey’s role in the West’s conflict with Russia.  

During the Cold War, Turkey was regarded as a staunch ally, but it was the advent of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in 2002 that led to a marked change in Turkish foreign policy and disengagement from the United States. 


In 2009, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that it was the goal of Turkish foreign policy to make the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East together with Turkey the center of world politics once again. Three years later, at an AKP conference, he declared it was the AKP’s mission to create a new world order (nizam-i âlem, the Ottoman concept of Islamic rule).

However, Davutoglu was toppled in an AKP plot and Islamic scholar Ibrahim Kalin, who became President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief advisor and spokesperson, took up the mantle as AKP’s ideologue. In a government reshuffle in June, Kalin was appointed head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) while the head of MIT, Hakan Fidan, became foreign minister. 

In a keynote speech at the Istanbul Forum in 2012, Kalin spoke of a new geopolitical framework that rejects the Western-centric political and economic order. He also rejected the European model of secular democracy, politics, and pluralism.

In 2022 at the Qatar Forum, Kalin reiterated his call for a new global security architecture, which was in keeping with the views expressed by Russian president Vladimir Putin at a plenary session of the Valdai Club later that year.

Five years ago, Erdogan’s head of international relations, Ayse Sözen Usluer, stated that Turkey for the last ten to fifteen years had felt no need to choose between the West and the East, or between the United States and Russia. She emphasized Turkey’s strategic importance and maintained there was no axis shift. 

There is evidence to the contrary. Turkey and the United States parted company in 2019 with Ankara’s decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system. This led to Turkey’s removal from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the imposition of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions on Turkey. 

Last year, the U.S.-Turkey Strategic Mechanism was launched to paper over the cracks. A deal allowing Turkey to buy forty F-16 fighter jets and seventy-nine modernization kits has been blocked by Congress and is being used by Turkey as a bargaining chip in return for allowing Sweden to join NATO.  

In the event the deal falls through, Turkey plans to buy forty Eurofighter jets, jointly being produced by the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Germany. 

A major sticking point in U.S.-Turkey relations is Washington’s support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, whose role in Operation Inherent Resolve has contributed to the defeat of ISIS in Syria.  

In a trilateral meeting in Tehran in July 2022, Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed their cooperation to  “eliminate terrorists” in Syria, which for Erdogan meant the Kurdish militias.

There is also the outstanding issue that Turkey’s state-run Halkbank has been indicted for channeling more than $20 billion to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.  

In addition, Erdogan, on his return from a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand last year, declared that he intended to join the organization. 

Turkish membership in what the European Council on Foreign Relations has termed “rogue NATO” will undoubtedly strain Turkey’s relations with NATO. Indeed, rather than join Western-led economic sanctions on Russia, Turkey’s trade with Russia has surged by almost 200 percent.  

Erdogan has also confirmed Turkey will cooperate with Putin to make Turkey a gas hub for the supply of Russian natural gas to Europe.   

Turkey has not only provided a safe haven for Russian oligarchs and their capital but Russians have established more than 2,000 companies in Turkey. Turkey has become a major destination for Russian tourists and Russians top the list in the purchase of real estate. One out of every four migrants to Turkey in 2022 was Russian. 

This is a source of resentment for the Turkish people. Due to Erdogan’s mismanagement, Turkey has been ravaged by inflation. House rents, for example, have surged by 128 percent in one year. In the popular tourist destination, Antalya, the number of Russian and Ukrainian realtors working illegally exceeds the number of local authorized estate agents

There is another, more sinister aspect. In a visit to Istanbul in February, the U.S. Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian E. Nelson, warned Turkish businesses and banks they could put themselves at risk of sanctions, which included a potential loss of access to G7 markets, for engaging with sanctioned Russian entities. 

In September, the United States imposed sanctions on five Turkish companies and a Turkish national, accusing them of helping Russia evade sanctions and supporting Moscow in its war against Ukraine.   

On November 30, Brian E. Nelson stated he was “profoundly concerned” about Hamas’s ability to continue to fundraise or find financial support in Turkey for its operations for potential future terrorist attacks.

Now, with the Financial Times reporting the steep rise in Turkey’s exports of dual-use goods to Russia, the time has come to draw the line. Rather than pander to Turkey with an F-16 deal, it is about time to show Turkey the door. 

Robert Ellis is a Turkey analyst and commentator. He is also an international advisor at RIEAS (Research Institute for European and American Studies) in Athens.