NATO went out of its way Wednesday to insist that Turkey — whose president this week visited Moscow and promised a new level of cooperation with the man he repeatedly called his “dear friend,” Russian President Vladimir Putin — remains a “valued ally” whose alliance membership “is not in question.”
In a statement posted on its website, NATO said it was responding to “speculative press reports regarding NATO’s stance regarding the failed coup in Turkey and Turkey’s NATO membership.”
Not only does Turkey make “substantial contributions” to NATO joint efforts, it said, “Turkey takes full part in the Alliance’s consensus-based decisions as we confront the biggest security challenges in a generation.”
The extraordinary statement, and the perceived need to issue it, highlighted the West’s growing nervousness over the fallout from last month’s coup attempt. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey’s friendship and alliance with the United States required the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and permanent U.S. resident whom Erdogan’s government has blamed for masterminding the insurrection.
U.S. officials from President Obama on down have said they have no control over extradition requests, which must go through an impartial legal process.
Erdogan has also expressed resentment toward Western allies that have cautioned against the mass detentions and firings of alleged Gulen supporters in Turkey since the coup attempt.
The alliance statement pointed out that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had spoken to Erdogan and other officials since the attempt, “strongly condemning” the actions of a rogue military faction “and reiterating full support for Turkey’s democratic institutions.”
Erdogan, in a Tuesday news conference with Putin, noted that the Russian had been the first foreign leader to call him.
His visit to Moscow marked full restoration of relations after last year’s Turkish shootdown of a Russian warplane operating over Syria. After long blaming Russia for entering Turkish airspace and refusing to apologize, Erdogan apologized last month. Putin then said Russian sanctions against Turkey would be lifted, and the two held long talks this week in the Kremlin.
Russia and Turkey remain on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, with Turkey and the rest of NATO supporting opposition against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia has backed with military supplies and its own bombing campaign.
For much of this year, the United States has led Western efforts to try to negotiate with Russia over a political settlement for Syria’s civil war, while flying its own airstrikes against the Islamic State in other parts of the country. At the same time, NATO relations with Russia have been strained over Russian military incursions in Ukraine, including its annexation of Crimea, and aggressive behavior on the alliance’s eastern flank.
But during their Moscow meeting, Erdogan and Putin said they would increase bilateral military and intelligence cooperation in Syria.
In an interview Wednesday with Anadolu, the Turkish news agency, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that while his government was seeking a solution with its NATO allies on Syria, Turkey had to increase defense cooperation with other countries, as the alliance had let Turkey down.