Turkey’s relationships with the US, NATO and EU are in jeopardy. A trade war and diplomatic sanctions from Washington are merely the latest signs that Europe’s only Muslim power is about to realign itself with Russia.
Two preachers, a missile and a diplomatic wedding. Is NATO's only Muslim member about to go to Russia with love?
Hi, I'm Leon Hawthorne. Turkey's relationship with the west is in jeopardy. Its potential membership of the European Union is a pipe dream; the US has hit it with economic sanctions; and now Turkey's membership of NATO is hanging by a thread.
Pastor Andrew Brunson is an American evangelical preacher, held in detention in Turkey, charged with terrorism and espionage linked to his supposed work for the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, designated by Ankara as a terrorist organisation.
Pastor Brunson has been living in Turkey for 23 years. Most serious commentators think the charges against him are absurd.
So, this has led to a dangerous diplomatic row with Washington, which has raised tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel; and imposed sanctions against Turkish politicians.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders. White House Press Secretary. (August 1st 2018) "We've seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong and we believe he is the victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey. At the President's direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey's Minister of Justice and Minster of Interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of Pastor Brunson." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can't afford to lose face, all the while his country's economy sinks into an abyss. He's threatening retaliatory tariffs against American imports, as the Turkish lira goes into freefall. It's lost eighty percent of its value in the past twelve months.
So, why was Pastor Brunson really arrested? One theory is - Turkey's anger at America's refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim cleric, living in exile in the US. He's seen as the spiritual leader of the failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
President Erdogan is quoted as saying: "You have one pastor as well. Give Gulen to us... then we will try Brunson and give him to you". [Source: Independent].
Erdogan was also reported to have offered to return the pastor if Washington waives billions of dollars owed by Turkish banks. The Trump Administration rightly saw that as a ransom demand and refused.
Is there a way out of the impasse? Turkey was once hailed as a beacon, a secular Muslim democracy, thriving civil society, ally of the west and even of Israel. But President Erdogan has become increasingly autocratic, detaining over 100,000 people since the coup attempt and stamping down on a free press.
Turkey's relations with NATO are strained. Its historical resistance to Kurdish independence means it has been obstructing western efforts to work with the Kurds fighting against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
If that wasn't enough, it's furthered angered its NATO partners by spending $2.5 billion to buy Russian-made S-400 missiles.
Heather Nauert. State Department Spokeswoman. August 23rd 2018. "You know it goes against our policy to have a NATO ally such as Turkey use an S-400 system. Part of the problem with that, it is – that it is not inter-operable with other NATO systems".
Relations with the EU are no better. Turkey's been waiting 31 years to join, but it will never happen. The list of countries opposed to allowing 140 million Muslims free movement in the rest of Europe is too long to mention. [Correction: Turkey's population is 80 million].
But Turkey presently is preventing a fresh wave of migration of Muslim refugees into Europe. Something for which the EU pays it €3 billion in "aid". If relations falter, Turkey won't be so cooperative.
Erdogan is looking to Russia and Iran for his country's future. Turkey's drift away from the US, EU and NATO seems inexorable.
I'm Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.