Turkey should look to West amid Moscow tensions: US official

Tensions between Turkey and Russia over Syria should prompt Ankara to move closer to the West, especially Washington, a senior US State Department official said Friday.

Despite a Moscow-Ankara de-escalation deal, the Syrian regime has pushed an assault with Russian air support in the northwestern province of Idlib controlled by rebel groups and jihadists.

The intense bombardment in Idlib forced tens of thousands to flee in recent weeks and has led to angry exchanges between rebel-supporting Ankara and regime ally Moscow.

The issue threatens the rapprochement between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin following the diplomatic crisis in 2015, which culminated in close cooperation over Syria and other interests including energy.

“Certainly we would like to see Turkey more directly and clearly aligned with NATO, the United States, the West, in recognition of the very destructive role that the Russians are playing regionally, including right now in Syria,” the US official said.

“I do believe what we are seeing in Syria and in Libya in particular is demonstrative of the ways in which Turkish interests and Russian interests do not overlap,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous, told journalists in Istanbul.

“I am hopeful that our Turkish partners will take that same message away from this experience,” he added.

Like in Syria, Turkey and Russia support opposing sides in Libya.

Ankara is allied with the UN-recognised government in Tripoli while Moscow has been accused of sending several thousand mercenaries from private Russian security company Wagner to support military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The Kremlin denies this.

The US official described Wagner’s role as “an instrument of the Kremlin’s policy.”

“The real driver of instability is not Turkey, it’s Russia,” he added.

The official said the Russians “believe there is a military solution for Syria” in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour, but stressed that this would be “inconsistent” with Turkish interests in Idlib and in Syria overall.

“There is much more overlap between Turkish interests and US interests,” he said, adding: “Turkey’s ally is the United States, not Russia.”

Yet despite the recent tensions with Russia, Turkey had not shown a will at this stage to reduce cooperation with Moscow, the official said, pointing in particular to Turkey’s categorical refusal to renounce the Russian S-400 air defence system purchase.

The S-400 deal is one of the main causes of tensions between Turkey and the US.