Alwaght – As Venezuela is divided into two blocs, with one supporting the elected President Nicolas Maduro and the other supporting the head of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó, the world countries are divided into supporters of the two sides of the dispute in the Latin American nation.
Shortly after the start of anti-Maduro protests in the capital Caracas, some countries, led by the US, recognized Guaidó as the interim president of the oil-rich country. On the opposite side, some international and regional powers, Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey, have officially announced their backing to the legitimate government of Venezuela, warning against any foreign intervention.
Turkey’s stance can be seen of symbolic and diplomatic significance. Shortly after the recent escalation of tensions in Venezuela, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked over the phone with his Venezuelan counterpart, calling Maduro a “brother” and promising that Ankara will stand by him. Then, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu highlighted the Turkish support and accused the US of meddling in that country’s home affairs. He called the Venezuelan opposition leader’s announcement “very strange.”
Turkish leaders’ stances come while for decades the NATO-member Ankara has been recognized as a strategic ally to the West. Now Ankara’s position should be read as a new political shift, noteworthy to be focused on.
Retaliating 2016 coup
The Turkish overt support to the government of Maduro comes while the US strongly pushes for ousting the Venezuelan president and garnering as much recognition as possible for the self-proclaimed interim president Guaidó. In this case, Ankara’s position should be read as a confrontation with the US and the West as a whole. First, we need to look back at the 2016 military coup against Erdogan.
The July 16 failed coup was led by some military heads and was backed by some secular politicians under the pretext of returning country to the secular values. On the hills of the power grab attempt, the Turkish intelligence investigation said that the US supported the coup plotters and Washington even offered Incirlik military base rented by the US to help the mutineers detain and assassinate Erdogan.
Turkey has been repeatedly asking the US to hand over Abdullah Gulen to Ankara to prove its good faith towards the country. According to Erdogan, Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher, masterminded the attempted coup. Washington, however, so far has rejected to extradite Erdogan’s opponent to Turkey.
With this in mind, now Erdogan and other Turkish leaders seek to exhibit their protest against the US interventionist policy in other countries. They condemn President Donald Trump’s support to a coup in Venezuela to bring to power a pro-US figure. In fact, by having the back of Maduro, the Turkish government wants to retaliate the US hostile position regarding the 2016 military takeover attempt.
The Kurdish case
Like the first drive for Erdogan to support Maduro, the second reason pushing Ankara to support the legal government in Caracas is directly related to the US policy. Last month, the US President posted a tweet warning that if Turkey attacks the Syrian Kurds, the US will “devastate” Turkey’s economy. Since then, the Turkish leaders remained angry.
Equipping the Syrian Kurdish militants, YPG, with semi-heavy arms has repeatedly drawn resounding protest of the Turkish leaders who consider them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has been fighting the Turkish government at home for decades. Turkey argues that the US-supplied arms end up in the PKK hands.
Now the Turkish leaders want to send a message to Trump telling him threatening Ankara and opposing its regional policies will come at the cost of the Turkish opposition to the US policies around the world. In fact, the pro-Maduro stances are an open response of Erdogan to the White House policy toward Turkey. Now, the US should no longer think of Turkey as a strategic ally taking the Washington side in various crises.
Meanwhile, we should also take into account the heavy Turkish investment in Venezuela and bilateral trade in the form of oil for goods. Turkey is worried that once a pro-US government comes to rule Venezuela, the trade benefits will go to the American and Western companies.
Ankara and Caracas recently signed several deals to boost economic relations, which include opening a Turkish Airlines base in Venezuela.
Last July, Caracas announced that its Central Bank had started refining gold in Turkey following a wave of US sanctions on Venezuela. Turkey became the largest importer of Venezuela’s non-monetary gold in 2018, receiving 900 million dollars’ worth in the first nine months of the year.
Food is key Turkish export material to Venezuela.
Separating ways with the West, heading to East
With regard to the atmosphere of tensions dominating the Turkish-Western relations, a fundamental shift in Ankara’s foreign policy is well recognizable. Over the past years, Erdogan and other Turkish officials have shown that they can never play the role of a strategic ally for the US and Europe. This is because of conflict of interests, views, and policies of the two sides in the global developments. Since 2015, Turkey embarked on a policy shift that saw it work closely with the Eastern camp led by Russia, Iran, and China. Now the massive Turkish-Western friction indicates that a return to the strategic alliance, similar to the Cold War era, is unthinkable. That drives Ankara to redefine its interests in the new equation which takes Turkey beside Russia and other like-minded countries in the regional and international stances. Erdogan’s insistence to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems despite the Western opposition bear witness to Turkey’s major foreign policy change.
As the Turkey-West alliance moves to end, Erdogan in Venezuela crisis wants to show to what extent he is stepping into a confrontation with the Western bloc. The fact is that in the new conditions, the Turkish politicians are not afraid to publicize their counterviews to the West. Possibly, as time goes by, further tough stances are expected to come out of Turkey in various international cases.