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ANKARA: Turkey convinced its NATO allies to take a softer official stance after Belarus forced a European airliner through the country’s airspace so it could arrest a dissident journalist, reported Thursday Reuters.
Ryanair’s passenger plane was flying from Greece and heading for Lithuania, but Belarus diverted its route to force it to land in Minsk on Sunday.
In a two-paragraph statement released by NATO, the alliance condemned the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich after the forced landing, but it did not result in the punitive sanctions that Poland, Lithuania and Latvia were calling for .
The statement, which did not call for the release of political prisoners in Belarus, contradicts the statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that the incident was “scandalous” and “a hijacking of state”.
Diplomats quoted by Reuters said Ankara could use its NATO influence to solidify its fragile ties with Moscow, a close ally of Belarus, to convince Moscow to allow Russian tourists to come to Turkey during the summer season despite the high risk of coronavirus infections.
Russian tourists prefer Turkey as a top vacation destination, especially the country’s southern provinces more than any other country, with 7 million visitors to the country registered in 2019.
Moscow is expected to revise the month-and-a-half-month ban on flights with Turkey which expires on June 1.
However, on the diplomatic front, Turkey recently angered Russia for its rapprochement with Ukraine.
The Kremlin warned Ankara on May 24 that encouraging Ukrainian “aggressive” actions against Crimea directly violated Russia’s territorial integrity. The Russian Foreign Minister criticized Turkey’s increased cooperation with Kiev, saying it fueled “militarist sentiment” in Ukraine.
Turkey’s alleged diplomatic move to NATO to prevent harsh sanctions against Belarus – likely a ban on Belarusian airlines from flying over EU airspace or preventing Belarusian airlines from using airports of the EU – could also aim to strengthen economic cooperation with Minsk amid the financial difficulties facing the country. during the pandemic.
Some experts, however, have pointed out that this latest move within NATO hints at an attempt to balance the country’s geopolitical goals with economic necessities.
“Turkey is trying to preserve its ‘balance’ between NATO and Russia after signaling in recent weeks that it was more willing to engage in the policy of deterrence towards Russia, as evidenced by its awareness of Ukraine and the sale of drones to Poland. and join NATO’s reinforced air police, ”Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs based in Warsaw, told Arab News.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has remained silent on the Reuters report.
However, the Kremlin does not appear to ease its tension with Ankara in a single gesture.
According to Wasilewski, any diplomatic move by Turkey to prevent sanctions against Belarus might calm Russia down a bit, but it will be enough to ease tensions.
“Russia is about to signal to Turkey that its actions will have consequences and this could continue until Turkey shows more clearly that its engagement in NATO will not interfere with its policies towards the Russia, “he said.
He added: “The bottom line is for Turkey to continue its ‘eat a cake and have it too’ policy towards NATO and Russia. Moscow has been fairly tolerant of this policy, because for a long time it had more negative consequences for NATO than for Russia. “
Turkey’s criticism of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity is a source of discontent for the Kremlin.
With Joe Biden’s administration now in the White House in the United States, Wasilewski believes the equation has changed and that Moscow wants to demonstrate to Turkey that this policy is no longer valid, especially if Turkey aims to change its balance in a way that would have more negative consequences for Russia.
For Amanda Paul, senior policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center (EPC), it is disappointing that Ankara has taken this position, and the decision has frustrated many Alliance members.
“NATO should have given the strongest response to this scandalous incident. Of course, given the state of the Turkish economy these days, Ankara is focused on improving the situation, ”she told Arab News.
When it comes to Belarus, Paul believes Turkey has focused on strengthening economic – and other – ties in recent years.
“In early May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a phone call with Alexander Lukashenka in which the two reiterated their intention to strengthen relations. This would indicate that the Turkish leadership has no problem dealing with a man whose regime has beaten, and in some cases killed, peaceful protesters and has now hijacked a plane, ”she said.