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NATO summit and the show stealers

At the recently held NATO summit at Vilnius, the world witnessed the presence of the leadership of NATO member countries, but two leaders for two different reasons stood out as the show stealers. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey who after a pause of almost one year agreed to push forward the accession of Sweden as member of NATO and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine who failed to seek any commitment for his country to join NATO and thus making Ukraine and the future of the war that it is fighting with Russia very uncertain and a great talking point. Both the Turkish and the Ukrainian takeaways from the NATO summit have huge geopolitical implications for the world.
First, President’s Erdogan decision and why it came about?
Turkey had little choice as 21 NATO member countries had already agreed to the accession of Sweden as NATO member and Turkey which occupies a very important strategic position as NATO member could not have opposed Sweden’s accession indefinitely. What Erdogan has done as a far-sighted statesman is link Sweden’s bid to join NATO to some deliverables that Turkey must also receive in return. Erdogan has only shown intent while the actual approval will come from the Turkish parliament which his political party dominates. So, before the matter goes to the Turkish parliament, Erdogan is all set to get western assurances and guarantees on matters that are of vital interest to him and his country. These include progress on Turkey’s bid to EU membership, and extradition of 130 terror suspects from Sweden that are believed to have PKK links and who had supported the failed coup of 15 July 2016 in Turkey.
President Erdogan has also leveraged his country’s geographic position and reminded NATO that Turkish air power is NATO’s anchor in Black Sea region and given the circumstances NATO’s interest in the region depends upon a strong Turkish air force. How can those interests be served if Turkey is not provided the 40 F-16 fighter jets that the US had promised to provide? The same language spoken unconditionally by Turkey earlier was not being understood by the US; but now with a trump card of voting for Sweden’s accession to NATO’s membership in hand, Erdogan is seeking from the US on reciprocal basis what was denied to it in a bilateral agreement. Turkey already has 79 F-16s in its inventory which makes it third largest country in the world with such a fleet. The last F-16 added to Turkey’s inventory was in 2012. Since then Turkey had been making plans to induct hundred F-35 in its air force for which it had already paid $1.4 billion to the US; but after purchasing S-400 Air Def System from Russia, the Americans walked out of the deal. Securing NATOs interest, especially in the Black Sea region, depends upon a strong Turkey and it seems President Erdogan has been able to create this realisation in what many consider a brain-dead NATO.
Turkey is not only a member of NATO but it is also a Black Sea power and like any power Turkey seeks greater influence and control in the region. Apparently, President Erdogan’s act may be read as a spoiler of Russo-Turkish strategic relationship but I think given the benefits that Turkey is likely to extract by agreeing to Sweden’s accession to NATO, President Putin may look at it as nothing but a country’s unavoidable geopolitical necessity.
Russia and Turkey have too much at stake for either one of the two to back off from their growing strategic partnership. Putin supported Erdogan during the 2016 coup and Erdogan has also taken a very balanced stand on the Ukrainian issue. Turkey imports Russian oil, Russian tourists boom its sliding economy, Russia is building its only nuclear power plant and is also helping in playing a crucial role in ensuring Turkey is not confronted with Kurdish trouble on its southern border.
Geopolitically, Putin’s great worry is seeing Baltic Sea getting converted into a NATO lake. But Finland had already become a NATO member in April this year and Sweden’s membership was being anticipated. Seeing this in geopolitical terms, Sweden’s loss in the long run is more prominent than its gain because it practised over 200 years of military non-alignment and suddenly after 200 years it wakes up to join an alliance and thus manufacturing and creating an enemy for itself for reasons not good enough for making this choice. Unlike Ukraine, currently Russia has no territorial issues with Sweden or Finland and both countries could have continued to stay non-aligned and neutral. Given their close geographical proximity with Russia, throwing their lot with NATO at this juncture may not be a wise choice. The big question that both the countries should ask themselves is whether manufacturing an enemy for themselves would suit them geopolitically at this juncture. Because the choice they have made increases challenges for Russia on its western front and this will now provoke Russia to pay attention to it and do something about it in a geopolitical tit-for-tat.
The second show stealer from the NATO event was President Zelenskyy. He premised his access to NATO membership based on the Russian threat to his country but the message he got at the NATO summit was that fighting war against Russia and acquiring NATO membership were two separate processes. In fact, the NATO general secretary explained that if the war is lost, there will be no Ukraine to be granted NATO membership. This means Ukraine will first have to win the war and then it will be granted the NATO membership. West clearly wants this war to be seen as a war between Ukraine and Russia and not a war between NATO and Russia. For NATO Ukraine is a proxy state which can be used to fight a defensive war against Russia with specific aims – recovery of Crimea by Ukraine and the overthrow of President Putin are two such aims.
How Putin has handled Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny and how the Ukrainian counteroffensive is making headway is a clear indication that to prevail in this war it will take NATO something more than fighting a defensive war and subjecting Russia to NATO encirclement. Doing that would mean going on an offensive against Russia. Sweden as the 32nd member of NATO doesn’t support that plan nor does any other NATO member country. That leaves one big question unanswered – how will the war end?

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