Turkey and Germany have defended their ties with Russia following strident criticism by the US at a Nato event in Washington.
The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the US was wrong in trying to force Ankara to buy US-made anti-aircraft systems called Patriots instead of Russian-made S-400s.
He compared the situation to Ukraine, saying US pressure for it to join the West had prompted its conflict with Russia.
“Turkey doesn’t have to choose between Russia or any others … nobody, neither the West nor Russia, should or can ask us to choose between [them],” he said at a think-tank event in the US capital on Wednesday (3 April).
“And, it happened with Ukraine, and look at what happened. The West asked Ukraine to choose only them and Russia did the same thing,” he added.
He criticised Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its recent “aggression” against Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea.
“We have been working with Russia, but it doesn’t mean that we are undermining the alliance and we agree with Russia on everything. There is no shift on our foreign policy,” Cavusoglu said.
He also ruled out a U-turn on the deal, however.
“The S-400 deal is a done deal and we will not step back from this,” he said.
For his part, German foreign minister Heiko Maas, speaking at the same event, defended Germany’s decision to build a new pipeline with Russia called Nord Stream 2.
Nato unity should not mean “breaking off all channels of dialogue with Russia,” he said.
“We are aware of the concerns of our eastern and central European partners [on Nord Stream 2] in particular and we take these concerns seriously,” he added.
He also defended Germany’s violation of a Nato pact, back in 2014, for members to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defence.
“I know that our budgetary process is sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand … [but] we have reversed the falling defence expenditure trend,” he said, amid plans to spend as little as 1.25 percent by 2023.
The ministers spoke after rebukes by US vice president Mike Pence earlier the same day.
The Turkish S-400 deal “threatens the very cohesion of this alliance” was “deeply troubling”, and would see Ankara expelled from a US programme to jointly manufacture F-35 fighter jets, he said.
“Turkey must choose: does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history of the world? Or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions?,” he added.
“It’s also wrong for Germany to allow itself to become energy dependent on Russia,” Pence noted.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline “could turn Germany’s economy into literally a captive of Russia”, he said.
“It is simply unacceptable for Europe’s largest economy to continue to ignore the threat of Russian aggression and neglect its own self-defence and our common defence,” he added, on German spending levels.
The Ukrainian deputy minister for euro-Atlantic affairs, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, also took a swipe at Cavusoglu for overlooking its sovereign rights.
“You said that Russia is pulling my country to one side, Nato is pulling it to another side … It’s our decision. We have decided to move to Nato,” she said.
But other speakers, such as Constanze Stelzenmueller, from the Brookings think tank in Washington, poked holes in Pence’s argument.
Nord Stream 2 was “geopolitically stupid”, but some EU members, such as the Baltic states, imported 100 percent of their energy from Russia and were “not notably in any way captive”, she said.
“It is insulting to call us captive of Russia because we’re holding together the Russian sanctions consensus in Europe at a very real cost to German business,” she added, referring to EU sanctions on Russia imposed over its invasion of Ukraine.
The Washington talks were organised by the Atlantic Council, German Marshal Fund, and Munich Security Conference think tanks as part of celebrations of Nato’s 70th anniversary.
Papering the cracks
The talks come amid earlier tensions between the US and Germany on spending and on the Russia pipeline, with US president Donald Trump having in the past questioned America’s commitment to the alliance.
But Pence, on Wednesday, ended his remarks on a positive note.
“The United States has been faithful to Europe for generations, and we’ll keep the faith … you can be confident the United States of America is now and will always be Europe’s greatest ally,” he said.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, was also greeted with applause and standing ovations when he spoke to Congress the same day.
“Of course I will continue to ask Germany to do more,” he said on spending.
“We do not want a new arms race. We do not want a new Cold War. But we must not be naive [on Russia],” he added, referring to its alleged violation of nuclear arms control treaties.
“There are no new American missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles,” he said.
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