(Photo: TURKISH PRESIDENCY/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Turkey and the U.S. Choose Sides in Venezuelan Leadership Race

Erdogan finds another avenue to look tough on global stage

[Ankara] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s backing for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is being seen as part of Ankara’s attempt to become more independent from the west after the United States announced its support for the opposition, analysts told The Media Line.

Esra Akgemci, an expert on international relations and Latin American politics at Selcuk University in Turkey, stated that both Erdogan and Maudro found themselves increasingly isolated on the world stage and were trying to find allies to offset that phenomenon.

Akgemci, in an email to The Media Line, averred that defending Maudro gives Erdogan a chance to position himself as a defender of political will by aligning with someone he sees as a victim of a coup.

“Erdogan will probably keep supporting Maduro by his ‘anti-imperialist’ discourses against ‘American imperialism’ but Turkey will certainly be very careful in its steps not to extend support to Venezuela.”

After Erdogan called Maudro in a show of support, the Turkish president said on Thursday that the results of Venezuela’s election must be respected.

Last week, the American administration said it recognized opposition leader Juan Guiado as president in the embattled country where masses have left amid soaring inflation and food shortages.

After his phone call, Erdogan told journalists on Thursday that he told Maudro to “stand tall.”

“Trump’s remarks shocked me, as someone who believes in democracy,” Erdogan said, according to the Reuters News Agency.

Leaders in Britain, Germany and France all stated that they would follow Washington’s lead if Maudro did not call for a new election within about a week.

That pits Erdogan against some of his country’s most important western allies and on the side of Russia which has come out strongly in favor of Maudro.

The cause has resonated with some Turkish citizens who have been tweeting #WeAreMaduro.

Metin Yegin, a Turkish journalist who has authored books and produced documentaries about Latin American politics, argued that Erdogan and Maudro do not have any real connection.

Yegin stated that Turkey, which borders Syria and Iraq, is limited in where he can defy Washington and doing so in a far-away country like Venezuela is politically easier.

“This also feeds a little the image in Turkey and abroad that Erdogan stands tall against [the] U.S.,” he told The Media Line.

Turkey was strengthening its relations with Maduro and Venezuela in recent months.

Erdogan met with the Venezuelan leader in December saying he was determined to continue to improve relations with the Latin American country, which had faced sanctions from the U.S.

Trade between Turkey and Venezuela has dramatically increased this year and the latter said it handed over two Gulen-affiliated schools to Ankara. Gulen is the Turkish exile living in the United States who is blamed by Erdogan for plotting a failed coup d’état against him. The Turkish president is livid with the U.S. for not extraditing Gulen per his demand.

Elmira Bayrasli, an expert on Turkey and a professor at Bard College, told The Media Line that Erdogan’s motivations were two-fold.

One is that the two leaders see eye-to-eye with some of their ideological stances, such as their style of governance.

The Turkish president has wanted to project himself as a regional and global leader ever since he came into office, according to Bayrasil.

By supporting a leader opposed by the U.S., Erdogan has an opportunity to seem self-reliant which would play well domestically.

“I think that this is more evidence that Erdogan is an independent actor and he will align himself with the actor who will benefit him the most.”

Bayrasil stated that by collecting more allies who go against the U.S., Erdogan can push back from the West and not have to align himself so closely with any one one power.

In this vein, Turkey has agreed to buy the S-400 Russian missile defense system, which could be cause for another crisis between Ankara and Washington.

Turkey buying the system is highly controversial because it will not integrate with NATO weapons and could reveal sensitive technological information to Russia if American weapons are used alongside the Russian system.

But Ankara and Washington rely too much on each other for Venezuela to become a major hindrance, Bayrasil added.

“I think Washington would take note of it,” she said. “I don’t think they would punish Turkey over this.”

Akgemci agree that Turkey will be very mindful of Washington’s position on the crisis.

“The limits of Erdogan’s support for Maduro is particularly determined by Turkey’s relations with the U.S.,” she stated. “We have to consider the fact that it is not easy for Turkey as a NATO member who has issues in Middle East to distance itself from the U.S.”

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