A Triumvirate on NATO's Eastern Flank?

A Triumvirate on NATO's Eastern Flank?

The simultaneous official visits of Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and Romanian Foreign Minister Lazăr Comănescu to Turkey at the end of August, where they met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, were a continuation of the trilateral Polish-Turkish-Romanian consultations that began in June of this year in Warsaw. At that time, the foreign ministers of Poland, Turkey and Romania spoke in favour of strengthening the US missile defence system in Europe and «uniting the three largest nations on NATO’s eastern flank». 

In Ankara, Waszczykowski and Comănescu declared their countries’ support for Ankara’s commitment to EU integration and their hope for the speedy implementation of the March agreement between Turkey and Brussels (the agreement stipulates that the EU will give €6 billion to Turkey and liberalise the visa regime if Turkey agrees to receive illegal migrants from Europe in exchange for Europe accepting legal refugees from Syria on a ‘one in, one out’ principle). 

Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski’s comments on relations between Brussels and Ankara were interesting: «The dialogue [between Turkey and the EU – V.G.] should be more intense to maintain Turkey’s path to EU membership... Turkey deserves EU membership and there is no reason to doubt that. We are in favour of continuing talks with Turkey». The only way to understand this statement is that it has nothing to do with the accession of Turkey and its population of 80 million to the European Union (Europe is unable to absorb the ‘addition’ of Turkey), but it is important to keep Turkey on the «path to EU membership» – to keep it on a tight leash of endless negotiations regarding its possible integration into the EU, in other words.

Waszczykowski used more or less the same concerned tone when talking about Turkey staying in NATO: «Turkey is a reliable NATO member that fulfils every obligation. We do not see any deviation from NATO’s policy in Ankara’s actions».

It seems that the tone of these statements, along with the appearance of Waszczykowski and Comănescu in Ankara shortly after Erdoğan and Putin met in St. Petersburg, is not accidental. 

The Turkish Minister of European Union Affairs, Ömer Çelik, has stated that Turkey may unilaterally break the March agreement with the EU on migrants if Brussels does not provide a clear date to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. Çelik has previously said that EU membership is not Ankara’s only option. 

Concern over the possibilities that have arisen as a result of improved Russian-Turkish relations was not the only reason that the heads of the Polish and Romanian foreign ministries visited Erdoğan, however. 

In view of Britain’s forthcoming exit from the EU, Poland and Romania are concerned that the European Union will end up under the complete control of Berlin. Following the meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that took place on 22 August 2016 on the Italian island of Ventotene, one can assume that Germany has managed to bring together a triumvirate of the major continental powers of Old Europe that will also determine the future of the EU in the short term. 

As for Poland and Romania, they have a strategic partnership agreement until 2019 that stipulates they will coordinate their foreign policies. In 2009 and 2011, Poland and Romania signed strategic partnership agreements with Turkey. So some semblance of a triumvirate has also appeared on NATO’s eastern flank.

Fearing a huge rise in German influence, meanwhile, Warsaw and Bucharest are also working together to strengthen America’s presence in Europe. Elements of the US missile defence system are being deployed in the Romanian village of Deveselu and close to the Polish towns of Redzikowo and Morąg. Polish and Romanian lobbyists have helped to strengthen NATO in the Baltic States and have also assisted in the establishment of warehouses there for military equipment and military contingents from the US and Britain. 

One of the issues raised at the talks between Waszczykowski and Comănescu in Ankara, therefore, concerned the transfer of US nuclear weapons from Turkey to Romania (50 units of US tactical nuclear weapons have been placed at the Incirlik air base in Turkey since the Cold War). 

Geographically, Turkey completes the territory between the Baltics and the Black Sea. Traditionally, Romania would like to see this region as its sphere of influence. To this end, Bucharest is pushing the ‘Greater Romania’ project, which involves the successive absorption of Moldova, Transnistria and parts of Ukraine by Romanian patriots. Poland, for its part, is strenuously promoting the Adriatic - Baltic - Black Sea (ABB), or ‘Three Seas’, Initiative (the creation of an anti-Russian bloc of states in the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea triangle). Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė held bilateral talks on the subject at the end of August as part of the Three Seas Initiative Forum in Dubrovnik.

Warsaw and Bucharest will only be able to achieve any kind of significant role in the Eastern European geopolitical space with the support of Washington, which, in turn, regards Romania and Poland as agents of US policy – a policy to boost NATO’s presence in the east on a broad front from the Baltic States to the Black Sea.

How this will benefit Turkey and what form the inevitable US presence in the Polish-Turkish-Romanian triumvirate will take, Ankara has yet to decide.

Tags: Poland  Romania  Turkey