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Could Turkey Turn to Russia in Response to US Threats?

Deepening rifts between Turkey and the United States are fueling speculation Turkey is being given further impetus to strengthen ties with nearby Russia.

Senior Turkish officials met with their Russian and Iranian counterparts Monday in Russia's Sochi sea resort as part of ongoing cooperation among the countries over resolving the Syrian civil war.

"We can go our own way," Turkish media Sunday quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying. "The U.S. could lose a loyal and valuable ally," he added in response to U.S. threats.

In the past week, Turkish-U.S. tensions have rapidly escalated with President Donald Trump warning of "severe sanctions" if Turkey does not release an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, from detention.

Ankara's cooperation with Moscow over Syria faces growing strains. Turkish officials accuse Russia of reneging on an agreement to create de-escalation zones where a cease-fire would protect Syrian rebels. The zones were established as part of the "Astana Process" in which Iran, Turkey, and Russia cooperate to resolve the Syrian war.

Much to Ankara's anger, Syrian regime forces backed by Russian airpower are gradually overrunning the de-escalation zones. Erdogan has vowed to protect the last main zone in Idlib, on Turkey's border. Monday's Sochi meeting of Turkish, Iranian and Russian officials is expected to focus on the future of the Idlib enclave.

The Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump earlier in July could further strain Turkish-Russian ties.

"In Helsinki, there was a four-hour meeting. There was substance; there appears already the grounds of a final political agreement over Syria," former Turkish diplomat Selcen said.

"President Trump is, more than President [Barack] Obama, ready to hand over Syria to President [Bashar] Assad, once IS is defeated," Selcen said. He said it shows that "Moscow and [the] U.S. can agree on Syria, which could mean Turkey can be frozen out, as Turkey cannot resist Moscow and [Washington] DC over Syria."

Source: Voice of America

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