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Soviet Effects On Relations Between The United States Of America And Turkey In Détente

A. Soviet-Turkey Relations in Interwar Period

Tsarist Russia was the great enemy of the Ottoman Empire. When these two great enemies were fighting with each other in World War I, something has happened that was not expected. A revolution, that planted a country which had a vital importance shaping the world for nearly a century, was occurred in Russia in 1917. At the same time, that revolution brought good feelings to these ex-enemies for a while. Shortly after the Russian revolution, how interesting the Ottoman Empire was demolished informally by the Allies and formally by a public movement, and instead of it a new republic has risen. These two historical events were important to understand of the history of these two great nations.

Somebody regards Russia as one of the ferocious enemies of Turks throughout the Turkish history.   But they don’t know the importance of the interwar relationships between Soviets and Turkey. Actually this period forms very interesting part of their history. After the revolution, Turkish people were giving the quest of independence against the occupying powers. Throughout the country, regular and irregular forces were struggling against these enemies. In Turkey, there were abnormal conditions and Turkey needed money, guns and international partner. On the other hand, Soviet as a new country with a new ideology also sought an ally in international area. So as an irony of fate, these old enemies began a friendship. Soviets gave military, economic and international support aids to Ankara Government, and of course, the gold that Afghans and Pakistanis sent to Anatolian religion fellows. In that way, different reasons brought the enemies on the same side.

In fact, it is not a new thing to become on the same side with enemy. France and the United Kingdom are two of the oldest enemies but in World War I and II they have shared the same ideals. After this little anecdote, we can clearly understand the situation between Soviet and Turkey. That was a mental marriage, actually all acts in the international relationships can be defined so. By this marriage, Soviets gained an ally and influence in the international area being the lawyer of Turkey. They secured the southern border of their lands too. In this Soviet’s policy, their ideology which includes helping other non-communist movement against the imperial power had an important role. For this reason, Turkey may be regarded as the most gainful side of the relationships. Turkey got guns which were vitally important in the war. Soviet was more powerful in the international area, hence, gaining Soviets might bring good benefit to Turkey, and Ankara Government did many things to get this power, like founding Green Army and mutual visits. To sum up, this union of the interests conduced to have a spring in the middle of winter in their history.

B. Soviet- Turkey Relationships During World War II

World War II has shaped the relations between Soviet – Turkey and Turkey – the USA. Hitler and Stalin agreed and had no problem at least seemed so at the beginning of the war. Germany was the big export partner of Turkey, and bought chrome from Turkey to make heavy artillery. When Hitler attacked Soviets then everything has changed. Soviet lands were treaded under the feet of German soldiers and most of the Soviet lands in Europe have been captured by Nazis. Stalin has been insisting from the Allies that Turkey declared war against Germany and a new front must have opened. That wish caused Turkey in a bad position. Because Turkey did not want to participate war, and has not enough resources to fight with Germens too. Additionally, as we said, German trade was very important for Turkish government. For these reasons, Turkey did not intend to take active place in the war. Different attitudes stretched the relationships between Turkey and USSR. Actually, When Soviets began to become stronger through the end of the war, Soviet attitude deeply changed towards Turkey. Stalin character was the dominant factor in this changing policy. He has very different character. Neither contemporary politicians nor the Soviet communist after him liked his policy. Hence, we must consider Stalin as a factor assessing the foreign relations. However, Turkey did not want to worsen relations with Soviets, but Soviets were now strong and they did not need a companion. Even at the end of the war, Stalin wanted a base on the straits and reclaim Kars, Ardahan and Artvin from Turkish Government. These demands broke the good relations and it was the end of the short spring then harsh winter would come.

C. After The War

After the war, the world changed and the balance of powers and old actors also changed. A new order and new actors arose. In this new world, there were two groups and ideologies. Soviets had stood alone against Nazi’s attacks, and routed them alone, gained a lot of territory by contra-attack. Stalin set ideological satellites in his dominion, so he built a new empire. On the other hand, the United States of America left Monroe Doctrine and decided to become a leader of the liberal world against Communist hegemony.

Soviets and the West were on the same side perforce but after the war deep disagreements were seen. Communist Block was formed mainly by Soviet dominions that were reputedly freed by Soviet army. But Liberal Block was formed a little bit differently. The United States did not conquer or force any country, they associated the common ideals. While Soviets frightened the free people, America offered aid that included money and arms. While Soviets frowned, America smiled. This different attitude helped Turkish Government to choose its side. Shortly after the war Stalin declared his demands mentioned above to Ankara Government. Those demands drove Turkey to close Western countries. American Missouri Battleship delivered the remains of the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, Münir Ertegün to Istanbul. That occasion was commented as the American support to Turkey by experts.

Turkey accepted Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan so the government showed that Republic of Turkey shared the ideals with the West. But America has a lot of bases in Turkey in remuneration for the aids. This is how America found its empire. Turkish relative autonomy foreign policy was ended.

D. Soviet Effect on Relations Between Turkey and the United States in Détente

America is not the oldest state for Turkish foreign policy when we compared with Russia. One of its main reasons is that the United States favoured to develop commercial relations rather than political connections. That means even if the Turkish government wanted to set political relations with Washington, it wouldn’t get the answer. After the World War I, the relations were partially set. In that period, Turkey mostly considered Western European not America. In fact, during the independence war, some intellectuals claimed that Ankara government should have accepted the American mandate in Turkey, but that was not accepted by libertarians.

Everything about America began with the World War II for Turkey. America did not use Monroe Doctrine much longer and decided to become the leader of the liberal world. After the war, a new war of America that was to struggle against communists in Europe and to surround USSR from the south was started. So the geo-strategy of Turkey showed its importance to the United States. Truman Doctrine in 1947 declared and by that, Turkey could get 100 million dollars from America but Turkey should have showed that it was on the side of the west. And Turkey did something because of Soviets’ threats. Actually, America cared Turkey because of its geo-strategic importance. But Turkey accepted that as a friendship or maybe that opinion was more useful tool to gain American aid. So the United States of America became the main partner of Turkey. Sometimes Turkey went forward as being more American than America. But some events made Turkish policymakers to think about their foreign policy which was focused on America’s interests.

Détente is a term that describes the easing of relations between two blocks. The USA and the USSR preferred negotiation to solve problems rather than threatening each other or increasing nuclear weapons. Of course, Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was the main reason why the blocks decided that policy. That crisis brought two blocks near the doorstep of a nuclear war that could destroy the all world for many times. America and Soviets were on a knife edge; even the smallest misunderstanding might have caused a new destructive world war. At the end they understood that risk. Additionally, nuclear race brought to the sides heavy economic burden. They could not hold that much longer. Also, from Soviet’s aspect, Western Europe might have been perfect market, Moscow wanted to trade with Europe. For these reasons, two blocks decided to ease relations and not to act to heighten tension. So détente began.

As we mentioned above, international circumstances drove Turkey to choose the side of the West. Particularly in the term of Stalin, Turkey was under pressure of Soviet demands and threats. Hence, death of Stalin, and the American foreign policy that was not welcome by Turkish government, provided Turkey a relative autonomy foreign policy. Nikita Khrushchev who was the Soviet leader after Stalin had very important role on shaping relationships between Turkey and the USA. Khrushchev cancelled the Soviet’s demands about Turkey and wished good relations with his neighbour. At first, Turkish politicians did not welcome those wishes because they thought if they improved relations with Soviets, America would give up economic and military aid. For this reason, Turkey did not attempt to restore the relations. In the Cold War, the first goal of Turkey was to profit from American aid as much as it could do. Turkey considered this aid program as an income.

However, Ankara government has changed its mind about American ally in 1960s. Cuban Crisis was very important in relationships between Turkey and America. Until that issue, Turkey depended on American ally without question. Turkish government believed that Washington was very confidential and honest. But this crisis showed Turkish policymakers that America’s priorities were its own interests, and its allies had the second importance. That easing of relationships between Soviets and America displaced both American and Soviet pressures on Turkish foreign policy. Especially, American attitude to Turkey in Cyprus Crisis and Johnson Letter in 1964 made Turkish politicians rethink about their foreign policy focused on America. President Johnson was a person who mostly believed the mighty of the United States of America. Even if the American soldiers died in Vietnam, he did not think once to withdraw the American army because he thought America could not be defeated by those Vietnamese guerrillas. Johnson wanted than his allies should have sat calmly. But there was a serious problem between Turkey and Greece about Cyprus. Johnson acted as a father berating his son. This attitude of Johnson caused to increase American opposition in Turkey. In this way, Turkish policymakers formed a new concept of foreign policy. According to that policy, Turkey firstly acted in the way of its interests and then took opinions its allies. Especially, Peace Operation of Turkey to Cyprus stretched the relationships between Ankara and Washington. America put an embargo on Turkey, so Turkey could not use American arms. That was something like an excommunication, and Turkey thought that the United States preferred Greece to Turkey. Also, Washington pressed on Turkey about stopping pot production in Turkey. Ally America turned into an eastern father. American threats on the Cyprus crisis and other pressures mentioned above drove Turkish government to close with Soviets. In détente Turkey was able to form partially his own foreign policy. Détente was the period of Turkish relative autonomy foreign policy.

To sum up, America was the main partner of Turkey throughout the Cold War. But, when circumstances were suitable and America put stone on the way of Turkey directly, Turkish government could take decisions as it wished. Détente was an era like that. Changing of Soviet’s attitude towards Turkey, American policy against Turkey on Cyprus Crisis and détente formed an atmosphere for Turkey to act relatively independent in foreign policy. This period, at the same time, was that Turkey began to question American alliance. But, Turkish government never cut the relationships with the United States of America.


  1. Baker, Lawrence W., Cold War Reference Library, U-X-L, Farmington Hills, 2004
  2. Leffler, Melvyn P., The Cambridge History of the Cold War Volume II Crises and Détente, Cambridge University Press, London, 2010
  3. Oran, Baskın, Türk Dış Politikası I, İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul, 2009
  4. White, Stephen, The Origins of Detente, Cambridge University Press, London, 1985

Ahmet İlker Baş