(CNSNews.com) – Days before President Trump meets with NATO partners ahead of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. ambassador to NATO warned Sunday that Moscow is attempting to destabilize the transatlantic alliance – among other things, by trying to draw away Turkey.
“I do think Russia is trying to flip Turkey,” Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison said on Fox News Sunday in response to a question. “They are trying to flip many of our allies. They want to destabilize the strongest defense alliance in the history of the world, and that is NATO.”
Turkey’s autocratic Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be sworn in on Monday for a new five-year term, but this time under a newly-amended constitution that increases his powers significantly. He has already led Turkey, as president or prime minister, since 2003.
Russian Prime Minister Dmity Medvedev will be among several dozen heads of state and government attending the inauguration ceremony in Ankara, according to the Anadolu state news agency.
Two days later Erdogan will join Trump and other NATO leaders in Brussels. Turkish state media say Trump and Erdogan will also hold a bilateral meeting, although the White House has not confirmed that.
Monday’s swearing-in comes at a time of heightened tensions in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, and as Erdogan pursues plans to install a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system – a move opposed by the U.S. and by NATO.
Hutchison noted that Turkey is a longstanding member of the alliance, and is involved in its train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan.
“They have been an ally for a long time and we will continue to work with them and we know that Russia is trying to move into that, but they are strong and they are a NATO strong member.”
Hutchison said Trump has already taken up with Erdogan the West’s concerns about the S-400 purchase.
“We are very much against that because it will affect the interoperability of our NATO forces in Turkey,” she said, adding that the alliance could not have a Russian-built defense system installed in Turkey at a time when Turkey is buying F35 fighter jets from the U.S.
Experts say the sophisticated Russian system’s acquisition radars are capable of defeating modern stealth aircraft like the F35.
The S-400 purchase is by far the only irritant in U.S.-Turkey relations. Since surviving a coup attempt in mid-2016 Erdogan has overseen a massive crackdown, sweeping up critics along with those the state accuses of links to the man he accuses of masterminding the plot, U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies involvement and the U.S. has resisted Turkey’s demands to extradite him.
Among thousands detained is an American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has now been incarcerated for 640 days and is on trial for alleged espionage and terror-related offenses.
Meanwhile Erdogan’s campaign of repression continues. On Sunday, his government published a decree dismissing more than 18,600 state employees, including almost 9,000 police officers and more than 6,000 military personnel, over suspected links to terror organizations and groups “acting against national security.”
The decree also ordered the closure of three newspapers, a television channel, and 12 associations, according to the Hurriyet daily.
The latest purges add to the more than 110,000 public sector employees who have already lost their jobs under emergency decrees issued since the abortive coup.
In the latest annual rankings of Freedom House, Turkey fell from “party free” to “not free” – the first time it has held the bottom ranking since the Washington-based democracy watchdog began to grade countries’ political rights and civil liberties in the early 1970s.