- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2021

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday sided with Russia in its heated diplomatic dispute with the U.S., saying that President Biden‘s recent claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a killer is “not fitting” of a world leader.

Mr. Ergodan’s comments suggest that Mr. Biden‘s seemingly off-the-cuff allegation to ABC News earlier this week could carry geopolitical repercussions beyond just the already fractured U.S.-Russia relationship.

“Mr. Biden‘s statements about Putin are not fitting of a president. Mr. Putin did what was necessary by giving a very clever, very elegant answer,” Mr. Erdogan said, as quoted by Sputnik Turkey and other regional news outlets.

In taking a public position condemning the U.S., Mr. Ergodan is shining a new spotlight on the increasingly strained, complex relationship between the two NATO allies. The U.S. in 2019 kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet program because Ankara installed the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Pentagon officials have stressed that those two systems are incompatible and their joint use could lead to F-35 security vulnerabilities. 

Turkey’s actions in neighboring Syria also have presented a headache for U.S. strategy. In October 2019, then-President Trump withdrew some U.S. troops from the Turkey-Syria border after Mr. Ergodan ordered Turkish troops into Syria for what he described as anti-terrorism operations. Turkey considers some elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a key American ally in the fight against the Islamic State, to be terrorists.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Erdogan framed Mr. Biden‘s comments as unbecoming of a world leader.

Mr. Biden did not use the word “killer” during his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. But as the two men were discussing the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, an incident the U.S. has pinned on Moscow, Mr. Stephanopolous asked whether Mr. Biden believes the Russian leader fits that description.

“I do,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Putin responded by bringing up America’s atomic bombings of Japan during World War II, and its history of slavery and violence against Native Americans. The Russian leader also challenged Mr. Biden to a public debate.

“Last time, President Biden initiated a call, and now I would like to offer President Biden to continue our discussions,” Mr. Putin said. 

An “open, direct discussion” in the next few days would be “interesting” for people of both countries, Mr. Putin added.

Russia also recalled its ambassador to Washington in a clear sign that relations between the two nations are deteriorating rapidly.

But the White House is standing by Mr. Biden‘s comments.

“President Biden has known President Putin for a long time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “They’ve both been on the global stage for a long time, worked through many iterations of a relationship between the United States and Russia. And he believes we can continue to do that.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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