When Turkey plays with Russia versus the United States

Christian Malard (*)

In deciding to obtain Russia’s S400 ground-air missiles, amongst the most sophisticated in the world, capable of reaching more than 80 targets at a time, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan merely defied the United States and jeopardised his country’s chances of remaining within NATO.

Erdogan multiplied provocations to obtain concessions. But it is clear this military-diplomatic imbroglio raises questions about Turkey’s slow drifting towards Russia and its progressive withdrawal from NATO.

Whenever Turkey’s independence is at stake, Erdogan proves to be a maverick who can break free from the rules and logics of alliances. In the background, Turkey is primarily looking to balance its relations instead of breaking off with the Western Camp.

This been said, Trump’s administration has every reason in the world to oppose the acquisition of these missiles. They are placing Russian technology at the heart of a key country within the Atlantic Alliance who possesses the 2nd strongest army after that of the USA. Russians may well have free access to all technological data of the F35 Stealth Fighter, one of the most advanced aircrafts of the American Army, which Erdogan has purchased.

But the United States have expelled Turkey from the F35’s program, already acquired by allied countries such as Japan, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Regarding this ultra-sophisticated equipment, America has always refused cooperating with Turkey as well as transferring its technology, as demanded by Erdogan.

According to Pentagone’s strategists in Washington, the selling of Russia’s S400 to the Turks is part of Vladimir Putin’s scheme to divide NATO.

Today, American officials are wondering whether Turkey can remain an active NATO member while using a Russian Aerial Defense system. According to them, Turkey drifts towards a “non-Occidental alternative”. It has of course long been a kingpin of the alliance but its interests haven’t always been in line with that of an Occidental defense alliance created in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war, NATO positioned its American “Patriot” Ground-Air Missiles system on Turkish territory but, today, Erdogan insists that Turkey acquires such a system, an appeal which America has never followed up.

This been said, acquisition by Recep Tayyip Erdogan of a Russian defence missile system constitutes a political victory for Vladimir Putin who brings Turkey back into its fold. He so reinforces his foothold in the Middle East after militarily intervening in Syria.

Let’s add that, while supporting Iran, Russia maintains good diplomatic, economic and military relations with the Gulf monarchies and Egypt, all allies of the United States.

The bone of contention between Turkey and the USA may well deteriorate the relations between armies of the two countries.

The USA disposes of important military bases on Turkish soil, such as Incirlik as well as tactical nuclear weapons storage sites.

In the meantime, facing Congress which is hostile to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Donald Trump does not wish to impose sanctions, to avoid NATO’s destabilization.

He prefers negotiating with Erdogan with whom he must also address the problem of the Kurds at the Syrian-Turkish border.

Maybe all of them should sit around a table together with Vladimir Putin, who has become indispensable in bringing stability back to the Middle East.

* Expert in international politics and diplomatic consultant.