May 26, 2019
Turkey is attempting a balancing act between two competing agendas, that of the United States and NATO, and Russia. Given that Turkish economy has already entered a recessionary phase, tense diplomatic relations with the US and Turkey’s NATO allies are likely to have an adverse effect on an increasingly ailing Turkish economy. Turkey has more on the line with regards to the S-400 purchase than it wishes to admit, and that includes its role in Idlib and leverage in Syria.
The US and Turkey have been at loggerheads for more than a year on account of Ankara’s decision to purchase Russian-made S-400 missile system. Last year, Ankara signed an agreement worth $2.5 billion with Moscow for these S-400 missile systems. However, the agreement has created concern in the US, pushing Washington to resort to pressuring Ankara to forego its intensions to acquire Russian missiles. One of the mechanisms of such pressure has been via a quid pro quo using the F-35 fighter jets agreement. Washington had clearly declared that if Turkey were to go ahead with the purchase of S-400 missiles, then it will not be able to obtain about 100 advanced F-35 fighter jets in addition to losing its chance of purchasing anti-missile systems from the United States.
The concerns that the Americans have with regards to the Russian-made S-400 missile systems derive from the fact that these missiles with eight launchers and 32 missiles have the capability to target stealth warplanes like the F-35 fighters produced by the United States. In fact, the F-35 jets that Turkey hopes to buy cannot be operated in conjunction with the S-400. An anonymous US official had previously referred to Turkey’s agreement to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems as a “national security problem for NATO countries”. While noting that this deal cannot be construed as Turkey’s withdrawal from NATO, he was quick to highlight that the fact that these two systems cannot be used simultaneously, and do pose a threat to NATO’s security.
Recently, on the question of whether Turkey might ultimately change its mind on the purchase of the S-400, the US defense secretary Heather Wilson responded by saying “it is possible”. American officials have even attempted to provide Turkey with counter offers by especially proposing a discount on the sale of the American made MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system.
However, on the Turkish side, allegations that Turkey might give in to pressure were refuted. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu noted that Ankara and Washington were continuing to exchange views to establish a committee to assess the impact of Ankara’s purchase of the Russian missile defenses systems on the U.S. F-35 fighter jets.
Given the ongoing Russian-backed offensive in Syria’s Idlib region, there’s a likelihood that Turkey might lose its influence in Northern Syria to Russia and Syria if it were to bow down to US pressure. In a recent declaration of defiance to the Americans, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the purchase of the S-400 defense systems from Russia was a done deal and that Ankara would even jointly produce S-500 defense systems with Moscow. Turkish President Erdogan is in negotiation mood, while also eyeing Iran’s chances of a negotiated deal with the US.