U.S.-Turkey row over S-400 could lead to irreparable split - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aims to straddle the geopolitical fence, seeking good relations with every nation, but in reality veering away from Washington towards Moscow, said an analysis on Monday in Gulf News.

Cracks in the decades-old U.S.-Turkey alliance grew worse following the 2016 failed coup due to the Trump administration’s reluctance to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the coup, British columnist Linda Heard wrote for Gulf News.

Turkey’s drift away from secular values, support of armed Islamist groups and repeated air strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq have proven yet another thorn in America’s side, according to Heard.

“The latest row over Turkey’s purchase of a sophisticated Russian missile defence system, the S-400, has the potential to create an irreparable split,” said Heard, as U.S. officials have warned of sanctions and Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet programme.

Ankara is considering F-35 alternatives, such as Russia’s Su-57 or Chinese J-31 stealth fighters, as Erdoğan remains undeterred and has threatened to take reciprocal measures if sanctioned.

“Concerned that Ankara is falling into Russia’s embrace fearing divided loyalties, NATO is also applying pressure on Erdoğan to reconsider. For the first time, commentators debate on whether Turkey should be expelled from the treaty,” said Heard.

Turkey’s days as a regional economic and political model preparing for EU membership have long passed, and earlier this year Brussels put accession negotiations on hold due to Turkey’s backsliding on democracy. The EU also backs Cyprus in its dispute with Turkey over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

“The mutual antagonism has the potential to reach breaking point,” said Heard, pointing out that the U.S. military has begun looking for an alternative location for Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, including Greece.

Erdoğan’s relationship with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has been rocky, but the friction evaporated in 2016, clearing the way for deals like the TurkStream project, a Black Sea gas pipeline, and the construction of a nuclear power plant, according to Heard.

“With a fast-looming July 31 American-imposed deadline for the Turkish government to comply with its demands, the question is will President Erdoğan surrender to U.S. diktats, which will not be appreciated by his largely anti-Western following?” asked Heard. “Or will he align his nation’s fortunes with America’s adversaries Russia, China and Iran, a country with which he is solidifying ties?”