Mar 07 2019

S-400 crisis with U.S. could make Turkey a Russian vassal - analyst

Turkey and the United States have had several major rows in recent years, but those may pale in comparison to the clash about Turkey’s expected purchase of a Russian missile system, the Washington Post said in an analysis on Wednesday.

Ankara and Washington have been at odds for the several years in Syria, with Turkey resenting U.S.’ support for Syrian Kurds, whom it sees as a security threat. Turkish officials have also pointed fingers at Washington for suspected links to a failed 2016 coup and for U.S. refusals to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the head of the movement Ankara blames for the coup attempt. Then last year, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on two top Turkish officials - an unprecedented step against a NATO ally -- to secure the return of a U.S. pastor Ankara had jailed.

“If you think Turkey’s relationship with the United States is currently very tumultuous, you haven’t seen anything yet,” wrote columnist Aslı Aydıntaşbaş. “Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian made S-400 defence missile system is possibly the mother of all crises in the decades-long alliance.”

The deployment of advanced Russian military hardware by a NATO ally threatens NATO secrets, sets a precedent that could harm U.S. arms sales and makes Turkey ever more dependent on Russia, she added. Washington has threatened to slap Turkey with sanctions if it accepts the S-400s, including a ban on its purchase of the U.S.’ next-generation F-35 jets.

But the dispute is about much more.

“The Russians are trying to use cracks within NATO to destroy whatever is left of the ‘Western alliance.’ Turkey is vulnerable because Erdoğan finds it hard to move in Syria without Russian consent,” said Aydıntaşbaş.

“Unlike Americans and Europeans, Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t care how Erdoğan runs his country — and Erdoğan appreciates that. The outcome of the S-400 imbroglio will define Turkey’s place in the West, or usher in its formal exit from the transatlantic community,” she added.

If Ankara cancels the order, Putin could start an offensive against the last regime holdout in Syria, Idlib, and drive some 3 million people toward the Turkish border. The Americans, meanwhile, are offering Patriots as well as a seat in what is still called “the West.”

Even if Erdoğan knows that drifting from the West would bring further deterioration of Turkish democracy, yet he knows he can negotiate more, try to persuade Washington to accept a compromise, according to Aydıntaşbaş.

Still, the S-400 controversy shows the weak position Erdoğan has put Turkey in.

“His effort to demonstrate that Turkey has choices and is not an American vassal has so alienated Turkey’s Western partners and weakened its economy that the country now risks becoming a Russian vassal,” wrote Aydıntaşbaş. “The Western alliance has its discontents, but over the years it has helped make Turkey rich and strong. Putin’s Russia has no such plans for Turkey.”