Erdoğan’s S-400 gamble seems to have paid off - Financial Times

With no punitive U.S. measures on the horizon a month after Turkey started receiving Russian missile systems, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s gamble over the S-400 purchase seems to have paid off, though sanctions could still come, the Financial Times said on Wednesday.

After the delivery of the Russian missile systems to Turkey began last month, many analysts said that U.S. President Donald Trump would be pushed to impose sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which bars U.S. allies from buying weapons from Moscow. 

Over concerns that the S-400 could allow Russian subterfuge on F-35 stealth fighters, Trump halted the delivery of 100 F-35s Turkey purchased from the United States, while the Pentagon suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme, a huge blow for Turkey’s defence sector.

Before the delivery of the Russian systems started, Erdoğan said Trump had assured him that no sanctions would be imposed over S-400 acquisition, after the two met at the G-20 summit in Japan in late June. But given the bipartisan support in Congress to punish Turkey, the fact that the threatened sanctions have not materialised after one month has been a surprise, FT said. 

“No one expected this outcome,” Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told FT. “Erdoğan took a huge gamble and it paid off — for now.”

Some analysts believe that the reluctance of the Trump administration is linked to ongoing efforts to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria that the United States hopes will prevent a Turkish assault against Kurdish-held enclaves in the region.

The two allies last week announced that they had reached an agreement to establish a joint operations centre in Turkey for the planned safe zone Ankara sees as essential to clearing out the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and thus a threat to its national security.   

“The American threats turned out to be basically empty words,” Soli Özel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, told FT. “Turkey has once more bet on its strategic importance, and it seems to have paid off.”

There is, however, a bipartisan drive to table standalone legislation that would mandate the president to punish Turkey when Congress returns from recess in early September, the FT said. If Congress passes such a bill with a two-thirds majority, Trump would have no power to veto it.