With S-400 deal, Erdoğan moves toward his vision for Turkey - NY Times

Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system marks President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s most determined step yet to achieve his vision of an independent, strong Turkey able to rebuff Western powers, said an analysis in the New York Times.

“Over his 17 years in power, Mr. Erdoğan has tried to recast Turkey as a stronger, more independent actor on the international stage, one that in his view can vie toe-to-toe with powers like China, Russia, the European Union and the United States,” Istanbul-based Times reporter Carlotta Gall said on Tuesday. “In doing so, he has not been afraid to play all sides against each other, even at the risk of alienating long-time allies.”

Last week, Turkey began receiving shipments of Russian-made S-400 missile systems, which U.S. officials have repeatedly said is incompatible with U.S. and NATO defences, threatening Turkey with sanctions. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States would halt the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey, which is also involved in F-35 production. 

“Erdoğan no longer trusts Western intentions on Turkey,” Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, senior fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times, adding that the S-400 deal was not a response to pressure from Moscow. 

“It is about Turkish fears of another coup,” she said. “Washington has done nothing to address Turkey’s suspicions about its role on July 15.”

Turkey accuses U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen of masterminding the coup, yet Washington has repeatedly refused Turkey’s demands to extradite him, citing a lack of evidence.

Many Turks see the U.S.’ reluctance to hand over Gülen as an attempt to protect an American agent, as Erdoğan suggested in a speech on Monday marking the third anniversary of the failed coup, said the Times.

Yet Erdoğan seeks not to rip up old alliances, like Turkey’s NATO membership, but to play up rivalries to get the best deal.

“The question confronting Mr. Erdoğan’s allies in the United States and Europe is whether the purchase of the Russian system is simply a step too far to maintain relations as they have been,” said the Times. 

The United States is expected to announce sanctions against Turkey as early as this week, which Erdoğan hopes his relationship with Trump will help him avoid, according to Gall. 

U.S.-Turkey talks about a deal for American Patriot missiles are continuing, and Erdoğan stressed last week that the S-400 would not be fully operational until next April. In the meantime, Ankara is cosying up to Moscow, particularly in Syria. 

“Together they have established cease-fire zones in Syria to de-escalate the violence and allowed Turkey to establish areas of control in northern Syria to stem the tide of refugees,” said Gall. 

Putin’s handling of Turkey’s president after the failed coup may have been key to the rapprochement. He called Erdoğan the next day to offer his support, while the U.S. waited four days before expressing sympathy, which came from the secretary of state, not the president. 

“If things had been handled earlier, [the S-400 deal] would not have happened,” Ahmet Han, a professor of international relations at Altınbaş University in Istanbul, told the Times. 

“Turkey’s decision makers are jubilant about the receipt” of the S-400s, he said.