Turkey aims to pressure U.S. by inching closer to Russia - analyst

Turkey may be looking to apply pressure to its NATO ally the United States by hinting at plans to boost cooperation with Russia, a Russian analyst told state-run TASS news on Wednesday.

Vladimir Fitin, head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’ Center for the Near and Middle East, said Ankara particularly sought to exert pressure on Washington over a safe zone the two allies had agreed to establish in northern Syria. 

"Turkey’s plans to boost defence cooperation with Russia are an additional factor of pressure on the Americans to make them more willing to resolve issues concerning a safety zone in northeastern Syria,” he told TASS. 

The analyst’s comments came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a one-day visit to Moscow on Tuesday where he examined Russian Su-35 and Su-57 warplanes at the MAKS 2019 International Aviation and Space Salon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Turkey and Russia had discussed the possibility of maintaining cooperation in the defence industry, including on the fourth-generation Su-35 and the fifth-generation Su-57 jets.

Russian officials also suggested Turkey send a Turkish astronaut into space to mark the nation’s centennial in 2023 and discussed partnership opportunities for the development of Turkey’s first national combat aircraft.

On his way back from Moscow, Erdoğan told reporters that U.S. officials had proposed a narrower safe zone in northeast Syria then a 20-mile (32 kilometre) deep one Turkey had demanded. 

“There will be serious bargaining,” Fitin said in relation to talks between Turkey and the United States over the size of the safe zone. 

Relations between Ankara and Washington have been particularly tense since Turkey last month started receiving shipments of Russian S-400 missile systems, which the United States says compromise the security of F-35 stealth fighters.

Washington last month halted delivery of the 100 F-35 stealth fighters Turkey purchased and suspended Turkey from the F-35 co-production programme. 

The U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that Ankara might be allowed back into the F-35 programme if Ankara completely moves its S-400s "out of the country".