Turkey should buy S-400s and close all U.S. bases - Turkish journalist

The U.S. threat to sanction Turkey and downgrade its participation in joint programmes if Ankara goes through with its purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems is actually an opportunity, Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Güller has told Russian state-run news site Sputnik Türkiye.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday that Turkey must choose between the Russian missile defence systems and its order of 100 new generation F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.

If Ankara opts for the S-400s, it would lead to sanctions on Turkish officials and could result in the transfer of U.S. bases from Turkey to Greece, Menendez said.

Güller, a journalist whose latest book “The End of American Hegemony” argues that U.S. decline has led to a new global power dynamic, said each of these threats held opportunities for Turkey.

“If the United States doesn’t give Turkey the F-35, overall it’s in Turkey’s favour. If Turkey receives the U.S. planes its air force will go from being 85 percent dependent on the United States to 100 percent”, he said.

Instead, Güller called for the gradual introduction of national air defence manufacturing projects and diversification of fighter jet imports.

“With time we will produce our own national jet. China’s production of its own jets using Russian technology is a good example”, he said.

The journalist said there was no need to fear U.S. sanctions over the S-400 purchase, since Turkey would likely face sanctions anyway over its continuing trade with Iran despite sanctions.

“Nobody should be afraid of the alliance with the United States ending. That alliance today is not an advantage for Turkey, it’s a burden”, he said.

Güller’s background as a left-wing nationalist journalist has seen him regularly criticise what he calls “U.S. imperialism”, particularly the U.S. involvement in Middle East conflicts and support of Kurdish militias deemed a threat by Ankara.

That view has become commonplace in Turkey, where 80 percent of people view the United States unfavourably, U.S. State Department showed in January. The same report showed that 51 percent of Turks viewed Russia favourably.

This situation has been cultivated through a far-reaching Russian information campaign that has shaped reporting on the S-400 deal, Turkish academic H. Akın Ünver wrote in Foreign Policy magazine this week:

Most pro-government outlets have begun advocating Turkey’s preference for Russia’s next-generation Su-57 fighters, instead of the F-35s. For example, Turkey’s main news agency published a comparison between the F-35 (which is currently being delivered) and Russia’s Su-57 (currently in flight-testing phase) to make the case that Washington’s threats over F-35 deliveries were futile. Another columnist argued that it was impossible for the United States to make progress on F-35 production without Turkey’s help.

Güller has gone a step further by saying that Turkey should extricate itself not only the F-35 programme, but also from all U.S. bases currently on its territory.

“If Turkey frees itself from the U.S. bases, it will be of benefit to the whole region. It would be good to start with Kürecik (radar base in central Turkey), which provides security for Israel but has caused problems for us with our neighbours in Iran”, said Güller.

“The more U.S. bases can be removed from Turkey, the fewer problems we will have with regional countries”, he said.

The Russian information strategy in Turkey has been aided by the prolific amount of real and fake pro-Russian news already widespread in the country, Ünver said.

“It affects mainstream pro-government information networks through its direct influence on the government. At the same time, it hedges by ensuring that Russia’s main Turkish-language outlets, Sputnik Turkiye and RSFM radio, are overwhelmingly pro-opposition. This enables Russia to control the narrative,” said Ünver.