Will Erdogan escape from the American trap?

22.05.2019

The State Department demanded that by the end of the first week of June, Turkey canceled the S-400 deal with Russia. Will Recep Erdogan withstand the pressure of Washington?

The United States has repeatedly threatened Turkey because of its purchase of Triumph’s S-400 Russian air defense systems. The Donald Trump administration even talked about sanctions. However, the White House has not yet taken any real steps. But now everything has changed.

The State Department gave Ankara a deadline until the end of the first week of June to annul the S-400 contract with Russia. Otherwise, Turkey will face the most negative consequences. Ankara can be excluded from the program to create fifth-generation fighter F-35, for which the Turks paid $ 900 million. This was reported to CNBC by an anonymous source in the State Department.

The State Department’s motivation is the same - the Russian systems are incompatible with the NATO systems that the Turkish army is equipped with. Earlier, American generals, in particular the supreme commander of the combined NATO forces in Europe, Curtis Scaparotti, made another claim. They feared that Turkey, having in its hands both the S-400 and the F-35, would study their capabilities against each other and transmit this data to the Russian side.

The negotiation process has gone too far

The United States and Turkey are now seeking to direct negotiations on the cancellation of the transaction on a favorable course. Obviously, both parties are trying to create conditions under which it will be easier to blame the partner for undermining allied relations. Turkey still insists that the S-400 will not threaten the interests of the United States and that the use of Russian complexes will not cause the leakage of valuable technical information about modern aircraft. Ankara until the last tries to preserve the image of the side, which until the end maintained a course of compromise.

The situation is heating up because the deadlines are tight. The first F-35 at the Malatya Turkish airbase are expected in November. Russian air defense system will arrive a month earlier. As soon as the first S-400s are deployed in Turkey, there will be no turning back. The US will have to impose sanctions and cancel the sale of the F-35. Such measures will not force Erdogan to bend over in front of the NATO partner. The Turkish president has already said that the decision on the S-400 is final and not subject to change.

In any case, the crisis around the S-400 will be a serious challenge for the country's leadership, it will spur Ankara’s efforts towards a more independent policy.

What steps can Erdogan take?

 He needs to strengthen the defense, because the situation in Syria and northern Iraq increases the demand for the army. An alternative to the United States can only be Russia. If the United States interrupts the deliveries of the F-35, Moscow can offer its Ankara Su-35 and Su-57. In parallel, political and economic contacts between Russia and Turkey will be strengthened.

However, it is too early to build illusions about a split between the two NATO allies. The best way out of the situation for the United States is to set Russia and Turkey at bay. And this can be done most quickly in Syria. In the last 24 hours, two dozen shells were fired from Idlib province towards Khmeyim, a Russian air force base. The government army of Syria is attacking militant positions and has taken control of several villages, testing Erdogan’s patience. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in an interview with Habertürk that the situation in Idlib is very complicated. Assad wants to regain control of the last opposition stronghold. And on some issues the Turkish side could not agree with the Russian.

Russia and Turkey are not interested in escalating the situation in the region, so we should expect a new round of talks between Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan.

There are enough problems between Turkey and the USA. Washington supports the Kurds, harbors organizers of the coup and limits Turkey’s contacts with Russia and Iran. However, taking into account the historical military-political ties, the two countries will try to nullify disassembly due to the S-400. The Turks offered the Americans a compromise - turn off the S-400 radar, when the F-35 is in the sky, and vice versa. Turkey halved trade duties on the importation of 22 US denominations. For his part, Erdogan made a gesture of goodwill. Will Washington reciprocate?

Next month, Erdogan and Trump go to the G20 summit in Osaka Japan. In July, the head of the White House will arrive in Turkey. Perhaps Trump will try to solve the S-400 dispute in a personal meeting. If he fails, the United States will throw Turkey into the arms of its main geopolitical rival - Russia.