Ankara finds itself at crossroads between Moscow and Washington

Turkey, which plans to acquire Russian S-400 missile system along with American F-35 military aircraft, has turned out to be in a tricky position. The US refuses in such conditions to supply fighters and impose sanctions against Ankara. Erdoğan is facing difficult choice between Moscow and Washington. Arif Asalyoglu, the director general of the International Institute for Development of Scientific Cooperation (Moscow), tries to understand what Turkey is doing in such a difficult situation. In his author's column for Realnoe Vremya, the Turkish political expert reveals not only the foreign policy details of the big game but also tells about the factors within the country that can affect the process.

Amid sanctions

At present, Ankara and Washington are experiencing one of the coldest periods in the history of the Turkish Republic. Along with other reasons, this is due to the desire to purchase from Russia the S-400 air-defence missile system. This perhaps has been the main topic on the agenda of the two countries over the past 6 months. The US opposes Turkey's purchase of the Russian complex. The Americans justify this by arguing that the defence system produced in Russia cannot be integrated with NATO weapons. According to the White House, through the Russian systems deployed in Turkey, information about NATO equipment, including F-35 fighters, will be leaked to Moscow.

Thus, after a number of categorical statements by the United States, there followed the warning that Turkey was given two weeks to refuse to buy S-400 missile systems. According to information from the White House, if Ankara does not refuse to purchase the Russian air defence system, the supply of F-35 fighters to Turkey will be cancelled. That is, the US will apply “effective sanctions”. Also, an important stage in the development of events was the preparation of a special draft bill supported by two parties in the House of Representatives. According to the document, if Turkey does not refuse C-400, it will be withdrawn from the programme for the supply of F-35. It has already been signed by both Democrat members of the Congress and Conservatives. Besides, in addition to the US Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), it has been prepared an expanded list of sanctions against Turkey.

In parallel, the US Ministry of Finance has decided to impose sanctions against some citizens of Turkey and four Turkish companies because of their ties to groups included in the list of terrorist ones and their support for Iranian companies that are subject to US sanctions. At the same time, these sanctions are, in fact, part of the measures left over from the case of Reza Zarrab — a businessman of Iranian origin, and the ongoing investigations related to Turkey. Let us remind, Reza Zarrab appeared before the court in New York (for assistance in circumventing anti-Iranian sanctions and money laundering) and subsequently became the US government’s witness. He told everything he knew, thus putting Turkey in a difficult position. The investigation into the case of Reza Zarrab and Halkbank made the Turkish government very nervous. During the investigation of the criminal case, the names of many well-known functionaries of the Justice and Development Party, including Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his son-in-law — Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak, came up. Thus, Washington got all the leverage it needed to influence the fate of a number of Turkish politicians, up to state ministers.

The United States issued a warning that Turkey was given two weeks to refuse to buy S-400 missile systems. Photo:

Between two fires

Earlier, the Trump administration has already tested how easily it can affect through the economy to Turkey — by the example of pastor Andrew Brunson (American pastor accused of espionage and terrorism by Turkey, after the intervention of the United States returned to his homeland — editor’s note). The Americans realized that with one published tweet they are able to turn the Turkish economy upside down. Therefore, it will not be a surprise if we see the same tactics in the case of C-400. In addition, the US Congress is in solidarity with the White House on this issue. Therefore, even if Ankara says that it “will cope with the problems with the United States”, the situation does not look encouraging. The strategy focused on sanctions leads to a constant increase in tension between the two countries. But no matter what, Ankara makes statements that “will not retreat” in the issue of S-400. According to Turkey, this subject is closed. According to the agreement signed with Russia, the missile systems will arrive in Turkey already this summer or autumn. What will Ankara decide? If it refuses S-400, it will oppose Russia, and if it does not, it will oppose Washington.

Ankara has repeatedly proposed Washington to create a joint working group. It is proposed to set the task before the commission to conduct an analysis of how the systems will affect each other using technical research. In fact, this proposal will help Ankara to gain time. However, this initiative did not receive a positive response from Washington. Such proposals have also been discussed with NATO in recent weeks. It is not yet known how Brussels will react to this. However, while the Turkish commissioners were constantly talking about the delivery of S-400 in June, a few days ago Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said, “There are agreements within the framework of the signed agreement on S-400 between our institutions and organizations. Perhaps, they will not have time to deliver by June, but they will deliver in the coming months. The process has been started.” The words “in the coming months” make it clear that the timing has been slightly adjusted.

It is clear that the acquisition of S-400 is not an ordinary purchase of weapons or an ordinary choice related to the defence industry. Moscow knows this very well. And Washington, too. So what's the problem? The issue of S-400 acquisition is considered from two sides — from the point of view of the USA and NATO. The first relates to strategy, the second — to security. Both of these arguments are very compelling. According to the first argument, Ankara's orientation towards Russia (and China plus Iran) and the corresponding direction towards security policy means a geopolitical and strategic failure for the North Atlantic Alliance. According to the second argument, the integration of the Russian-made S-400 complex into its weapons system by one of NATO allies is perceived as a move by which Russia will be able to defeat the armour of NATO's defence capacity. Therefore, Ankara is forced to terminate the contract for the acquisition by Turkey of S-400 as the only option.

A few days ago, Washington included in the sanctions list a large number of Russian companies, including facilities that produce S-400. The sanctions also apply to third countries that will cooperate with these enterprises. Thus, their scope of sanctions has expanded considerably. The agreement between Turkey and Russia on the purchase of S-400 is now included in the scope of the law on sanctions. In other words, Turkey has become the country targeted by Washington's recent restrictive measures. Thus, the United States has ranked Turkey in the league of countries such as North Korea and Iran, representing a danger to America, showing the seriousness of their intentions in the issue of C-400. If Ankara does not terminate the contract for the purchase of Russian air defence systems and refuses to deploy S-400, for which money is paid, the US will impose economic sanctions against Turkey and Turkish companies. To put it simply, they will start an economic war against Turkey.

Probably, Washington is aware that Erdoğan, balancing inside the country, went to certain deals for the sake of joining the alliance with some circles. Photo:

Not everything is calm in Turkey

We should not forget about the elements of domestic policy that pose a threat to the AK Parti and the Erdoğan regime. Probably, Washington is aware that Erdoğan, balancing inside the country, went to certain deals for the sake of joining the alliance with some circles. In addition, both the US and other Western allies understand that Erdoğan has leaned towards the trend of large-scale authoritarianism in violation of the law and reshaping the constitutional system. For some period of time, the West was turning a blind eye on these domestic political uncertainties. However, now the situation has begun to cause discontent in the United States and other NATO members.

They are aware of the facts of human rights violations in Turkey, the rapprochement with Russia, corruption of cosmic scale, as well as the true curators of the coup attempt on July 15 and the resignations in the Turkish armed forces. Moreover, scandals in Washington initiated by Erdoğan's guards are still alive in memory. This situation is clearly reflected in the reports of the US State Department. These numerous facts were actively covered in world media. Moreover, in recent days, the average Americans have learned about the actions of the Erdoğan regime on the example of NBA star Enes Kanter. Imagine, during the semi-final matches of the NBA games, millions of Americans are discussing one of the heroes of the match wanted in connection with terrorism charges, the “red mark” of Interpol on his name, as well as the ban on broadcasting on TV matches with Kanter’s participation. The arrested journalists, media persecution, selected companies and the cancellation of the election results in Istanbul after the actual loss to them... All these details, which are filtered in the Turkish information field, are available to the press of the EU and the US.

In conclusion, the new sanctions will be the first pillar on which the strategy of restoring the status quo will be built. Now Ankara is facing a clear choice — either to buy S-400 from Russia and deploy them on the territory of Turkey, subjecting itself to American sanctions, or to terminate the agreement with Moscow, lose the billions of dollars paid and, among other things, cause a deep wound to the established strategic partnership with Russia. In other words, either Turkey will choose the direction towards the US-NATO-West, or will go further along the path of the alliance with Russia — Eurasia and will break away from the West.

By Arif Asalyoglu