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Turkey is adamant that it will go ahead with the delivery of Russian made S-400 anti-missile defense systems which the United States wants it to cancel.
Ankara appears to have painted itself into yet another corner with this affair. It has landed itself in a situation where it is damned if decides not the get the S-400s and damned if it goes ahead and gets them.
Whatever it decides in the end, it is clear that this matter is going to come with a heavy price tag for Ankara.
Washington has issued so many threats and warnings about sanctions, and other punitive measures- such as preventing the delivery of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey – that it can not appear to have caved into Ankara in this matter.
The short of it is that if the S-400 comes to Turkey the likelihood is that Ankara will not get the F-35, even though it is a partner in this program.
The American side insists that Turkey can’t have both systems because they are mutually exclusive. It says that the S-400 is made to listen in on and track advanced jets like the F-35, and therefore the US and NATO cannot compromises the security of these jets.
Turkey says it will ensure that this will not happen and has even offered a joint Turkish-US commission that will verify this. Washington, however, does not appear ready to buy that argument and has refused the offer of a joint commission.
If Washington also slaps sanctions on Ankara under its “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” this will also come at a cost for Turkey because of the effect it will have on the already weakened Turkish lira against the US dollar.
We already had an example of the big damage that US sanctions can do to the Turkish economy during the Pastor Brunson episode, when Washington slapped sanctions on Ankara and doubled tariffs on Turkish steel imports.
President Erdogan’s standing firm against threats from Washington and his defiant attitude with regard to the S-400 may go down well with large elements of the Turkish public, which is essentially anti-American any way.
This position, however, will affect the man and women on the street who are already reeling under the growing economic crisis in this country.
In addition to all this, the S-400 purchase will also reignite the debate concerning Turkey’s commitment to the NATO alliance. Voices calling on Turkey to be expelled from NATO are already being raised, even if this is a highly unlikely prospect.
Driving a wedge into NATO via Turkey is, of course, what Moscow is aiming for and the S-400 affair has provided it a good tool in this regard. It is clear that if Ankara were to cancel the delivery of these systems, Moscow will consider this to be a betrayal and recalibrate its policy toward Turkey accordingly.
It will be recalled that after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet in Dec. 2015 the punitive measures Moscow took against Ankara hit the Turkish economy hard. So hard, in fact, that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had no choice but to swallow his pride and apologize to President Vladimir Putin over this incident.
Turkey also relies on Russia in Syria, even though Moscow appears to be doing little to assuage Turkish concerns in that country, most notably to do with the military and political advances made by the Kurdish YPG and PYD.
If Turkey were to give up on the S-400, there is every chance that this will also backfire by undermining what Turkish-Russian cooperation there is in Syria.
Turkish foreign policy under Erdogan and his government has had few major successes, if any. To the contrary, Turkey today appears to be a country that is at odds – to varying degrees – with just about every country of significance.
Neither have the great advances in the Middle East that it was so sure a decade ago it would secure have come about. Turkey today is also isolated in the Middle East where it has few friends and a large number of rivals or downright enemies.
The S-400 affair is proving to be just another case of gross miscalculation by Ankara based on short term expectations that disregard long term interests.
It will be interesting to see how it extricates itself with minimum damage, if indeed it can do so.