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Is Turkey pivoting closer to Russia?
Turkish Defence Minsiter Fikri Isik has told the press that his country is in the final stages of a deal to purchase Russia’s famed S-400 anti-missile defence system.
“It is clear that Turkey needs a missile defence system but NATO member countries have not presented an offer which is financially effective”.
If the deal goes through, it will represent a further Turkish side step from NATO. Turkey and the US led bloc have been at odds over Syrian policy as the Trump administration continues to back the Kurdish led SDF forces in Syria while under President Erdogan, Turkey has put its weight behind the jihadist terrorist group FSA who are fighting both Kurdish forces as well as Syrian forces.
Many strains in Ankara’s relationship with Washington have continued since the failed anti-Erdogan coup attempt in the summer of 2016.
Turkey continues to blame forces loyal to US based, exiled Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen for organising the coup. The US has consistently refused to extradite Gülen to Turkey where he faces charges relating to terrorism.
Turkey finds itself in an increasingly precarious position vis-a-vis NATO. On the one hand, like its fellow NATO powers, Turkey is eager to foment regime change in Damascus. However, Turkey’s increasingly tense relationship has caused a clear movement of Turkey away from NATO, Europe and the United States.
Turkey’s attempts to build its own neo-Ottoman sphere of influence as a rival to both NATO and Russia’s traditional partners, has largely failed and continues to do so.
Therefore, unless Turkey wants to be without powerful allies, it will have to eventually make some sort of decision in this respect.
While Russia is anything but a traditional Turkish ally, Russia under Vladimir Putin has been vastly more accommodation and respectful to Turkey than its traditional NATO allies. Russia has also all but fully forgiven Turkey for shooting down a Russia fighter jet in 2015, an event which led to an incredibly difficult period of relations between the two countries.
It is not unfair to say that many countries would have retaliated militarily after such an incident, but Russia decided against this approach and for the time being it appears to have paid off.
If Erdogan decided to forgo his neo-Ottoman dreams and cease being a terrorist supporting menace in Syria, Russia could potentially be a solid partner to Turkey. Unlike the large NATO states, Russia and Turkey share a common region and trade with many of the same countries.
Turkey is increasingly dependant on Russia for scientific, technological and energy needs and Russia is keen to import hot-weather agricultural produce from Turkey to replace products formerly important from the EU prior to 2014’s sanctions regime.
For these reasons among others, a pragmatic Turkish leader would be wise to pivot further towards Russia.
However, Erdogan is anything but a pragmatic leader. Furthermore, he is now stronger than ever on the domestic front, at least legally speaking. Realistically, he has a heap of problems.
The recent referendum vote exacerbated regional, political and sectarian tensions that are not about to go away. This has been magnified by the fact that many, including Turkey’s leading opposition party, the secular Kemalist CHP, have called for the vote to be nullified amid widespread accusations of fraud.
It is clear from Fikri Isik’s statement that Russia is easier to work with for Turkey at this time than NATO is. The question for Turkey is, will Erdogan make himself pliable to being anything resembling a reliable partner for Russia?
Russia is sceptical of this and for good reason, but still no doors have been shut.
It is ultimately Erdogan’s decision.