Ankara and Washington have failed to learn lessons from the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson. The clash over his release led to a melt-down of the Turkish currency, as well as exacerbating suspicions in Turkey that the US Deep State is actively trying to undermine the AKP administration. The ongoing activities of Pastor Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating the 2016 abortive coup still walking free in the US is a sure sign for 75% of Turks that US doesn’t mean well their beloved country.
Yet another show-down in the making
Fast forward to the recent episode, where disagreements over a “safe zone” in North-East Syria, Halkbank, Iran sanctions and finally Ankara’s determination to augment its NATO weapons arsenal with Russian-made S-400 anti- missile batteries are bringing erstwhile strategic allies to the edge of another slugfest, which will certainly cause damage to both sides. An analysis in Reuters suggests there is very little time to resolve the disagreement, which bodes ill for TL and US chances of pursuing an active deterrent in the Middle East with Turkey’s help:
Turkey is running out of time to avert a showdown with the United States over its plans to buy advanced Russian air defenses and spurn a counter-offer from its NATO partner, raising the chance of U.S. sanctions against Ankara, warns Ms. Tulay Karadeniz of Reuters.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has missed a ‘soft deadline’ set by Washington to decide whether to buy a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co. Patriot missile shield system. The formal offer expires at the end of this month, U.S. officials have said.
If it goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also risks losing delivery of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets and could face sanctions under a U.S. law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
But Erdogan has ruled out cancelling the deal with Russia, an increasingly powerful regional force which is building a nuclear power plant in Turkey and a gas export pipeline across Turkish territory to Europe.
“It’s done. There can never be a turning back,” Erdogan responded this week when asked about the S-400 contract. “This …would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”
Ankara may even seek to procure Russia’s next generation S-500 system, he said.
No backing down
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday U.S. officials have told Turkey it would be impossible for Congress to approve the sale of F-35 jets if Ankara buys the S-400, but that Turkey is working to overcome those problems.
Turkey says it has already paid Moscow some of the bill, and analysts say Erdogan, who is campaigning for March 31 local elections, would find it hard to back away from the Russian deal now.
“They have not once said they could change their mind,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara.
Turkey does not want to jeopardize efforts to find common ground with Russia on Syria, and has little time remaining for second thoughts as the S-400s’ delivery date approaches, he said.
That means the chance of U.S. sanctions are increasing, defense analyst Can Kasapoglu said, adding that “diplomatic room for maneuver is narrow.”
If Washington imposes sanctions under CAATSA, it could affect the combat readiness of Turkey’s existing fleet of U.S. F-16 jets, Kasapoglu wrote in a report in January. The jets have spearheaded Turkey’s air operations against Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria.
There is also Maduro…
While bilateral tensions are focused for now on missile defense, other unresolved disputes continue to erode trust.
In addition to policy disagreements focused on the Middle East, the two countries are at odds over Venezuela. Washington backs its opposition leader Juan Guaido while Ankara endorses President Nicolas Maduro.
Even innocent gestures stoke tension
A visit this week by U.S. First Lady Melania Trump to a pre-kindergarten class in Oklahoma raised hackles in Turkey. Turks believe the school she toured is linked to supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup. Gulen has denied any involvement.
Turkey backed itself to a corner
Retired Turkish diplomat Uluc Ozulker said Turkey now finds itself backed into a corner.
“The United States on the one hand, Russia on the other… We are stuck between the two,” he said. “Turkey cannot exit this crisis.”