Turkey Moves Away From U.S. Under President Erdogan, No Signs of Turning Back

July 19, 2019 by HJ Mai
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to members of parliament on Oct. 23, 2018, in Ankara, Turkey. Turkey has stockpiled crucial spare parts for weapons, anticipating sanctions from the U.S. (Depo Photos/Zuma Press/TNS)

Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile air defense system has put its relationship with the United States and the NATO alliance in jeopardy. 

The White House responded to last week’s news of Ankara accepting the first delivery of the S-400 by ending Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 program. But, and maybe somewhat surprising, the Trump administration refrained from imposing sanctions on its NATO ally. 

“The United States still greatly values our strategic relationship with Turkey,” the White House said in a press release on Wednesday. “As NATO Allies, our relationship is multi-layered, and not solely focused on the F-35. Our military-to-military relationship is strong, and we will continue to cooperate with Turkey extensively, mindful of constraints due to the presence of the S-400 system in Turkey.”

Despite President Donald Trump’s somewhat conciliatory tone, he made clear that sanctions against Turkey are still on the table. U.S. lawmakers urged the administration to follow the law and impose sanctions on the European country. 

Republican Senators Rick Scott, of Florida, and Todd Young, of Indiana, on Thursday introduced a resolution condemning Turkey’s continued dealings with Russia, calls for sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and an examination of Ankara’s future role in NATO. 

“Turkey’s purchase of military systems from Russia threatens our national security and the stability of NATO. We cannot allow Russia – which tries to interfere in elections across the globe, supports [President Nicolas] Maduro’s genocide in Venezuela, and threatens the peace and security of democratic nations – to interfere in Turkey,” Scott said in a written statement. 

Turkey’s decision to purchase a Russian defense system in full knowledge of the potential consequences is the continuation of a deteriorating bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Turkey that has been evident for a number of years, A. Kadir Yildirim, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told The Well News. 

“The relations between the U.S. and Turkey have been moving in a conflictual direction in recent years, owing initially to the difference in Syria policies of both countries,” he said. “In light of the initial response from the U.S, it appears that the purchase of the S-400 missile systems put Turkey on a course that is increasingly moving away from the U.S. and there is no turning back unless S-400s move out of Turkey.” 

Given the efforts of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to leverage his government’s key role in the region, the U.S. has been forced to seek alternatives to Turkey in its regional policy. The problem for Washington is that there is no obvious choice. A fact that plays into Erdogan’s hands. 

“It is unlikely for Turkey to find the security it enjoys as part of NATO and the Western alliance in an alternative security arrangement, yet President Erdogan is fully aware of the political utility of an anti-American discourse and frequently uses such discourse to boost his domestic coalition,” Yildirim said. 

Getting kicked out of the F-35 program and likely being denied licensing for the F-16, which Turkey exports to third countries, the economic fallout over its S-400 purchase has been major for Turkey, Yildirim added. 

Even without sanctions, the current rapture between the U.S., NATO and Turkey is pushing Ankara closer to Moscow. Russia has already offered to sell its Su-35 to Turkey.

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