The day before his official recognition of the Armenian Genocide, commemorated on April 24, US President Joe Biden called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to inform him. It was the first official phone call he made to his Turkish counterpart after taking office. He then personally met Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels, but then dismissed the importance of the meeting.
Erdogan was forced to try other means to soften Washington’s shoulder, which his own actions had provoked. He went knocking on the doors of American allies in the Middle East that he had previously alienated, in the hope that it would send the right message. In addition to offering Turkish military services to help the United States get out of Afghanistan, he also reiterated his willingness to join the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) linked to the Union’s security and defense policy. European.
However, he should also make some gestures related to his arms deals with Moscow. This, he knew, was inevitable to hit reset with Washington. In this regard, the Anatolian air is full of rumors of freezing between Ankara and Moscow against the backdrop of the purchase by the first of the Russian-made S-400 missile systems which have been a main source of tension between the United States and its countries. European allies. to NATO. It looks like Turkey is looking for a way out of the S-400 deal. On August 24, observers quoted sources close to Erdogan as saying that Turkey was not ready to buy more S-400s. This contradicted a previous Russian statement that Moscow and Turkey were close to signing a deal for a second shipment of the controversial weapons system. A senior Turkish official said Russia was trying to poison Turkey’s relations with the United States by issuing misleading statements.
If so, it looks like the Russians tried a second time. At the end of August, Alexander Mikheyev, who heads the Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport, said the second batch of S-400s would soon be heading to Turkey.
The announcement rekindled concerns in Turkey that Ankara was drawn into a trap when it signed the S-400 deal, a prospect the opposition had warned against from the start. “[W]what many feared may now turn out to be true. Indications are emerging that Moscow could use the S-400 issue to put pressure on Turkey at a time when Ankara tries to improve its ties with the West, “wrote Samih Idiz in Al-Monitor on September 3 under the headline” East Moscow using the S-400 against Turkey?
French President Emmanuel Macron had warned Turkey, another NATO member, against the purchase, stressing that the S-400s are incompatible with NATO’s defense systems. At the time, he said that members of the same defense organization cannot buy equipment that goes against interoperability or carry out unilateral actions that go against the collective interests of the ‘alliance.
Idiz cited sources close to the Turkish defense industry who denied that a second S-400 deal was underway. One of them was a defense source who told BBC Turkish: “This is a topic that can be discussed at any time, but we don’t have such a request at this point.” Referring to the talks between Ankara and Washington on cooperation in Afghanistan, the same source said that “the Russian side declares its intention or tries to manipulate the cooperation in which we are engaged with the United States”.
President Erdogan was unusually cautious about the S-400s when journalists asked him about Mikheyev’s statement on his return flight after a recent visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. “We have no hesitation in dealing with Russia for a second shipment or similar issues. We have taken many steps with Russia, whether it be on the S-400 or other defense industry issues, “he told Milliyet newspaper.
As Idiz observed, “He refrained from going into details and said nothing to indicate that an agreement for the delivery of more S-400s was in the works and would be concluded by the next day. end of the year. “
“Analysts believe Erdogan is now caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Russia,” Idiz continues. “His vision of establishing strategic ties with Moscow to replace Ankara’s seriously deteriorated ties with the West has turned out to be little more than a pipe dream. Ankara has discovered over the past three years in particular that disputes with Moscow and Russia over issues such as Syria, Libya, the Caucasus and Ukraine are not only insurmountable, but are also sources of potential tension. between the two countries if they are not managed with care. “
This is indeed the solution Erdogan is currently using with Russia. A series of foreign policy setbacks with disastrous results on the economy are among the reasons Ankara has realized that it is more dependent on the West than it had expected. He is now trying to regain Western good graces, but Moscow does not make it easy for him.
“The idea once much touted by Erdogan and his supporters that Turkey and Russia could forge strong ties in order to jointly oppose the West has turned out to be the mistake it always has been. “, writes Idiz. “Realizing this at a time when it faces serious problems from all sides, Ankara is trying to regain its place in the Western alliance.
* A version of this article is published in the September 16, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly