Ankara would not backtrack on its decision to buy S-400 Favorite air defense missile systems from Russia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced on November 20, after talks with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Washington. “This is a settled issue,” he said.
The future of the deal was the centerpiece of negotiations between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar that took place in Sochi on November 20. The topic received an extensive coverage from the world’s leading news agencies, with many reputable analysts predicting that Turkey would renege on the contract with Russia. It is quite possible that the Russian and Turkish presidents made sure they were on the same page with regard to this issue when they met in Istanbul on November 19.
The contract for sale of four S-400 battalions to Turkey was signed in December 2017, with delivery due in October 2019. The manufacturing of the systems and training of Turkish military in Russia are in full swing. Ankara has already paid a deposit in accordance with the contract.
When the deal was at a nascent stage, Washington was skeptical about its prospects. But after the USD 2.5 billion contract was signed, it became openly indignant and suspended talks with Turkey on supply of the fifth generation F-35 fighters. It also introduced some financial and economic restrictions against Ankara. Relations between the two countries grew tense.
But it is quite possible that the Turkish military and political leaders were not especially upset about the stalled delivery of the US planes. Sergei Shoigu could offer his Turkish colleague to consider acquisition of Russia’s fifth generation Su-57 aircraft, which is superior to its American analog in many aspects. That would be a logical proposal to make to help Turkey out of its conundrum.
During his visit to Washington, Mevlut Cavusoglu was apparently trying to get some definite assurances that the US would stop providing military and political support to Syrian Kurds, who have turned into a real armed force with the Pentagon’s support, which, in Ankara’s opinion, seriously threatens its national security. But the US Administration refused to comply with Turkey’s request.
It is also possible that the problem of Syrian Kurds and safety of the Turkish border was a bargaining chip in these negotiations. The Turkish Stream oil pipeline used to be one in relations with Russia. However, on November 20, the first pipeline reached the Turkish shore, and the completion ceremony was attended by the presidents of both countries, signaling a clear victory over skeptics and opponents of bilateral Russian-Turkish economic cooperation.
The fact that Turkey recently released a US journalist, whom it had earlier convicted for anti-state activities, can be seen as a sign that it still hoped to restore its former relations with the United States. It even took some other steps. However, it still failed to persuade Washington to withdraw its support to some Syrian Kurdish organizations, which Turkey declared terrorist.
It is too early to say whether Turkey will dare to take some decisive measures to neutralize the military infrastructure of Syrian Kurds, and therefore critically aggravate its relations with the US, in the near term. However, the foundation for this process has been laid. Still, it must be remembered that the Americans have some powerful leverage at their disposal, which they have not yet used, but which may further escalate the internal political situation in Turkey.
Time will show which of the rivals will be the first to surrender. It looks like Ankara is determined to stick to its guns, demanding concessions from the US and a leading position in the region. And this is exactly what Recep Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party has been declaring.