Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has threatened the United States with extreme measures if the Americans impose sanctions for the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. What is meant here is the shutdown of American air bases in the Turkish territory, including the key one – Incirlik. "We will assess the worst case scenario and make a decision. If the United States imposes sanctions against Turkey, the issue of Incirlik and Kürecik bases may enter the agenda," the diplomat said verbatim. In addition, Çavuşoğlu said Ankara could buy Russian fighters in case of the American refusal to supply the F-35 aircraft: "The United States refuses all of our offers. One has to understand that standing fast leads to nowhere. If the US has a positive attitude, we will act in a mirror-like manner. But if we can't buy the F-35, we'll look for an alternative. It may be the Russian market or any other."
All what's happening can be called the peak (although perhaps not the last) of the cooling in US-Turkish relations, which after WWII acquired the status of strategic partnership and alliance. But, of course, this peak was not reached right away. The aggravation began in the 2010s, when the Turkish leader R. T. Erdogan started placing an increasing stake on the acquisition and confirmation of the status of a regional power, and then on something greater. In this context the point is the religious leadership in the Islamic world, the geographic leadership in the Greater Middle East, as well as a new version of the Ottoman Empire, with Turkey naturally being its center. Many of these projects and ambitions ran counter to those of America. The Syrian conflict has further aggravated the situation, since the interests and stakes of Ankara and Washington do not generally coincide either. Thus, in Syria and around it, the United States is placing its stake on the Kurds, whom the Turkish regime considers its arch enemies.
Another escalation factor was the summer 2016 attempt of a military coup in Turkey, with the American intelligence services accused semi-officially and famous preacher Fethullah Gülen, who used to work closely with Erdogan, but then quarreled with him and found refuge in the United States, accused quite officially. Since then, there have been a number of events that affected both countries' relations and interests, including the purchase of the S-400 by the Turks being one of the most striking, but not the only one of its kind.
Accordingly, there is an exchange of various painfulness blows between the parties. Thus, late October saw the House of Representatives, the lower house of the US Congress, adopting a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915. This issue is known to be one of the gravest to the Turks. However, for some time to come, the White House chose to keep this rabbit pulled out of a hat only partially, and in November, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham blocked the review of the resolution by the upper house of Congress, claiming that he did it at the request of the executive branch.
Now the star-spangled hand has reached for another lever. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has called for sanctions against Turkey relating to its finances. Moreover, in the "reasons" column, the purchase of Russian S-400s is also linked to the Turkish military operation in north-eastern Syria. Besides, the Committee's decisions necessitate Trump's personal sanctions against those engaged in the military operation. Among them are Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar and Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces Yaşar Güler. This entailed a threat to deny the Americans the use of above-mentioned air bases.
To understand all of its seriousness, one must realize that the Incirlik base is extremely important not only from a logistic and military-technical point of view. It is the most important symbol of the seventy-year American-Turkish alliance. Even during one of the alliance's previous pressure tests, in the mid-1970s, when after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the US Congress vetoed the supply of weapons to Turkey, activities of the US air force bases were curtailed, but Incirlik was not closed to them. Therefore, the shutdown threat is from among those pronounced once and carried out in case of the counterpart's turning a deaf ear to it. The fact that hints at this closure have been made before, is somewhat alleviating in term of blackmailing potential. On the other hand, Turkey is now stronger and more ambitious than forty years ago and admittedly ruled by a strong-willed and ardent leader. Therefore, one should not disregard the threat's translation into action.
But the Americans are not standing idly by and are already taking retaliatory steps. Thus, a source in the Greek Foreign Ministry became known to have reported Greek readiness to host Turkish-located American bases whenever necessary, since NATO needs can always be served by Greece under the Greek Constitution and law. On December 12, the US Senate "suddenly" adopted a resolution on the Armenian genocide. Across the ocean, the response was not late in arriving. Çavuşoğlu tweeted that the US Senate Resolution is a mere political performance, not being legally binding and having no effect. Those eager to use history for political purposes are cowards who can't face the truth, he added. Fahrettin Altun, who heads Erdogan administration's Public Relations Department, twitted the following: "[The Resolution] will be of no good [to bilateral relations]. It will make it into history as an irresponsible and irrational move by some members of the US Congress against Turkey, who will bear responsibility for inflicting long-term harm to the two countries' relations."
Apparently, new "exchanges of fire" should be expected until the end of the year. At such a rate of escalation, it is likely that in April 2020, the 105th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Donald Trump will finally call it by its real name (previously, as we know, American presidents avoided the word "genocide"). Consistently, one shouldn't cast aside the odds that the Americans are still going to be denied to use the Incirlik base.