Active NATO member and Russia’s strategic partner?
Turkey says; “We were originally wiling to purchase these systems from our Western allies. But you never came to us with acceptable conditions. You especially refrained from sharing sensitive technology. Now we have decided to buy it from Russia. But this is a standalone system. It does not entirely answer to our defense needs, so there is still room to purchase additional systems. Let’s talk about buying the Patriots.”
The question that can be raised obviously is; why Turkey is going ahead to buy a system that does not fully cover its needs. First and foremost Turkey wants to get its hands on a system as fast as possible to provide some deterrence against potential threats. It appears Russians came in handy. But it is very doubtful for the Russians to have satisfied all of Turkey’s conditions and also because of the compatibility issues with NATO Turkish government could not opt to rely all of its anti-ballistic defense system on Russia.
The Russia option on the other hand helped Turkey play it as a card as it succeeded to get its Western allies especially Washington back on table to start negotiations for additional purchases.
And Turkey will not back down from the Russian deal at the last minute a) because it does not want to irritate Russians and wants to prove to be a reliable partner b) because it trusts it can convince its allies at the end of the day.
Currently the Americans are trying to convince Turkey to cancel the purchase arguing that this will lead to the leakage of sensitive information to Russia. Turks are telling that they will technically make sure that this will not happen.
The gist of the problem is not on technical but rather political. Even if Turks were able to deliver technically; would they keep their word? “What if they will turn one day against us,” keeps wondering the American side.
This suspicion does not only represent the widening gap of distrust between two allies; but it also shows the changing conditions of the new world order. That type of suspicion would have been unthinkable in the cold war era. In the current order or disorder (which US President Donald Trump makes its best to contribute to it) US administration seems to have figured that alliance commitment is not catholic marriage.
This “what if,” as well as Turkey’s place in the new world disorder seems to follow US – Turkish talks like a shadow at all levels. At this point Ankara seems to be giving mixed signals. A recently visiting US delegation heard President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan say Turkey was both Western and Eastern. Yet the same delegation heard the General Chief of Staff to say that Turkey made its choice since the founding of the Republic and that its direction remained the West.
At the end of the day what matters also is what Turkey does as much as what its leaders say.
While Turkey does not hesitate in purchasing Russian systems, it is stepping up its commitments within NATO.
Turkish foreign ministry recently published a fact sheet from its twitter account. According to it Turkey’s contribution to NATO’s common funds in 2018 was 89.8 million Euros. The fact sheet included a list of Turkish contributions to NATO operations:
Turkey continues its support to NATO’s Kosovo force (KFOR) as well as its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is one of the key countries along with Romania, Poland and Spain for NATO’s missile shield project as it hosts a radar in the eastern province of Malatya.
It continues to provide air to air refueling to AWASC planes operating in coordination of with the Global Coalition against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
This list goes on. As such Turkey remains one of the most dedicated members of NATO, a fact also accepted by high level NATO officials as well.
It seems that in the current world order (or disorder) being an active NATO member and having military cooperation with Russia might not be (at this stage) mutually exclusive. Will it remain so in the mid and long term? This question does not seem to have an easy answer.