Putin’s visit to Turkey, the S-400s and US anger
Focus has recently been on the independence referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but dizzying activity is actually ongoing in all areas of Turkey’s external affairs.
Ankara has vowed to put KRG President Masoud Barzani’s administration into a corner over the referendum, taking political, military and economic steps that will bring Ankara and Baghdad closer together against Arbil.
The attitude of the Barzani side should become clearer from now on and the Turkish side will then put its steps into practice. But what about the many other issues facing Turkey such as relations with Syria, Russia and the U.S.
The Bashar al-Assad administration in Syria recently announced that it has now got 87.4 percent of the country back under control. The Russia-backed Syrian army has managed to surround the last biggest stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Deir Ezzor, from the south before the U.S.-supported Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Assad’s foreign minister, Velid Muallim, said that after seizing back control of the whole country, the “illegal presence” of the U.S. must also be ended. Russian troops supporting the regime have already come dangerously close to U.S. soldiers a couple of times during operations in the west of the country.
So at a time when tensions between Russia and the U.S. are increasing in Syrian territory, Turkey is increasing its collaboration with Russia. There is intensive dialogue between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with many issues on the table including Syria.
While countries like France condemned Russia and the al-Assad regime for allegedly killing 150 civilians during an air operation in Idlib, no reaction came from Turkey.
Ankara took Russia’s denial into consideration. The Deir Ezzor maneuver made by al-Assad’s troops, supported by Russia and eluding the U.S. and the YPG, is one of the developments that has made Ankara happy.
Taken together, all this clears the way for the interpretation that Turkey’s military and diplomatic allies in Syria are not the U.S. and NATO countries any more, but Russia and Iran.
However, what has drawn Washington’s attention even more is Ankara’s determination to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia
I had missed it at first, but an American diplomat recently showed me a graphic about the S-400 system published on Sept. 20 by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency. In the graphic, most of the elements composing the U.S. military, the air force of NATO, and even Turkey itself were placed on the list of “enemies that can be eliminated by the S-400.”
The U.S., which started lobbying against the Turkey-Russia approach by showing that graphic to people at NATO, also closely examined Putin’s recent visit to Ankara.
CNN International reporter Matthev Change, who came to Ankara to watch Putin, recently passed on a comment he heard in the corridors of the U.S. Foreign Ministry: “Turkey has gone into the orbit of Russia, moving away from its Western allies in Syria.”
This year there have certainly been many developments that could force Turkey to move away from U.S. and the West in the search for new allies. But from many experiences in the recent past we have also learned that new allies such as Russia, Iraq and Iran are not exactly 100 percent reliable.
Recent statements from Russia on “the proposal of giving autonomy to the Syrian Kurds in the new constitution,” “respecting the preferences of the Kurds in the referendum and at the same time emphasizing the union of Iraq,” and “not leaning towards the expected technology transfer for the S-400 systems” cannot be ignored.
It may seem useful to put all eggs into one basket in the short or medium term, but we must think about the bills we will have to pay in the long term.