Erdoğan’s message to Washington from Moscow

Erdoğan’s message to Washington from Moscow

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Russia yesterday on the sidelines of an important aviation and space fair in which the newest products of the Russian defense industry are being exhibited.

Although the main reason why Erdoğan and Putin met was the recent developments in Syria, particularly in Idlib and in the eastern Euphrates, the venue of their meeting was quite significant and spoke for itself. This marks the joint devotion of two countries seeking more enhanced cooperation in the defense industry.

The fact that Erdoğan has attended the opening ceremony of the defense industry fair along with Putin is symbolic this devotion. It’s also symbolically important that Erdoğan and Putin’s meeting has come on the same day as the beginning of the shipment of the second battery of the S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems from Russia.

During his speech, Erdoğan hailed growing ties between the two nations in a multidimensional form that includes the defense industry as well. “I believe that the synergy we have with Russia regarding aviation and space sectors will deepen our bilateral relations,” he stated.

The Turkish president had earlier suggested a partnership with Russia in its northern neighbor’s efforts to upgrade the S-400 systems with the S-500 anti-missile weapons.

All these statements issued by Erdoğan could be regarded as a direct message to Washington which has recently halted Turkish participation in the F-35 aircraft project because of Turkey’s deployment of S-400s.

The message is clear: Turkey is not without alternatives in finding new suppliers if excluded from the U.S.-led international projects and denied to procure American weapons. This can also include Russia’s fifth-generation SU-57 aircraft instead of Lockheed Martin’s F-35s as Turkey would need to upgrade its aerial defense in the next decade. (Turkey is in efforts to develop its fighter jets, the TF-X, but it would take time before they could be proven to be an efficient vehicle.)

The fact that Putin has promoted the SU-57 to Erdoğan at the aviation fair makes the latter’s message even stronger. It’s, of course, very premature to speculate whether Turkey would choose to buy SU-57s from Russia, but our experience concerning the purchase of the S-400 systems proves that this option may be on the table.

Of course, this move would further complicate the Turkish status within NATO and the allied defense architecture as well as its ties with the prominent allies in the Western bloc. But at this point, it seems Erdoğan wanted to send a firm message to U.S. President Donald Trump that Washington’s policies are pushing Turkey to knock on the doors of other suppliers just like it had to buy S-400s from Russia because its demand for the Patriots was met with no response from the U.S.

Trump has several times acknowledged this fact and shown an understanding of Turkey’s procurement of the S-400s. That was why he exerted efforts to avoid sanctions on Turkey under the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

Time will show whether Erdoğan’s message on SU-57 and F-35s will be received by Washington and to what extent the two allies will be able to resolve this dispute.