Is Turkey’s narrative on S-400s changing?
In Turkish politics, it is very rare to see President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his main political rival, Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on the same page. But it happened, on April 18, as both men expressed their post-election assessments and expectations.
In a very soft language, Erdoğan suggested that all political debates discussed before the elections are now over, as it’s time to cool off, shake hands and reduce the tension, while calling on everybody to return to their daily lives. He singled out the economy and security/foreign matters as the top items of the real agenda of Turkey and proposed the formation of what he called “the Alliance of Turkey” in efforts to resolve key national issues.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s messages were similar. First, he made clear that he is not capitalizing on his party’s local election success to call snap elections. He also said it was time to address the key problems of Turkey and suggested his party’s assistance and support if the government asks for it.
It’s too early to make predictions on the potential outcomes of this change in the political language between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu. However, given the fact that many of Turkey’s immediate problems require a collective stance and mind, it should not be surprising to see a future rapprochement between the two men, which could include some other leaders as well.
All these signal the beginning of a new era in Turkey. However, there are a number of different factors that will determine the evolution of this era. Turkey’s ongoing disagreement with the U.S. on its plans to deploy Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems on its soil is the most potentially hazardous and impending one.
Yet, nuances have begun to be observed on Turkey’s narrative on this very issue. Let’s first underline that the last two weeks have observed very high-level talks and consultations between Turkish and American officials.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s attendance at a NATO meeting in Washington where he met with his counterpart Mike Pompeo was followed by a high-profile team joining the American-Turkish Council (ATC) Conference in the U.S. capital. Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner along with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın’s appointments with their interlocutors were of significant importance.
Albayrak expressed his impressions from his meetings at the White House as constructive and positive in regards to the S-400 problem.
Following all these meetings, an optimistic analysis would catch a slight change in the narrative of the Turkish officials when talking or answering questions on this very matter. For example, there hasn’t been statements like “this is a done deal” from Turkish officials in the last two weeks.
Kalın, at a press conference following a cabinet meeting on April 18, mentioned some formulae for the resolution to the problem while underlining that Turkey would never like to harm any NATO military equipment with the deployment of different weapons. He once again called on NATO to carry out a technical evaluation over potential dangers of the deployment of the S-400s at the same time with F-35 aircraft. A special highlight on the role of the NATO to this end has also been voiced by Çavuşoğlu on April 19.
It’s in this period that reports suggesting Turkey’s plans to deploying these systems to a third country are covered in some of the Turkish media outlets, although they have never been confirmed.
At the same time, we have been hearing less threatening public statements by American officials in the last two weeks. Without paying special emphasis on this, one would think that that would give more chances to backchannel diplomacy.
It’s still too early to come to a conclusion on how this problem will be solved, but recent hints suggest at least a change in the Turkish narrative on the matter.