Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1952. On October 6, NATO's childishly naïve secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, praised Turkey as "an important ally [that] played an important role in defeating Daesh." Both of his suggestions are grossly incorrect: Turkey is becoming an important Russian ally, not a NATO ally, whose irregular militia allies in Syria are the jihadist remnants of Daesh (Islamic State).
Like a spurned lover, deeply offended by President Joe Biden's refusal to meet him on the sidelines of September's UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Turkey's Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rushed to the Black Sea town of Sochi, Russia, on September 29 for a tête-a-tête with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On his way back from New York, Erdoğan told reporters, "the signs are not good in Turkey's relations with the United States."
In an interview with CBS's "Face the Nation," Erdoğan said that the U.S. refusal to deliver F-35 fighter jets that Turkey agreed to purchase and Patriot missiles it wished to acquire gave Turkey no choice but to turn to Russia for its S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. This dispute has been a point of contention between Turkey and the NATO alliance during both the Trump and Biden administrations.
"In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country at what level. Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions," Erdoğan said. Turkey is planning to buy a second batch of S-400 systems from Russia, and would also demand the U.S. to pay $1.4 billion for the F-35s Turkey did not receive after it was expelled from the U.S.-led multinational consortium that builds the aircraft.
The stakes are now higher. Erdoğan is gambling by using the Russia card to avoid further U.S. sanctions in his S-400 bid. Meanwhile, the office of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez has said that sanctions are mandated by law for "any entity that does significant business with the Russian military or intelligence sectors." The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote on Twitter: "Any new purchases by Turkey must mean new sanctions," referring to a December 2020 U.S. decision to impose CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) on Turkey for its acquisition of the S-400s.
In Sochi, Erdoğan met with Putin only in the presence of interpreters (without an official delegation) defying diplomatic jurisprudence. Both leaders describedthe meeting as "useful" while smiling to cameras. He said that Turkey and Russia agreed to cooperate on critical defense technologies, including aircraft, engines, submarines and space. In addition, Ankara and Moscow would discussRussian know-how and construction of two more nuclear power plants for Turkey, in addition to a $10 billion nuclear reactor already being built on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.
All that strategic planning will further increase NATO ally Turkey's dependence on Russia, also Turkey's biggest supplier of natural gas.
"Turkey's turn from the West at large continues uninterrupted," Eugene Kogan, a defense and security analyst based in Tbilisi, Georgia, told Gatestone Institute.
Putin and his administration are well aware of Turkey's weaknesses: a) economy goes from bad to worse; b) the Pandemic is not under control; c) gas prices on increase but Russia is ready to offer a friendly discount to Turkey; d) military acquisitions facing a hostile U.S. Senate.
Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey's parliament and now the Turkey Program Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., said Erdoğan's stance serves as a wake up call to Biden administration officials. Erdemir wrote:
Erdoğan's statements about purchasing a second batch of the S-400 air defense system from Russia should be a wakeup call for Biden administration officials, who have referred to Turkey as an 'invaluable partner' and an 'important NATO ally' in the last month.
Erdoğan's insistence on a second S-400 batch reflects the impunity the Turkish president has been feeling since he offered in June to assist the Biden administration during and after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Erdoğan's impunity also stems from the delay with which Trump imposed CAATSA sanctions against Ankara during the last month of his presidency only after bipartisan congressional pressure and his preference for relatively lighter sanctions that have failed to provide any meaningful deterrence.
The Turkish president will continue to play a spoiler role within NATO and provide Putin further opportunities to undermine the transatlantic alliance and its values.
Given the Biden administration's dependence on the Erdoğan government in Afghanistan severely restricts Washington's ability push back against Ankara's transgressions, a bipartisan congressional action is necessary to rebuild U.S. and NATO deterrence against the challenges posed by the Turkish and Russian presidents."
Erdoğan is trying to make Turkey a unique example of political oxymoron: An "invaluable" NATO ally also in a deep strategic and military alliance with Russia. He will not step back from his horse trading with the West, the Russia card in his hand, unless he sees that his love affair with Russia will come with a punishing cost.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.