U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is known for his hawkish statements that push the limits of diplomacy in many circumstances. Just recently, at the Munich Security Conference, he stated, "We will not stand idly by while NATO Allies purchase weapons from our adversaries. We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East." There is no doubt that the message was sent to NATO ally Turkey. Also among Pence's targets were Russia and Iran, the other two guarantor countries of the Astana peace process. His disturbance was mostly about Turkey's impending purchase of Russian S-400 missiles – a major development that remains one of the key obstacles in the deteriorating Turkey-U.S. ties.
Following Pence's reaction against the S-400 deal between Ankara and Moscow, a statement from Turkish officials was released confirming that the first delivery of the missiles will be made by next July. Is there any possibility that Turkey can retreat from the S-400 agreement with Russia?
This seems almost impossible as long as the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader Fetullah Gülen and his henchmen, who perpetrated the bloody coup attempt two years ago in Turkey, are still taking shelter in the United States. Turkish people still remember all the details of that tragic night on July 15 when FETÖ's armed men killed hundreds and injured thousands of people and then escaped to U.S. bases.
In addition to the FETÖ issue, there is another obstacle between the two countries: Washington backing terrorist groups that share ties with the PKK terrorist group in Syria. Although U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he will withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, Washington's funding and support to the PKK-affiliated nonstate elements – the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People's Protection Units (YPG) – are ongoing.
There is nothing more normal than Turkey seeking to strengthen its defense system while its NATO ally – once a traditional partner – is backing a terrorist group near its national borders. Additionally, a few other NATO members such as Greece already have Russian S-300 missile defense systems in their armies. Compared to the U.S.' alternative presented to Turkey, namely Patriot missiles, the S-400 has many advantages in terms of delivery date, technology transfer and mutual manufacturing facilities.
If the United States wants to better its cooperation and friendship with its most reliable regional ally, it needs to take more active steps than Russia. In this context, rather than temporary promises, Turkey-U.S. relations are in need of concrete solutions. In the region, Turkey is not the only state who is negotiating with Russia for the S-400 missiles. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular have already been in talks with Russia to purchase the S-400s.
If the Trump administration does not want to lose its ties with regional countries, it needs more than Vice President Pence, who, in the Munich Security Conference last week, praised the U.S. for maintaining its leadership in the world.
A short factual reminder for Pence: Turkey's aim is not to grow dependent on the East but to survive despite the West.