The S-400 air and missile defense system that Turkey plans to purchase from Russia is currently the most important topic between Ankara and Washington. Maybe it will make more sense to refer to the Pentagon instead of Washington in this context since U.S. President Donald Trump has not issued any statements displaying a strict stance on the subject. The sharp statements generally came from hawkish names with a CIA history who wish to continue the past Middle East policies of the U.S. We have seen the latest traces of this lobby in the speculation that the U.S. will send 120,000 soldiers to the Middle East, a claim refuted by Trump. The hawks, who pursued the same policies during the Barack Obama period, predicated their objections to Turkey's S-400 purchase on F-35 jets and NATO systems. They claim that the advanced air defense system to be purchased from Russia will not fit into F-35 jets and stationed systems.
Moreover, they do not hide their concern that Russian technicians operating in Turkey as part of the S-400 project might seize NATO's military codes.
NATO, on the other hand, repeatedly expressed that it does not share the U.S.' concerns, emphasizing that the arms purchases are the national choices of the allies. Also, some NATO allies such as Greece use Russian air defense systems.
Recently, Ankara proposed the establishment of a joint working group to erase the concerns of the U.S.
Remember that Turkey planned to purchase Patriots from the U.S. before the S-400s, but its efforts were inconclusive. With that, the party who is actively looking for a solution becomes more evident.
So, what will happen next?
I still trust Trump's reasoning since he is looking for more rational alternatives for U.S. interests instead of opting for long-term, costly and unguaranteed plans. Trump is a politician who can see that the S-400 issue is not only the demand of the Erdoğan administration, but also of the electorate that considers the project necessary for national security. He is certainly aware of the fact that old CIA methods such as supporting terrorism, coup attempts and economic threats will not put pressure on Ankara, but strengthen the stance of the Turkish electorate.
Surveys have revealed that the anti-U.S. sentiment in Turkey has peaked over the last couple of years.
President Trump can turn the tables by getting rid of some of the burden on the shoulders of the U.S. He can spin the crisis in his favor with several steps that respect Turkey's sensitivities on the issues of the PKK terror group, its Syrian offshoot People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which was behind the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
It is obvious that they are a bit late. This effort might not prevent the delivery of the S-400 system to Turkey next summer. But still, it might balance out Turkey's proximity to Russia and NATO.
Turkey, which has a long-established strategic alliance with the U.S., is not a negligible agent among all the other unreliable Middle Eastern actors. The heavy cost of such negligence might be immeasurable for the U.S.
We will see whether the president will rule out the old paradigm he refers to as "the interest groups besieging Washington" in this context and keep himself and his country away from an unnecessary risk.
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