Turkish government officials have recently begun to voice their disappointment over U.S. resistance to providing advanced weapons to Turkey in the fight against terrorism. Turkey's grievances over Pennsylvania-based, fugitive imam Fethullah Gülen's presence in the U.S. and increasing anti-American sentiment in Turkey due to perceived U.S. support for coup plotters opened new ways for Ankara to reach out to Russia. When President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited St. Petersburg last week to solidify the newly brokered Turkish-Russian rapprochement, he specifically mentioned a possibility of joint defense projects between the two countries. This week, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also criticized Turkey's NATO allies over their lack of willingness to share know-how on missile defense systems: "Our allies neither transfer the crucial know-how, nor allow us to import such weapons from other countries. This is unacceptable."
Russian President Vladimir Putin is well aware of this Turkish grievance, and he brings more chips to the table than the U.S. leadership by giving the green light for joint defense projects. Halil İbrahim Danışmaz, the president of the Washington-based Turkish Heritage Organization, is among those Turkish-Americans who are concerned about the U.S.'s disregard of Ankara's demands for a better equipped military. "We are facing a blindness paralyzing the American policy reflexes caused by the American intelligence community that started to make fatal mistakes one after another on Turkey, as they did in Iraq," he said on a panel hosted on Tuesday by the Foreign Affairs Congressional Staff Association (FACSA) on Capitol Hill in Washington. Danışmaz, according to the transcript Daily Sabah obtained of his speech, believes Turkey is so important for American national security that if the U.S. loses Turkey, the American security infrastructure in the region will simply collapse. He said that to save the relations, the U.S. should take Turkey's accusations against Gülen, the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), for his involvement in the failed coup attempt more seriously.
Danışmaz complained about a "covered arms embargo" enforced on Turkey when it comes to defense systems. The U.S. has blocked the sale of armed drones and tactical weapons to Turkey. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has even dragged its feet on the sale of bunker busting bombs to the Turkish military. Danışmaz also stressed that Turkey still uses what he called "antique" F-4 phantoms and does not have an air defense system. "Unfortunately, we, as Americans, believe Turks are stupid, since we haven't opened a commercial gate to Turks other than military sales. Turkey has been considered as a country with our military bases, fully dependent on us and not asking for more than we give them," he said.
Commercially speaking, Turkey is undoubtedly heavily dependent on Russian industry and infrastructure. Russia currently covers 55 percent of Turkey's energy needs and is building the country's first nuclear energy plant. Russia is among Turkey's main trade partners with considerable income from Russian tourists and Turkish agriculture product exports. Danışmaz also claimed that although Russian military technology is older compared to those in America, Russians could surely cover Turkey's needs.
It is too early to say that Turkish-Russian relations are becoming strategic since the two countries are still recovering from the downed jet incident. However, there is a slight possibility that the recent opening could make the worst scenario come true, which is a Turkish military equipped with Russian weapons. Danışmaz also warned about the financial side of the relations that could fortify a strategic allegiance between the two countries: "The disaster scenario is that there is an independent commercial financial system built between Turkey and Russia free from our currency. President Erdoğan has already spread the seeds by agreeing with Putin on general terms of a commercial pool of ruble and lira." No doubt, the next American administration will inherit all of these problems. We must begin to fix them now rather than later.