While Europe is busy telegraphing to Putin that Russia remains a political outsider, with the most recent example coming on Friday when Swiss fighter jets shadowed a Russian government plane flying over the country, Turkey has been actively seeking to distance itself from the west and to gravitate toward a sphere of influence dominated by Russia and China. To this end, the NATO member announced it is in talks with Russia to purchase advanced S-400 long-range air defense missile systems.
Ankara previously backed out of a similar deal with China, citing Beijing’s reluctance to transfer technology although it appears Russia would have on such qualms if it means solidifying the relationship between Putin and Erdogan.
The negotiations were confirmed by Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, who said on Friday that Russia’s attitude toward the potential deal was positive. Undersecretary of Defense Industries Ismail Demir had earlier said Turkey was prepared to work with “any interested party,” including Russia and China, on developing its long-range air defense capabilities.
“We have already made clear that we will be in cooperation with countries and companies that would lend support to us throughout this process. We have said our doors are open and that we are willing to cooperate,” he said, as cited by Hurriyet Daily.
According to RT, Turkey intends to spend $3.4 billion to develop a domestic long-range anti-missile shield. In a similar tender in 2013, Russia’s S-400 system competed with US-made Patriot PAC-3, European SAMP/T Aster 30 and China’s FD-2000 systems – the export version of HQ-9 – was won by the Chinese bid. However, the deal which sparked concern among other NATO members over compatibility issues and potential ramifications for Turkey’s contribution to the alliance, stalled and was ultimately cancelled in 2015. The contract discussions reportedly broke down because Ankara and Beijing couldn’t agree on the transfer of technology, which Turkey sees as crucial for having a domestic defense industry capable of servicing all national needs independently from foreign nations. Furthermore, at the time some alleged the China deal was meant by Turkey as a strategic ploy to attain a more favorable position in negotiations with European and American suppliers.
Other critics said that “To expect a country that relies on NATO for more than half of its radar data to invest billions in a missile defense system that is not compatible with this infrastructure was not sensible,” researchers Mustafa Kibaroglu and Selim Sazak wrote on DefenseOne.com
However, the impetus to launch another push for a missile shield was prompted in August of 2015 when Ankara was angered by the US decision to withdraw Patriot missiles from Turkey’s border with Syria - a move which some speculated was in retaliation for Turkish attacks on Kurdish militia forces which remain US allies in the war against ISIS - which had been deployed in 2013 to protect Turkey from a possible cross-border attack. That, and having to rely on other NATO members for anti-missile protection, forced Erdogan to once again seek military cooperation with either China or Russia.
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Meanwhile, the deteriorating relations between Turkey and the US was put on display once again, when Turkey's leader Erdogan slammed the Obama administration, accusing it of failing to take the threats Turkey is facing seriously, including the war in Syria and resulting inflow of refugees, adding he has become “disillusioned’ with US policy in the region.
“We have addressed these issues; discussed them with President Obama and Vice President Biden. They failed to rise to the occasion and handle these issues seriously. This is quite upsetting for us,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CBS' 60 minutes in an interview which will be aired later this week.
“Let me be very frank in my remarks. I’ve been known for my candor. I wouldn’t speak the truth if I said I was not disillusioned, because I am disillusioned,” he added.
This latest attack on the Obama administration took place as Turkey announced it would scrap the office of prime minister in a historic switch under a government-backed proposal for a new presidential system, in which Erdogan is effectively the only center of political power. Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Veysel Eroglu said there would be one and possibly two vice presidents under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the new format, which is expected to be submitted to a referendum next year. "There won't be prime ministry in the new system," he told the state-run news agency Anadolu.
Erdogan’s mounting concerns may be addressed, however, by the incoming Trump administration as some of the priorities voiced in the Republican president-elect’s campaign, such as stemming the uncontrolled influx of refugees and ramping up the fight against terrorists in Syria, are in line with the Turkish leader’s.
Finally, in what may be a watershed event for US-Turkey relations under Trump, Michael Flynn, who is slated to lead the Pentagon under President Trump, has also argued that the US should not provide safe haven to Gulen, whom Flynn has called a radical Islamist pretending to be a moderate. As a reminder, Gulen has been accused by Erdogan of masterminding July’s failed military coup in Turkey, while Washington has criticized Turkey’s crackdown on alleged members of the Gulen movement that has followed the coup.