Ankara’s continued pursuit of advanced air defense equipment from Moscow – Russia’s S400 Systems – threatens the very guts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at a time “the most successful alliance in history” has profound political and budgetary problems.
The Trump Administration has taken a hard line toward raising contributions from other NATO allies to pay the bills Washington has long paid disproportionately.
It also comes at a time of other frictions between the two NATO allies.
After two months of imprisonment, the Turks released Andrew Brunson, who maintains that he had no ties to political groups and was just the pastor of a local church who had lived in Turkey for more than two decades.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in Turkey right now, most of it not toward Christians but toward people who are accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen,” he said of the exiled Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan accused of plotting against him.
On March 6, the Turkish President had threatened that in the future, the Turks “…may work with S-500s,” the next-generation of the Moscow system. Ankara says it already has plans to start installing the Russian system with the Turkish air force laying out the deployment.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has repeated warnings to Turkey against purchasing of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems.
“We will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries,” Pence said at the annual conference of Western security analysts.
Erdoğan publicly at least, ignored the March 13 call in Washington that the U.S. not supply Ankara with F-35 fighter jets if it buys the Soviet-Russian S-400 missile defense system. U.S. European Command [EUCOM] Commander Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the top U.S. commander in Europe, concurrently also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, made the comment testifying at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee alongside similar comments by Kathryn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.
In December the State Department approved a possible $3.5 billion sale of the American Patriot system to Turkey which includes advanced radar systems, control centers, launching systems and guided missiles. But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also has said Ankara also expects delivery of F35 fighter jets from the U.S. in November.
“Despite some statements, the F-35 process goes smoothly; our pilots, maintenance team continue training in the U.S.,” Akar told a luncheon with top Turkish generals on March 13. “We expect delivery of F-35s in November to [eastern] Malatya province, [where] relevant preparations for infrastructure were completed.”
Turkey has resumed imports of Iranian crude oil after a one-month halt in November when the U.S. re-imposed sanctions on Iran, under a special arrangement with Washington.
But the purchase of major Soviet/Russian military equipment by a NATO ally, closely tied into U.S. and West European armaments suppliers, is unprecedented.
It marks another step in Erdoğan’s increasingly erratic foreign policy, some elements directly contrary to its NATO membership. That policy includes a warming of relations with ultra-Muslim political organizations – turning its back on modern Turkey ’s founder Kemal Attaturk’s militant secularism.
Erdoğan’s makes a studied effort to spend most of his time in the capital Ankara and central and eastern Asia Minor to escape the international atmosphere in Istanbul [Constantinople], by far Turkey ’s largest urban center with its substantial foreign communities and influences at the gateway to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
On March 13, the European Parliament voted down Turkey’s EU accession and formally suspend the process of its long-awaited entry into the European Union, now slowed, if not halted. The 1963 Ankara Agreement made Turkey one of the EU’s main economic partners in the Middle East and both are members of the European Union–Turkey Customs Union but the Europeans have not approved its entry into the EU political apparatus.
The EU accession process is “meaningless”, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 13.
“Turkey expects the new European Parliament, to be formed after the elections in May, will adopt a constructive approach to the Turkey-EU relations in the upcoming period, take qualified and objective decisions and boost Turkey‘s EU integration process,” the ministry added.
Opposition to Turkey’s full membership in the European institutions has always reflected a concern in some European political circles about Turkey’s non-Christian Islamic cultural heritage. At a time when sentiment is growing against the relatively large-scale immigration of Arab and other Moslems to cover the West and Central European birth deficit, it would be only natural that old questions about Turkish-European common culture should surface against.
However, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın called the vote “null and void” as far as Ankara is concerned.
“The content of the European Parliament’s 2018 Turkey report is an attempt to axe the process of increased joint efforts to gain a new momentum in Turkey-EU relations,” Kalın said. He also said far-right political movements in Europe disclosed the prejudiced attitude against Turkey with a report which contains “baseless claims” that do not reflect reality.