Thursday, May 02, 2019

Perhaps Taking a Break Will Restore the Relationship

I've noted that while Turkey and Russia have a long history of warfare that argues against an enduring alliance, in the short term common interests combined with the lack of common land borders can push them together to the West's detriment. How might that Russian-Turkish entente form?

If Turkey goes through with the purchase of Russia's S-400, a sequence of events that began with Putin's strong support for Erdogan after the July 2016 coup attempt/purge and which leads to American sanctions on Turkey could result in a major redirection of Turkey's foreign policy:

Such punitive measures would have drastic consequences: They would seal the divorce of Ankara and Washington, possibly even precipitating Turkey's formal exit from NATO. Unless concessions are forthcoming from the US to induce Turkey to reciprocate by finding a face-saving way out of installing the S-400 system, such as sending it to Azerbaijan, a strategic divorce may not be averted. Although Ankara will seek to salvage its cooperation with European partners, Turkey will be on the path to joining a post-American alliance architecture.

The path to the Russian-Turkish entente, if it occurs, is longer than either the coup or the Trump presidency, and dates back to Erdogan's rise to power in 2003. Indeed, the failure of the Turkish parliament to approve the deployment of America's 4th Infantry Division--our top of the line digital division at the time--to open a major front against Saddam in the Iraq War was a canary in the coal mine moment.

I'm not sure what we can do to keep Turkey under Erdogan in NATO and away from Russia. But letting Turkey get the F-35 is not worth the risk to keep Turkey firmly in NATO.

I'd fudge the Turkish S-400 purchase if we cut it off from NATO's integrated air defenses and let it be a stand-alone system away from the potential main fronts with Russia. Russia is weak enough that if Turkish air defense are an island apart from the rest of NATO it won't harm NATO defenses. Really, in case of war with NATO Russian forces in the Mediterranean Sea will lead a short but exciting life.

I'd also scale back sensitive data and information sharing while looking for alternatives to NATO facilities in Turkey. And for God's sake, we no longer have nuclear warheads stored at Incirlik air base, right?

And if Turkey does withdraw from NATO I'd make sure the Turks know that NATO would be eager for Turkey to return to the alliance as an actual ally one day. Because in the long run, Russia is not Turkey's friend even if Russia under Putin is Erdogan's friend.

UPDATE: Turkey will pay a price for breaking with NATO:

At this point, the U.S. should make clear to Turkey the costs of its strategic shift to Russia: Should Ankara decide to change course, it could gain access to a diverse set of energy suppliers, coupled with a cooperative defense relationship with the U.S. and its NATO allies. Should it continue on its current path, however, Ankara will become overly reliant on Russia in both the energy and defense sectors — turning Turkey increasingly into a client state of Moscow.

But the pain won't be felt by Erdogan or his supporters. And having a fellow dictator as his ally may seem like a good policy when Russia is unable to really get at Turkey the way Russia did for centuries when Russia and Turkey shared borders in the Balkans and in the Caucasus.

But certainly we should make our benefits clear even after Turkey ditches the West.

UPDATE: Be my guest!

The head of Russia's top state-run industrial conglomerate Rostec has now stated it is ready to cooperate with Turkey on the export and production of their Su-57 advanced fighter jet to fill the hole left by the F-35.

India bailed on the flailing Su-57 project which is only a frontal stealth plane--if it can be made to work and get into production.

I say we should congratulate Turkey on having an alternative to the F-35 and wish them all the best; and promise our support to integrate the Russian plane into Turkey's American-built combat aircraft inventory.

Russia is desperate to create the illusion that the Su-57 hangar queen is a real thing.