After we canceled the sale of our F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan wasted no time making good on his threat to take his business to the Russians. Since the bone of contention leading to this decision was Turkey’s move to buy the S-400 missile system from the Russians, I suppose this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Now that potential deal seems to be taking shape as Erdogan is viewing demonstrations of the Russian Su-57 fighter at an air show taking place near Moscow. (Time)
President Vladimir Putin showed off Russia’s latest stealth warplane to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s been barred from buying a new U.S. fighter jet in a dispute with Donald Trump over the purchase of a Russian missile system.
Flanked by the Russian and Turkish defense ministers, Putin and Erdogan inspected the cockpit of the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter on Tuesday at opening of the MAKS-2019 international air show outside Moscow. They also toured the Su-35 fighter, helicopter displays and an amphibious aircraft.
Welcoming his “good friend” Erdogan to the air display, Putin pitched the “technical capabilities of the latest generation of the Russian Air Forces,” which he said “will open up new opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation,” according to a Kremlin transcript.
Assuming Erdogan goes ahead and purchases the Su-35s, that will be one more element in our coalition’s military hardware where Turkey will find itself operating equipment that’s incompatible with the rest of NATO’s forces. (The Russian missiles are also incompatible.) And since one of the primary functions of NATO is to provide mutual protection of its members from potential Russian aggression, this leaves Turkey in a curious place indeed.
Erdogan has long since stopped acting like an ally of the United States and NATO. He seems far more interested in currying favor with the Russians, Iran and China. He and Putin now regularly refer to each other as “good friends.” (Of course, President Trump has said the same thing about Putin in the past, so take that for what it’s worth.) The point is, Turkey is no longer a reliable ally and their status as a member of NATO should really be on the table at this point.
Of course, we should all understand that it’s far more complicated than simply pulling the plug on this relationship. Turkey’s position makes them a critical link in NATO’s military capabilities, being situated literally on the doorstep of Syria, Iraq and Iran. As long as that region remains in conflict (and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon) Turkey will play a dominant role in any engagements we or our NATO partners undertake.
Erdogan clearly knows this and is probably banking on the assumption that he can get away with all of these incendiary antics and not pay too much of a price for it. The sad part is that he’s probably right. Aside from canceling the fighter jet sale, President Trump hasn’t seemed to develop much of an appetite for conflict with Erdogan and still speaks approvingly of him. While it pains me to say it, we’ve probably been outplayed by the Tyrant of Turkey and we don’t have much leverage to do anything about it without figuratively blowing up that entire region even further.