Turkey to find way out of S-400 deal to avoid confrontation with U.S.: analysts

As the time for Russia’s delivery of its S-400 air defense system to Turkey approaches amid U.S. threat of sanctions, Ankara, which is facing a fragile economy, is likely to maneuver out of the deal with Moscow despite officials’ rhetoric, said Turkish analysts.

“The Turkish government is determined to settle this issue (with Washington) in some way,” Haldun Solmazturk, a security and foreign policy analyst, told Xinhua.

The Trump administration has threatened to impose severe sanctions on Turkey if the S-400 deal with Moscow is followed through.

Ankara is scheduled to receive the first batch of the sophisticated air defense system in July, while a delivery in June may also be possible.

The negotiations with Washington over S-400 are ongoing at the highest level under the direction of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, maintained Solmazturk.

Ankara cannot afford a full-fledged crisis with Washington given the huge problems it is confronted with in economy and Syria, he argued.

The United States is concerned that the S-400 missiles on Turkish territory could gain valuable intelligence on the technical systems of the U.S.-made F-35 jets to be acquired by Ankara, and threaten NATO’s security.

Citing unidentified officials, U.S. CNBC news channel reported on Tuesday that Turkey has to cancel the missile deal by the end of the first week of June or face harsh sanctions.

The United States has also threatened to block the delivery of four F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey and remove Ankara from the F-35 joint production program unless the S-400 deal is scrapped.

It is more likely for Turkey to go back on the F-35 deal, as such a step is more in line with its national security concerns and needs, said Faruk Logoglu, a former senior diplomat.

“The Turkish economy is in dire straits and is in need of American goodwill and support, including at the IMF (International Monetary Fund),” he told Xinhua.

It is widely argued that the Turkish government may have to go to the IMF following a rerun of Istanbul mayoral election on June 23.

The debt-stricken Turkish economy is suffering from high inflation, unemployment and recession.

The country needs roughly 200 billion U.S. dollars, among which almost 180 billion dollars are loans due, to run the ailing economy within the next 12 months.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said last week that Ankara could possibly give up Russian missiles, noting that the negotiations were going on between diplomats from both sides.

However, Erdogan once again ruled out any step back from the S-400 deal last weekend, underlining it was a “done deal.”

The president added that Ankara and Moscow were also planning to jointly produce the upgraded S-500 system.

Remarks by officials about no withdrawal from the deal with Russia are simply intended for public consumption at home, claimed Solmazturk, who chairs the Incek debates at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.

According to recent reports in local media, Turkey may resell the S-400s it gets to a third country or delay their delivery to avoid confrontation with the United States, while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied all such claims.

“Presently, both Ankara and Washington are resorting to the language of high rhetoric vis-a-vis one another, threatening the other side with this or that punitive measure, but always leaving room for an eventual agreement,” said Logoglu.

“In the meantime though, talks between the two allies are continuing,” he added.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar suggested days ago that Ankara may block Washington from using the Incirlik air base as well as the Kurecik radar facility in eastern Turkey in case the Trump administration imposes sanctions.

“Turkey cannot afford to change the status of Incirlik or Kurecik bases under the current circumstances,” Ilhan Uzgel, an international relations analyst, told Xinhua.

Ankara may have originally planned to use the S-400 deal as a bargaining chip against the United States, but given the difficulties Turkey is facing in economy and foreign policy, the S-400 issue is now an obstacle against itself, he said.

Turkey tried unsuccessfully to get Washington to further extend its exemption from sanctions for importing Iranian oil, which ended at the beginning of May.

In addition, the two NATO allies are at odds over Washington’s military support to the Kurdish militia in Syria which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.

Turkey has so far failed to convince the United States to put under its control a security zone to be established on the Kurdish militia-held territory in Syria along the Turkish border.

Unlike Solmazturk and Logoglu, Uzgel, who taught at the Ankara University, feels that Turkey is close to the point of no return regarding the purchase of S-400 missiles.

Washington has offered Ankara its Patriot air defense missiles on condition that it drops the S-400 deal.

For its part, Ankara rejects the U.S. attempt to link the two, saying it would also buy the Patriot system as long as Washington would come up with an attractive offer including the transfer of technology.

“Turkey needs the U.S. and Western support against Russia in Syria’s Idlib; it therefore has to resolve the S-400 issue,” argued Solmazturk, a former general in the Turkish army.

Since mid-2016, Ankara and Moscow have been cooperating for a political settlement of the Syrian war, but Turkey is highly disturbed by recent Russian-backed Syrian army operation against Islamist rebels in Idlib.

Ankara concluded the S-400 deal with Moscow at the end of 2017 and will get a total of four batteries of the air defense system for 2.5 billion dollars.

Turkey’s growing ties with Russia in recent years have raised concerns among its NATO partners and reports about a shift of axis in Turkey’s foreign policy have appeared in Western media.

“The West no longer sees Turkey as a partner to cooperate, while Turkey is not a reliable partner for Russia either,” stated Solmazturk.

“These days Turkey acts more like a foe than a NATO ally,” The Wall Street Journal said on Wednesday in an editorial titled “The Turkish Contagion Risk.”

However, none of the analysts thinks there is a shift in Turkey’s axis.

“Russia is unlikely to make a big fuss if the S-400 deal is shelved, considering the larger and longer-term interests of Turkey,” Logoglu argued.

Ankara should not be expected to get away from NATO, Uzgel said, noting Turkey’s place within the Western system is very deep.