Putin is playing Erdoğan like a fiddle - Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin has brilliantly played his Turkish counterpart, effectively lobbing a hand grenade into relations between two key NATO allies thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s commitment to spend billions on Russian S-400 missile defence systems, said an analysis on Tuesday for Foreign Policy. 

“Ankara was repeatedly warned that these batteries would provide the Russians an opportunity to decipher the (U.S.-made) F-35’s stealth technology, thus jeopardising the security of the whole F-35 fighter aircraft programme,” said Henri Barkey, professor of international relations at Lehigh University. 

“The United States had few options but to expel Turkey from the F-35 programme. The cost to Turkey has been enormous: It will not be able to modernise its aging fighter fleet, but perhaps more importantly, it lost out on technology transfer and the opportunity to earn billions of dollars,” he said. 

Erdoğan may have believed the United States would not carry through on its threats, but in cosying up to Putin he bet the goodwill of Washington and the future of Turkey’s defence industries.

“He is now reduced to hinting, under Putin’s approving gaze, that Turkey would consider purchasing Russian fighters, thus further deepening the rift with the United States,” said Barkey. 

Putin and Erdoğan are at odds over Syria. Their deal to secure the last opposition stronghold in northwest Idlib province is coming apart as the Syrian government offensive exposes the civilian population to harm, as well as Turkish soldiers manning observation posts, according to Barkey. 

Last month a Turkish military convoy passing through the area came under fire, most likely from Russian-made aircraft flown by the Syrian government, yet Ankara only delivered mild criticism of Moscow, said Barkey.  

“Putin has Erdoğan exactly where he wants him. He knows that Erdoğan will not dare to criticise him,” said Barkey. “Erdoğan and his minions in the government and his press will continue to denounce the United States as Turkey’s primary enemy. Erdoğan may play Washington, but it is Putin who is laughing all the way to the bank.”