Turkey’s Kurdish insecurity led to purchase of Russian S-400 missiles: analyst
Turkey’s inability to democratically resolve demands made by its Kurdish ethnic demands has put it in a predicament that Russia has gained from, Ömer Taşpınar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote for Responsible Statecraft on Thursday.
According to, Taşpınar, this failure “has created a deeply insecure and chronically irrational Turkish political culture.”
Whereas many see the Kurdish issue as manageable, “Ankara sees terrorism and the beginning of an intractable, bloody disintegration,” he wrote.
Consequently, this issue shapes Turkey’s actions, from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism to Turkey’s contentious purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missile systems.
“For anyone paying attention, the end of the Turkish-American strategic partnership also came because of Kurds,” Taşpınar wrote.
Since Ottoman days, Turkish nationalists were suspicious of Western motives. They viewed American wars in Iraq as part of an effort to create a Greater Kurdistan. More generally, Turks viewed U.S. cooperation with Syrian Kurdish-led PKK-affiliated forces against the Islamic State as proof that “the Kurdish-American conspiracy turned into prophecy.”
For the U.S., these Kurdish forces were a better ally in the fight against ISIS than Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO. That was because Turkey did not view ISIS as an existential as it does the PKK. Also, the U.S. was well aware that Turkey welcomed the rise of jihadists in Syria since they were effective fighters against both the Assad regime and the PKK.
The S-400 issue that has badly damaged U.S.-Turkey ties has its roots in the Kurdish issue, Taşpınar wrote. He argued that Erdoğan’s decision to purchase the system “was also a direct result of strategic imperatives related to the fight against Syrian Kurds.”
“Ankara was greatly alarmed about Kurdish autonomy and territorial gains in northern Syria, and any Turkish cross-border military incursion to stem the Kurdish tide required Moscow’s blessing,” he added.
Turkey and Russia began growing closer after the failed July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Erdoğan the night of the coup to offer his support. A month later, Turkey launched its first cross-border incursion into Syria with Russia’s consent. Coordination with Russia has become increasingly essential for Turkey since.
“But in this strange partnership where Ankara and Moscow supported opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, Putin always had the supper hand and never hesitated to play it hard,” Taşpınar wrote.
When an airstrike killed 33 Turkish troops in February 2020, for example, “Erdoğan had to pretend Russia was not involved.”
“He had simply no interest in escalating military tensions with Moscow,” Taşpınar wrote. “The same dynamics continue to this day.”
These include Turkey’s continued dependency on Russian natural gas, Russia as an export market for agricultural exports, and revenues generated from Russian tourism.
In Syria, Turkey is the most vulnerable since Russia at any time could escalate in Idlib, driving at least one million more Syrian refugees into Turkey. Consequently, there is just too much at stake for Erdoğan to risk compromising his good relationship with Putin.
Taşpınar concluded his article by noting that Russia’s sale of “S-400s to a NATO country that has now been expelled from the F-35 advanced fighter aircraft program and made subject to American military sanctions is no small feat for Moscow.”
“If I were Putin, I would have expressed my thanks to Turkey’s Kurdish insecurity for this situation.”