Is The US Trading Turkey For India? Russia’s S-400 Missile Defence Systems Hold The Answer

India reportedly to get a sanctions waiver over Russian weapon purchases 

Reports from India suggest that the United States is willing to grant India a wavier under CAATSA sanctions rules that would allow New Delhi to go forward with its S-400 missile defence system deal with Russia so long as India also purchases some US built F-16 fighter jets. According to the CAATSA legislation, the US reserves the right to grant exceptions (waivers) to nations buying Russian military hardware so long as the nation in question takes steps to shift its future military hardware contracts to US manufactures or else such a nation must have a cooperative relationship with the United States on matters of international security.

While India was a Cold War partner of the Soviet Union, today India’s rapidly growing military partnership with Washington appears to fulfil the protocol that will allow India to purchase the S-400s without facing US sanctions as a result. This however begs a highly important question: what about Turkey?

Unlike India which was technically non-aligned but in practical terms a Soviet ally during the Cold War, Turkey has been a loyal member of NATO since 1952. As such it goes without saying that Turkey fulfils the protocol that would allow Ankara a sanctions wavier for purchasing some Russian weapons.

Yet while the US is on the verge of granting India a waiver in respect of its S-400 purchase with Russia, the US has thus far only threatened and attempted to bully its NATO partner Turkey over its S-400 deal with Russia. Regarding delivery of the S-400s, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has just said the following:

“Work to install the complexes will begin in October 2019. Now we are recruiting staff. The selected staff will go to Russia for training in the beginning of 2019, get the necessary knowledge there, then come back and get to work”.

Akar further stated that simultaneous to learning from Russian experts how to operate the S-400s, Turkey will be working on improving design flaws in the F-35 fighter jet with American experts. The next question to naturally arise is: why is India on the verge of getting a waiver but no such moves have been suggest in America vis-a-vis Turkey? The answers are many.

China 

While the US is happy, willing and able to use sanctions to try and reduce the profits of Russian arms makers, when it comes to India, fanning the flames of New Delhi’s Sinophobic government is the top priority. The US is in this sense willing to overlook the lingering Cold War era good will among some Indian officials towards Russia in order to cultivate the unanimous hatred of China that has only increased under the extremist government of Narendra Modi.

By contrast, when Turkey sought investment and new lines of credit to fight western speculation against the Lira, Ankara turned to China and China delivered. Furthermore, while India is a neighbour of China, New Delhi has conspicuously isolated itself from any kind of potential free trading arrangement with China while India has also become a roadblock to the Belt and Road initiative. This latter fact has given rise to China and its all weather partner Pakistan constructing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a means of circumventing India.

By contrast, Turkey represents a key terminus of the Belt and Road initiative as China, Turkey and their mutual partners can benefit greatly from a stable and economically growing nation like Turkey representing the Mediterranean end of belts and roads whose other terminus is China’s Pacific coast. Turkey’s good relations with both Iran and Pakistan mean that it is not only feasible but inevitable that China, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey will work more closely in the future to expand Belt and Road connectivity.

Because of these factors, it is clear that America’s cold feet regarding giving Turkey a sanctions waiver has less to do with Russian weapons and more to do with Chinese trading initiatives.

Turkey to produce its own arms

Turkey’s President Erdogan has made it clear that he wants to rapidly expand Turkey’s already growing domestic arms manufacturing sector. As such, in future decades it is inevitable that Ankara will be purchasing fewer arms from the United States, Russia and European manufacturers. This might well be a short term motivating factor behind US silence regarding a possible waiver to Turkey.

Erdogan is more independent in NATO than Modi is in the non-aligned movement 

Paper alliances can often be supremely deceiving. While India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and inversely Turkey joined NATO shortly after the alliances formation, in 2018 the reality of India and Turkey’s geostrategy is very different.

Under Erdogan’s period of political rule, Turkey has become one of the most geopolitically independent nations in the world. Erdogan maintains excellent relations with both China and Russia while Turkey is also committed to its longtime partnerships with the US and EU. That being said, Turkey’s eastern partners tend to be better at reciprocating than its western partners although recent months have seen the EU partly re-energise its desire to improve trade with the growing Turkish economy.

Turkey likewise has vowed to continue trading with neighbouring Iran in spite of the threat of US sanctions deriving from such a stance. Here, Turkey’s position aligns with China, Russia and Europe against the United States.

Finally, Erdogan has demonstrated that when interacting with other Muslim majority nations, Turkey in 2018 is a leader and never a follower. From Sudan and Somalia – Malaysia and Indonesia and from Qatar to Pakistan, Erdogan has positioned himself as a towering figure in the Ummah (global Islamic community) and this means that his strategy is guided by Turkey’s historic relationship with the rest of the Ummah rather than short term American concerns which often run contrary to the interests of Muslim populations.

By contrast, India is quietly marching down a road into a strategic partnership with the US in which New Delhi is playing a much smaller second fiddle to the United States. The full extent of the uneven relationship between the US and India was laid bear when Indian officials appeared genuinely surprised when Trump’s tariffs fell like a hammer on the Indian economy earlier this year. With Trump refusing to offer New Delhi any tariff exemptions, it became clear that while the US needs India to help provoke China, when it comes to trade, the US has ironically put India in the same basket as its more powerful Chinese neighbour.

Israeli opposition to a Turkey-US rapprochement 

Turkey was the first Muslim majority nation to recognise “Israel” and prior to recent decades, Ankara and Tel Aviv have had a generally healthy relationship. This dramatically changed in 2010 when “Israeli” commandos illegally boarded the MV Mavi Marmara in international waters. The MV Mavi Marmara was a privately chartered Turkish flagged ship carrying mostly Turkish activists on their way to Gaza in order to deliver much needed humanitarian supplies to besieged Palestinians. The gruesome raid killed ten Turks and resulted in the lowest ebb in Ankara-Tel Aviv relations until now.

While the MV Mavi Marmara assault resulted in the expulsion of Tel Aviv’s ambassador to Ankara and a formal downgrading in relations, in 2016, the two sides reconciled, primarily out of pragmatic motives. At the time, both Israel and Turkey hoped to jointly participate in a pipeline that would transport gas from northern Iraq through Turkey and into Israel.

This pipeline project has been dead in the water for around a year and as such, Israel is now working on a different pipeline project which will transport gas between Israel and mainland Europe with Cyprus forming the centre of the pipeline’s route. Beyond this, Israel and Cyprus look to cooperate on maritime gas extraction off the coast of Cyprus. This is especially controversial as Turkey claims sovereignty over parts of the off-shore gas field that Tel Aviv and Nicosia will cultivate.

This comes at the same time as Egypt prepares to work jointly with Israel on a bilateral gas deal. Making matters more intriguing, of Cairo and Ankara’s multiple disputes, a disagreement on the rights to an offshore gas field are among the most pressing in the medium term. Israel has clearly taken Egypt’s side in this respect rather than remain neutral.

While the populations of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece remain pro-Palestine, the leadership of each state continues to pivot to Israel. While the leaders of these states look to put economics before the generally anti-Zionist opinions of their people, there is also a clearly anti-Turkish sentiment which underscores this new de-facto alliance. As Israel looks to isolate Turkey in its own region due to President Erdogan’s strongly voiced position in favour of Palestinian justice, it can be reasonably concluded that the anti-Turkish nature of this new alliance is by Israeli design rather than by geopolitical default.

While Turkey looks to build win-win relationships from Cape Town to Jakarta and from Beijing to St. Petersburg, Israel’s new Hellenic-Egyptian alliance has deeply provocative overtones. While this alliance does not realistically pose a military threat to Turkey, in attempting to isolate Turkey from important developments in the gas fields of the Eastern Mediterranean, there is clearly an economic challenge that Israel is attempting to foment while Israeli rhetoric now appears to be goading both Greece and Cyprus- thus preventing much needed de-escalation between Turkey and the Hellenic states of the eastern Mediterranean.

The highly powerful US based Israel lobby has likewise been a leading voice against any rapprochement with Turkey having joined with traditionally anti-Turkish lobbying groups to voice Turkophobic sentiments throughout Washington.

Conclusion 

It could be that Turkey does receive a future waiver from the US as further sanctions on a NATO member could risk ripping apart the alliance itself. That being said, Donald Trump’s refusal to share Erdogan’s concerns about the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi gives an indication that any US rapprochement with Turkey will be limited and at best highly compartmentalised rather than holistic.

 

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