Experts comments CACDS - Southern Caucasus

Selçuk Cholakoglu: "We will witness a serious political crisis between Washington and Ankara"

Photo: AA

CIAKR-South Caucasus presents an interview with Selcuk Cholakoglu, Professor, Director of the Turkish Center for Asia-Pacific Studies. The interview was recorded prior to the G20 summit, where it seems to have been slightly released steam in the US-Turkey twists and turns around the supplies of the C-400 Russian SAMs. How long?

Selcuk Cholakoglu

Below is the original in English.

The United States intends to punish Turkey for the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, and US congressmen have already passed the corresponding bill, say columnists from The Hill Soner Kagaptai and Andy Taylor. America is preparing to reduce defense cooperation with Turkey. In your opinion, if the United States reduces defense cooperation with Turkey, how will this affect the implementation of the military programs of Ankara and NATO?

All Turkish defense industry has depended on NATO systems when Turkey joined the military alliance in 1950. Even though some defence productions in Turkey are based on some critical parts like software and engines, which are provided by other NATO countries. If there is a cease of defense cooperation with the United States or other leading NATO members, it affects not only new projects but also existing defensive productions in Turkey. For example, the backbone of the Turkish air defense has been built up on F-16 fighter jets since the 1980s and Turkey have expertise in producing some of its spare parts. Therefore, the involvement of the F-35 project is part of this long-term air defense strategy of Turkey.

The United States is considering the possibility of introducing three packages of sanctions against Turkey in connection with the purchase of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems S-400. It is reported by Bloomberg, citing sources. Sanctions may be introduced in July. What can you say about this? In your opinion, which areas can affect these sanctions? Can these sanctions seriously damage the Turkish economy?

Washington has begun to sour its relations with Ankara in recent months, especially over its acquisition of the S-400 missile system from Russia. Until now, both the United States and NATO officials repeatedly warned Turkey that systems in the Russian or Chinese (in the 2013-2015 period) can not be deployed in a country, especially if it is a member of NATO. Every passing day, the diplomatic tone of the warning to Turkey from the United States has become stronger and if S-400's purchase is completed, there will be a severe political crisis between Washington and Ankara.

Turkey has also been deeply integrated into the Western system economically, politically and militarily for more than six decades. Even a rumor is the occurrence of a big issue with a large Western ally, which is good enough to make the Turkish financial system uneasy. When the Trump administration imposed some symbolic sanctions on Turkey in August 2018 during the "pastor crisis", the Turkish lira experienced a historic free fall. A single tweet of Trump in early January 2019 made the Turkish financial market uneasy within a day. This shows that how the Turkish economic vulnerability is high and very dependent on Western financial system and the AKP-MHP coalition will likely restrain itself potential US sanctions. Within this framework, it is unlikely that Ankara prefers to deepen the crisis with NATO allies. As a sign of that, the Turkish military was very eager to take part in recent NATO military exercises with relatively large capacity in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to confirm its commitment to the alliance.

What do you think after the US sanctions can Turkey leave NATO?

Leaving NATO will be a very extreme decision for Turkey. On the other hand, any Turkish government can not stay in power if there is a financial crisis in the country. Even the current economic recession since August 2018 negatively affected the AKP-MHP coalition at local elections On March 31, 2019 and Turkish opposition parties won municipality elections in the largest cities. Under these difficult economic conditions, it will be difficult for the AKP-MHP coalition to stay in power. Usually, Turkish people have become more supportive to their pro-West established economic relations under a severe financial situation. For example, the 2001 financial crisis will push the Turkish people to give more support to Turkey's membership of the European Union and the IMF stand-by agreement.

The United States exerts pressure on Turkey because of the C-400, but Turkey does not refuse to buy. Why Turkey does not want to abandon the deal with Russia on the C-400? Why does Ankara insist on this deal?

Jeopardizing of participation in the F-35 project due to the purchase of S-400 can not be understood in the context of Turkey's long-term national interests. The AKP-MHP coalition says that it will stay firm to fulfill its commitment to purchase the Russian S-400 missile system. So, Turkey's long-term national interests are to involve the American F-35 fighter jet projects, while the AKP-MHP coalition's interest priority is the Russian S-400 missile deal. We will see which alternative will be dominant in Ankara by late July 2019. Even if the AKP-MHP coalition prefers to keep its commitment to the S-400 missile deal, this does not mean that it will be sustainable for a very long time. Any new Turkish government may change Turkey's defence course to NATO again. Moreover, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a very pragmatic leader and having a good personal contact with President Donald Trump too. Erdoğan decides a less costly option between S-400 and F35 for his government in a month period. It's hard to know which one is less than a costly alternative to the Turkish President right now.

Following the deal on S-400, representing military cooperation in Turkish-Russian relations, Moscow and Ankara are making a new move. The Russian state corporation Rosatom has fulfilled the necessary conditions for obtaining a license to build the second power unit at Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Mersin. It is assumed that the company will receive a permit this month (at the latest - in early July). The foundation will be laid before the end of the year. What challenges can Turkey face if this nuclear power plant is fully operational?

Apart from defense cooperation, Turkish-Russian relations have many areas of cooperation in different fields. There is important progress to buildup nuclear power plant in Akkuyu by Rosatom. If everything goes well for building the Akkuyu NPP, the main challenge will be to finance its costs. It is expected that the Turkish economy will be slowdown around 2% for 2019. Lower demand to electricity in the Turkish market will be a challenge in the short run. In the mid-term, the Akkuyu NPP will be an important source of energy for the Turkish market.

By Seymur Mammadov, Baku, Azerbaijan, especially for CACDS-South Caucasus