The Russian ambassador to Ankara gave the indifferent: "We sold you S-400 defense missiles," said Alexei Jerchow to the Turks in the middle of this week, slightly annoyed. "You can now use them to transport potatoes or use them in war - that's yours Decision!"
This is an interesting sentence for Europe, the USA and NATO. And not just because of the now known possibility of using Russian defense missiles for the potato harvest. But because for the first time serious Zoff between Russia and Turkey is hinting at the sale of rockets. So far, Moscow has been able to use the S-400 coup to sow disputes between Ankara and Washington, DC. The Russian missiles and their modern reconnaissance technology undermine Turkey's membership in NATO and the security of the alliance on its southeast flank. Now the strife returns to its place of origin.
The Ambassador's remark has to do with the declared intention of the Turkish government to make it more difficult for Russians to access the missiles in Turkey. Originally, Russian technicians were supposed to train Turkish soldiers on the S-400 and maintain the missiles regularly. Ankara said in May that Russian access would be restricted. It was also announced that Turkey is postponing the start of operations.
If it stayed that way, Russia would have raised around ten billion dollars and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would have spent expensive money on a high-tech toy without any benefit. But the strategic value of the missiles to split and weaken NATO would be gone for Russia. Why is Erdoğan doing this? There are two main reasons why he left the S-400 equipment unpacked on an airfield northwest of Ankara.
Erdoğan between the United States and Russia
First of all, there is the dispute with Russia over Syria and the reconquest of the country by the dictator Bashar al-Assad. This week, Russian and Syrian fighter jets have again bombed Turkey's Arab allies in Idlib. In February, more than two dozen Turkish soldiers were killed in such an attack. Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria is always threatened by Russian efforts to give Assad all of Syria. With the temporary non-use of the S-400, Erdoğan signals his unwillingness to Moscow.
But perhaps even more important are Erdoğan's relations with the United States, which fluctuate between hysteria and autocratic pat on the back with his counterpart Donald Trump. The US Congress has imposed tough sanctions against Turkey that are not yet effective. Trump has let Erdoğan know that he will no longer block the embargo measures if Erdoğan should actually use the S-400. The US sanctions would have painful consequences for the Turkish economy. Erdoğan, however, currently needs every dollar to absorb the Turkish recession and regularly service the foreign debt that is due. He wants nothing less than to subject Turkey again to the strict regulations of the International Monetary Fund for loans.
Five to eight
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Erdoğan does not want Turkey to have a strong international or US influence, but he also does not want to become completely dependent on Russia. A little wiggling here, a little fiddling there, a little fuss there - that will remain his tactical line to always do his own thing. The years of fidgeting around the defense missiles is part of Erdoğan's game. The S-400 have been bought and arrived, but are not being unpacked now. But could.
In this neither fish nor meat situation could the solution of the S-400 dispute between the USA and Turkey lie. 20 years ago, the Greeks bought Russian S-300 missiles that originally belonged to Cyprus. So far, the missiles have only been used for training purposes, otherwise they are aging unused at a base in Crete. If Erdoğan parked his S-400 in a similar missile cemetery, he would save himself a lot of trouble. Assuming he wanted that.