Ankara’s NATO membership is a lifeline for Turkey-US relations, Vladimir Fitin, an expert at the Russian institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), told TASS.

“Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia is a major irritant for the United States,” he said. “At the same time, Ankara is irritated with Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen [a Muslim preacher whom the Turkish authorities believe to be the mastermind of the 2016 coup attempt – TASS] and the United States’ ambiguous position on the Syria issue. There are a lot of reasons for disagreements between the two countries at the moment,” the expert added.

“However, there are also many reasons for them to be together, one of them is NATO membership, as Turkey is the Alliance’s key member state in the region. It has the second most powerful army among NATO countries,” Fitin pointed out.

According to him, “no one ditches partners such as Turkey, although the Americans have been acting like a bull in a china shop lately.” “Washington just cannot tell Ankara ‘do as you please’ because this is a very serious matter for the United States,” Fitin went on to say. “The matter is likely to prevail, particularly because the Pentagon stands for maintaining cooperation with Turkey, particularly through the delivery of the fifth generation F-35 fighter jets, though the US Congress has threatened to freeze the delivery over Ankara’s cooperation with Moscow,” the expert said.

News about Russian-Turkish talks on the delivery of the S-400 systems first came in November 2016. In September 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara had signed a contract with Moscow on purchasing the S-400 complexes and made an advance payment. Head of Russia’s Rostec State Corporation Sergei Chemezov said that the delivery would begin in March 2020. The S-400 Triumf (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) is the most advanced long-range antiaircraft missile system that went into service in 2007. It is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, including medium-range ones, and can also be used against ground objectives. The S-400 complex can engage targets at a distance of 400 km and at an altitude of up to 30 km.

Sanctions pressure

According to Fitin, “there are enough conflict points between the Americans and the Turks.” In this connection, he mentioned the situation surrounding American pastor Andrew Brunson, as Ankara has been refusing to release him citing terrorism support charges. Turkey’s position has prompted the US to impose sanctions on two Turkish ministers and double tariffs on steel and aluminium from Turkey, causing a plunge in the Turkish lira.

According to Fitin, the United States’ sanctions hammer, which earlier hit a number of countries, has now been dropped on Turkey. “The Americans use sanctions in all parts of the world, including Russia, China and Iran, and now Turkey’s turn has come,” he said. “There already were some negative trends in the Turkish economy but now they have got worse – in particular, the lira has plunged by nearly 70% over the year, which is a serious thing. In addition, Turkey’s inflation rate has surged,” the expert added.

At the same time, in Fitin’s words, Erdogan continues to make statements that the US will not bring Turkey to its knees and Ankara will not make any concessions. “Ankara is working on retaliatory measures and has already announced plans to increase tariffs on US goods,” the analyst stressed.

Trading oil in euros

Fitin did not rule out that US sanctions may force Russia and Turkey to start using national currencies in trade and also trading oil and natural gas in euros. “The talk about using national currencies in trade has been going on for a long time but it is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “However, the current situation may create conditions for the two countries to start using their national currencies in trade because US will just force sanctioned countries to find other ways to trade and communicate with each other,” the expert noted