While Turkey’s President dreams big power dreams, Putin plays Erdogan like a fiddle.
Despite its NATO membership, Turkey has continued its slide into the
Kremlin’s sphere of influence, as illustrated by Putin pitching his
country’s Su-35 and Su-57 jets to Erdogan while Russian cargo planes
landed in Ankara carrying the second battery of the S-400 air defense
Even so, Erdogan’s visit to Moscow was less about shopping for
Russian military hardware than it was about his desperation for Putin’s
help in stopping the advance of Bashar al-Assad’s forces into the
Turkish military’s area of operation in northwest Syria.
Recently, Syrian regime forces surrounded a heavily fortified Turkish
observation post in Morek, at the southern tip of Idlib province.
Before then, Syrian war planes had struck Islamist militants traveling
alongside a Turkish military convoy as it attempted to resupply the
Amidst that military confrontation, Putin refused to take a call from Erdogan for several days.
Later on, the Kremlin informed Ankara that the Russian president
could meet his Turkish counterpart at the MAKS air show. Thus, the real
priority for Erdogan’s hastily arranged trip to Moscow was to prevent
other Turkish outposts and troops in Idlib from suffering a similar
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in Moscow, Putin’s spokesperson had stated
that “Turkey is our very close partner, it’s our ally.” He also hinted
that the talks were going to be as much about Russian arms sales to
Turkey as tensions in Idlib.
Kowtowing to Putin
As it happens, Putin not only treated Erdogan to a frozen dessert
reportedly “sold” by an undercover agent of his security service, but
also discussed further sales and joint production of military hardware.
In his warm response to Putin, Erdogan said, “We want our solidarity
to continue in several areas of the defense industry. This can be
passenger or war planes. What is important is the spirit of
Erdogan’s kowtowing to Putin failed to win him any favors in Idlib.
Assad’s forces not only continued their advance, but also struck targets
near another Turkish observation post on Wednesday.
U.S. Congress weighing in on Erdogan
The Turkish president’s cozying up to Putin has drawn the ire of the
U.S. Congress. The House Foreign Affairs Committee, hours after the
arrival of the second S-400 battery in Turkey and Erdogan’s declaration
of interest in Russian jets, called on Trump to “sanction Turkey … as
required by U.S. law.”
The next day, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that unless
the S-400 system is completely removed from Turkish soil, Turkey cannot
rejoin the U.S.-led F-35 fighter jet program.
For all of Erdogan’s near-constant bluster, Putin continues to play Erdogan like a fiddle.
As it stands, unless Washington and its transatlantic allies develop a
concerted counter-strategy, Moscow will continue to exploit the man in
Ankara to whom its analysts already refer as “Our Man in NATO.”
Erdemir is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and
faculty member at Bilkent University’s Department of Political Science and
He is a
former member of the Turkish Parliament (2011-2015) who served in the EU-Turkey
Joint Parliamentary Committee, EU Harmonization Committee, and the Ad Hoc
Parliamentary Committee on the IT Sector and the Internet.
outspoken defender of pluralism, minority rights, and religious freedoms in the
Middle East, Dr. Erdemir has been at the forefront of the struggle against
religious persecution, hate crimes, and hate speech in Turkey.
He is a
founding member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of
Religion or Belief, and a drafter of and signatory to the Oslo Charter for
Freedom of Religion or Belief (2014) as well as a signatory legislator to the
London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism.
Erdemir holds a PhD in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard
University. He was a doctoral fellow at Hauser Center for Nonprofit
Organizations at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a research
associate at the University of Oxford’s Center on Migration, Policy and
2015, Dr. Erdemir was awarded a distinguished fellowship at the Oxford Centre
for the Study of Law and Public Policy.
Erdemir has edited seven books, including Rethinking Global Migration:
Practices, Policies, and Discourses in the European Neighbourhood (KORA) and
Social Dynamics of Global Terrorism: Risk and Prevention Policies (IOS Press).
co-author of the 2016 book Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of
Religious Sites and Spaces (Routledge).