Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow on Monday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discuss the increasingly close economic and strategic partnership between their countries.
Erdogan’s visit to Russia came shortly after the United States halted the delivery of supplies and support equipment to Turkey for the advanced F-35 warplane. Pentagon officials cited Turkey’s insistence on purchasing S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia as the reason for the suspension.
Turkey disregarded increasingly severe warnings from the U.S. and insisted its acquisition of S-400 missiles was a “done deal,” declaring it “unacceptable” for the U.S. to either withhold delivery of the F-35 planes or tell Turkey not to buy Russian military equipment. Erdogan indicated on Friday that the first Russian missile launchers will be delivered to Turkey in July.
Last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence bluntly warned that Turkey is risking the security of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by “making such reckless decisions that undermine our alliance.” The S-400 missiles are not interoperable with the technology NATO countries use, as the alliance requires.
Putin said he and Erdogan would discuss “military-technical cooperation” on Monday, an agenda bound to infuriate the U.S. and Turkey’s other NATO allies. Erdogan’s communications director said on Monday the Turkish and Russian presidents talked about broad cooperation on defense, including “joint production” of military hardware.
Erdogan’s office said the situation in Syria was an important strategic topic in the meeting, with Erdogan and Putin jointly calling on all other countries to stop “supporting terrorists which threaten Syria’s integrity,” by which they mean all elements opposed to the rule of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Turkey, on the other hand, has no qualms about threatening Syria’s integrity to attack the Kurds. Erdogan said his forces are “completely ready” and have “made all necessary preparations in areas along the Syrian border” for another invasion of Syrian Kurdish territory, marking the third major Turkish incursion of Syria over the past year. The Turkish president sought Putin’s blessing for the operation in their Monday meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the other hand, warned Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last week that further “unilateral Turkish military action” in Syria could have “potentially devastating consequences.”
Putin and Erdogan have disagreed on Turkey’s actions in Syria before, particularly Turkey’s demand for a sizable Kurd-free buffer zone along the Turkish border. Erdogan’s objectives could be significantly complicated by recent Kurdish talk of folding their armed forces into the Syrian military and effectively gaining Assad’s protection – which would, in theory, make another assault on the Syrian Kurds politically difficult for Turkey.
At the beginning of the year, Putin began urging Erdogan to restore diplomatic ties with the Assad regime and accept promises from Damascus that Kurdish forces in the border region will be kept from threatening Turkish security.
Putin said his Monday meeting with Erdogan would help develop the “advanced, multi-faceted relationship” between Turkey and Russia, which includes strong economic ties such as a major undersea gas pipeline, surging Russian tourism to Turkey, and a trade relationship Putin envisioned quadrupling from $25 billion to $100 billion in the coming years. If the Turkey-Russia relationship blossoms as the two leaders anticipate, it will grow more difficult to see Turkey as an aspirant to the European Union, or a member in good standing of NATO.