By Aykan Erdemir
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the opening of Russia’s international air show, MAKS, in late August as the guest of his counterpart Vladimir Putin.
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 system.
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 besieged post.
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 fate.
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 cooperation.”
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.”
*First published in theglobalist.com