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Erdoğan’s Dilemma: Navigating Between US Offers and Putin’s Pressure

There are dizzying developments in the Turkey-America-Russia triangle, but we see this as an F-16 bargaining process. Of course, there is an F-16 purchase process underway. However, the issue goes far beyond just buying a fighter jet. Right now, we are at a critical juncture where Turkey will decide whether to lean towards Russia or the US axis.

I will explain what is happening, the significance of certain visits and messages, but first, there are some points I need to note.

F-16 process as a chain of betrayals As is known, there has been ongoing F-16 negotiations between Turkey and the US for two years. Due to Erdoğan’s debt of gratitude to Putin, we were removed from the F-35 program, of which we were a manufacturing partner, subjected to CAATSA sanctions, and initially lost more than $10 billion. New suppliers replaced Turkish ones, and the planes Turkey paid for and trained its pilots on were pulled into hangars and sold to third countries.

The long-term losses are incalculable.

Turkey, meanwhile, is left with outdated F-16s and hasn’t even gotten its money back. ‘The world’s luckiest politician,’ Erdoğan, was again rescued by Putin, who opened a window of opportunity for Turkey with the invasion of Ukraine.

However, Erdoğan wanted to convert this opportunity into personal gain, attempting to blackmail Sweden and Finland over their NATO memberships.

Erdoğan appeared to be bargaining for F-16s, but behind the scenes, he was actually trying to escape from cases that could personally trouble him, especially the Halkbank file.

However, the Biden administration did not swallow Erdoğan’s blackmail. Biden blatantly ignored Erdoğan, dragging him along. He neither invited him to the White House nor established close contact. Thus, Sweden’s membership and the F-16 sales process were delayed until today. Eventually, Erdoğan approved Sweden’s membership.

None of the conditions he stipulated happened, but his base thinks Erdoğan made the US kneel!

Imagine, Turkey spent $4.5 billion on unused S-400s. It was removed from a project it was a manufacturing partner of. It lost billions of dollars. On top of that, it will pay $20 billion for outdated F-16s, and even the delivery of these F-16s will take years. It’s a story worthy of being a textbook in diplomacy schools.

They didn’t believe until they saw the wet signature I wish that was all. Other disgraces also occurred in the process. I always say this; there is a severe trust crisis between Turkey and the US. The parties do not trust each other and can even be called hostile.

Imagine, Turkey says, “We approved Sweden’s NATO membership,” passes it through the parliament, publishes it in the Official Gazette, but the US side wants a ‘wet signed document.’ Instead of saying ‘no way,’ Turkey sends the document by plane to New York and hands it over in person. The Americans start the sales process after seeing the wet signature.

The media’s ‘F-16 approved’ news is not true because the process is not finished yet. Unfortunately, there is also a humiliating and embarrassing situation there. For instance, Turkey’s reputation in the US Congress is very bad. During the Trump era, the Erdoğan regime was like, “I’ll handle my business with Trump, what do I have to do with Congress!” Former Ambassadors Serdar Kılıç and Murat Mercan worked more like AKP district chairmen, which worsened things in Congress.

The US side, meanwhile, crafted a delicate plan to sell F-16s to Turkey. They bundled the sale of F-16s to Turkey with the sale of F-35s to Greece. Thus, they wanted to prevent the blockage by Greek, Armenian, and anti-Turkey lobbies. Indeed, a 15-day period started last Friday.

The F-16s cannot fly over Greek islands! If there is no objection from Congress within these 15 days, Turkey will start the process of acquiring F-16s. However, there is a point here that will really go down in the history of politics.

According to Greece’s influential newspaper Kathimerini, Turkey will not be able to fly the F-16s it buys over the Greek islands. According to diplomatic sources, the US State Department sent a secret letter to four committees in the House and Senate, conveying this information. According to the newspaper, if Turkey does not comply with the conditions, the sale of F-16s will be suspended.

The Erdoğan regime, which digested President Trump’s “Don’t be a fool!” letter, will easily feed its base the conditional F-16 sale. From Greece’s perspective, the point reached is a clear victory.

Imagine; Greece will buy 40 F-35s for $8.5 billion. Turkey will buy old-generation F-16s for $20 billion. Moreover, Turkey won’t be able to fly the planes it buys over Greek islands. In short, due to the weird affairs of the Erdoğan regime, the country’s future has been mortgaged.

The US shows a ‘carrot’ While all this happens in Washington, interesting developments occur in Ankara. Victoria Nuland, the second in command at the US State Department, was in Turkey and met with her counterparts. Then she appeared on CNN Türk. If you didn’t know the course of Turkey-US relations, listening to Nuland’s statements would make you think there’s a spring atmosphere between Turkey and the US. Nuland seemed relieved by the approval of Sweden’s membership and praised the Erdoğan regime.

She even said, “We are selling you F-16s, this deal is done. If you get rid of the S-400s, we will be happy to include you in the F-35 project. We might even sell you Patriot missiles.”

The situation was like Bülent Arınç’s “Oh God, you give more as we ask.” Nuland didn’t stop there and said, “Turkey now produces 155 mm ammunition, we need it a lot, Ukraine needs it a lot. We can also buy these.”

The summary of these statements is this; the Erdoğan regime annoys us, but Turkey is a very important country. If you stop getting closer to Russia and stay within NATO and the Western alliance, our future is bright!”

So, while the US side is flattering the Erdoğan regime, what is Putin doing?

An interesting development occurred here. Putin’s visit to Turkey had been talked about for a long time, but the date was never finalized. Just when Nuland was in Turkey, an important move came from Moscow. Kremlin Foreign Policy Advisor Yuriv Ushakov announced that Putin would visit Turkey in February. He didn’t give a specific date but said, “We are working on the date.”

Putin’s move seems more a message to Washington than Ankara. In other words, the Kremlin administration is determined to keep Ankara as a ‘Trojan horse’ in NATO.

So the main question is; what will Erdoğan do? Will he take the carrot extended by the US and reduce relations with Russia, or will he continue to distance himself from the US out of fear of Putin?

Putin is not just anyone. What happens to Putin’s opponents is clear. They are either poisoned, fall from windows, or their planes explode in the air! Moreover, Putin has many trump cards against Erdoğan.

In short, Erdoğan’s job is not easy.

He has entered into such a dependency relationship with Putin that it is not easy to distance himself. As a Russian proverb says, “When you start dancing with a bear, it’s not you who decides when to sit down, but the bear.”

Let’s see what Putin’s move will be.

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Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Aslan is a leading Turkish investigative journalist in exile based in Washington, D.C.
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