Below is our translation of an article by Ivan Danilov in RIA Novosti, with commentary by Vince Dhimos.
By making an international fuss over Turkey’s purchase of these S-400s, the US has shown its own weakness and has done a marvellous job of advertising the Russian weapon.
BTW, I hope I haven’t given anyone the impression that I am an Erdogan fan. I’m not. I would have liked him to be more secular for the sake of his own people. But on the other hand, he performs a valuable function. After the Kashoggi butchery, he was the one who pretty much showed the world that the US was being a big hypocrite to support Saudi while pretending that Iran – which fights Saudi-sponsored ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria – is the worst terror supporter and needs to be bombed.
The US third party sanctions on countries buying Russian weapons are also based on the false premise that Russia is the enemy of the “free” world, and that is a lie aimed only at forcing the rest of the world to buy US made arms to support the bloated arms manufacturers who get rich off of invading Third World countries and slaughtering innocents to make them vassals of the US. Russia sells weapons to countries that need them for protection against precisely this US monster. Erdoğan’s bold move to go ahead with the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence in the face of sanctions is a signal to others to follow suit despite the possible consequences. In fact, the US did not dare to punish Turkey as harshly as it would have wanted to and it will now be hard for it to justify punishing others any more harshly than it did Turkey.
Erdoğan humiliated Merkel and Trump at the same time
This week, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clearly demonstrated that empires end their lives when others lose all their fear of them. First, the most courageous ones refuse to respond to their threats, and then those who want to demonstrate the impotence of past hegemons line up. The Turkish leader simultaneously angered Washington and Brussels, and in matters of principle, and what’s most interesting is that, despite all the ominous statements of the Trump administration and the European Commission, Turkey could not be punished in any serious way.
The deal for the purchase of Russian S-400 systems might have seemed an isolated incident, but after Turkey began geological exploration in the territorial waters of Cyprus, it became clear that we are seeing the result of a rethinking of the specific opportunities that Washington and Brussels have in a particular country. Practice shows that in the matter of effective punitive measures in the context of the new geopolitical reality of the multipolar world, the United States and the European Union are far from being as happy as they would like to be.
The TV channel Euronews vividly describes the sanctions that the EU foreign ministers jointly decided to impose on Turkey as a punishment for geological exploration on the Cyprus shelf (which, according to Ankara, is owned by no one but Turkey, which is not recognized by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus):
"The European Union will reduce its financial assistance to Turkey and end high-level talks with the country as part of a set of sanctions for drilling off the coast of Cyprus. The EU foreign ministers, who met in Brussels on Monday, decided to reduce Turkey’s aid by 145.8 million euros by 2020. They also suspended negotiations on an aviation agreement and bilateral negotiations at the highest level between the two countries. Finally, they requested that the European Investment Bank - a non-profit lending institution of the EU – review their lending activities in Turkey, which amounted to 358.8 million euros last year.”
It is easy to see that such sanctions are nothing more than a minor irritant. On the Cyprus shelf, there are oil and gas worth billions of dollars, and yet the European Union did not even threaten Turkish oil companies with sanctions, did not impose restrictions on ships involved in geological exploration, did not impose personal sanctions against Turkish officials and businessmen. These are not sanctions, they are a disgrace to the diplomacy of the European Union, which demonstrated its total impotence when it came to protecting the interests of the EU members that are not the largest countries.
There are also problems with the American sanctions for the purchase of the C-400. As seen in the Chinese and Russian examples, Washington easily introduces restrictive measures but reluctantly removes them, but in this case the threats are not yet supported by real actions.
No, there is no doubt that sooner or later some measures will still be introduced. The problem is that they are likely to be symbolic. The New York Times, the main US print publication, explains the seriousness of the situation, which could turn into a full-fledged NATO crisis:
"According to the Pentagon strategists, the deal (for the purchase. - Editor’s note) could remain an active member of NATO while using Russian-made air defence.”
By rights, Turkey should be expelled from NATO for such misconduct. But the Donald Trump administration is frankly afraid to take such radical steps - especially since later it will be very problematic to bring everything back, and the US president would hardly want to go down in history as the "commander-in-chief who disbanded NATO." Moreover, exposing NATO’s south-eastern flank in the event of Turkey’s withdrawal is an even greater nightmare than the S-400 in the service of the Turkish army.
It is probably possible to impose sanctions against Erdoğan personally and against his entourage, but this would only strengthen the anti-American sentiments of some of the Turkish elite. Of course, Turkey is likely to be denied access to the latest developments, such as the F-35. But judging by the reactions of the Turkish authorities, such a punishment for asserting state sovereignty is not making any particular special impression on them. In this sense, the “Turkish precedent” is rather indicative, for it demonstrates that the US legislation, which practically forces the president to impose restrictions against those countries that make major deals with Russian defence enterprises, is not as potent as it seems. Consequently, Russian arms exporters may obtain additional buyers.
How did Erdoğan, despite the difficult situation in the economy and the defeat of the pro-Erdoğan candidate in the (re)elections of the mayor of Istanbul, find himself in the position of a leader who can cause trouble for Washington and Brussels with impunity? The Turkish leader was probably able to find the pressure points of the European Union and the United States, and these points made it possible for Ankara to change the pro-Western course that Turkey once consistently followed. The vulnerable point of the EU is that “Western liberalism,” of which Vladimir Putin recently said its shelf life had expired. Due to the Syrian crisis, and due to the incessant flow of economic migrants from Afghanistan and other Asian countries, the Turkish leadership has the opportunity to “open the gates to Europe” relatively easily for migrant flows and even help them logistically. And thereby make the crisis worse than in 2015 for Germany and for the European Union as a whole. The first crisis, we recall, almost cost Merkel her political career. And the postulates of this same "Western liberalism” do not allow closing the border of the European Union to the hundreds of thousands of hungry Asian migrants. Under these circumstances, European politicians are simply afraid of introducing really painful penalties against Ankara.
The soft spot of the United States is the desire to preserve at any cost 1) NATO (at least in some form) and 2) its active presence in the Middle East. At the moment - with an eye on a very likely war with Iran, which many hawks in the Trump administration are seeking. Again, under these conditions, the exclusion of Turkey from NATO or any other form of really serious sanctions is too heavy a blow to the US positions in the Middle East. So, most likely, it will have to limit itself to symbolic measures.
So unless Turkey does not slide into a full-fledged economic crisis (and there is such a risk, and it is more likely associated with the financial policies of the Turkish authorities, rather than sanctions), then it can become an example of a successful confrontation with two modern “great powers” – the US and the European Union – simultaneously. Such an example will certainly prove to be contagious, and it bodes no good for relations between the US and the EU with other countries.