Recent years have seen an erosion in the US-Turkish relationship. Aside from Erdogan’s undemocratic policies and conflict over Middle East policy, the S-400 System dispute ranks among the most divisive. Ankara and Moscow signed a deal back in 2017, for Turkey to acquire the Russian air defense system and received its first instalments in 2019. Washington responded by cutting Turkey out of the F-35 program and threatening sanctions.
After years of discord and on the dawn of a new US presidency, Turkey has signaled that it seeks to resolve the dispute through a compromise; one that Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar has likened to that struck with Greece after it acquired the Russian S-300 System to defend Greek Cyprus in 1997. The crisis this caused was resolved in a 1998 compromise where Greece agreed to deploy the system in Crete rather than Cyprus.
The modern geopolitical landscape is not a carbon copy of 1998, however. In 1998, Russia was seen as more of a potential partner and its capacity to become an threat in NATO’s eyes was uncertain. As a matter of fact, Russia signed up to the NATO Partnership for Peace Program with then-President Bill Clinton stating that this will eventually lead to Russian membership in NATO. Today, Russia is seen as a great power competitor by Western governments.
However, Turkey and NATO still have a lot to gain from cooperation. Turkish and Russian relations are not the greatest, even if the nations have worked together on some joint interests and Turkey is experiencing tensions with its neighbors to the east and west. For NATO, Turkey is prime strategic real estate, projecting power over the Middle East at a time when other members are increasingly reluctant to intervene in the region while also towering over the Black Sea and Dardanelles in Russia’s underbelly.
Turkey insists that the S-400 weapon system will not be integrated with NATO armaments. Ankara claims that it poses no threats to the alliance and its tech secrets but American officials are inclined to disagree. So far, the Biden administration has not responded to Turkey’s calls for dialogue on the issue. Whether the Turkish invitation to talks will lead anywhere is uncertain.