On July 27th, in Johannesburg, in South Africa, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President called on the leaders of the BRICS countries and namely, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to perform the necessary actions to allow Turkey into the association, as reported by Huriyet Daily News.
“If you take us in… the platform would become BRICST,” said Erdogan while attending the 10th annual BRICS summit in the South African capital.
Hurriyet also quoted the Turkish leader as saying “We are in the G-20 with five of those countries. I wish they would take the necessary steps to let us in and we take our place in BRICS.” He also, according to the Turkish newspaper, added that his suggestion has been welcomed by the BRICS member-states and especially China. According to Erdogan’s words the BRICS group has been considering adding other countries to their ranks. He also pointed out the potential of partnering in economy, investments and development projects with the BRICS countries, according to Hurriyet his exact words regarding the association were “I believe that it is not right to stay away from such groupings.”
Turkey, which remains fully committed to its NATO membership in practice, and shows no wishes to distance itself from it, is, at the same time, developing good relations with Russia in an attempt to “balance its relations”, according to international relations expert Prof Mustafa Aydın, who claims that the established thinking in Turkey is, in his words, quoted by Hurriyet: “From the Turkish perspective, there is a growing feeling that Turkish security perceptions are differing from the rest of the Western alliance.”
The relationship between Turkey and the US started deteriorating with Turkey’s signing of a deal Russia for the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system.
This move caused US retaliation, including blocking the sale of F-35 to Turkey. The United States and other NATO claim the S-400 cannot be integrated into the Atlantic alliance’s defense shield as it poses problems of interoperability.
As Russia will assist Turkey in deploying the S-400, Washington is concerned that Moscow could have access to NATO’s codes, systems and technology, as well as technical information on the F-35A Lightning II jet. Ahmet Berat Conkar, a member of the Turkish Parliament and head of Turkey’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said Ankara “offered to fully cooperate with NATO to eliminate their concerns with regard to the S-400’s installation,” as reported by the Asia Times. Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy claimed that “Turkey may try to come down the ladder on the S-400 issue to show goodwill in return for US willingness to offer a favorable deal in Manbij regarding YPG presence there.”
Following that, there has also been the issue of Manbij, Northern Syria. Turkey has been angered by US backing of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the city. On March 28th, 2018, the Turkish National Security Council issued a statement saying “Terrorists in Manbij need to leave the region immediately; otherwise Turkey will not hesitate to take its own initiative as it did in other regions. Turkey will maintain the same steadfastness against terrorist groups east of the Euphrates.”
The statement came after US and Turkish diplomats continued their attempts to easy the tension, with Turkey demanding the US to pressure the SDF to withdraw from Manbij.
The Manbij Military Council (MMC) was created in 2016 by SDF, during the offensive on Manbij, its purpose is to mask the presence of YPG in the city. As reported by DW, from Turkey’s perspective, the Manbij Military Council is nothing more than a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/ People’s Protection Units (YPG) pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Ankara says the YPG is the Syria branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist organization.
On June 4th, Turkey’s foreign minister announced a roadmap that would see the US-backed Kurdish forces removed from Manbij. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Turkish and US units would work together to implement security and stability in Manbij, and the removal of all YPG organizations from Manbij would be completed. However, on June 6th, militia in Manbij said that they “will not accept” Turkish military presence in the city, as reported by Reuters. Saleh Muslim, former president of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), whereas YPG is the armed wing of the PYD, expressed his concern with the agreement to the German Press Agency and noted that “If our interests coincide with the Americans, we will go with them.” Turkey views the PYD as an extension of the PKK, this is reinforced by a photograph of PYD militants posing in front of a picture of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK . If our interests coincide with the Russians, we will go with them. If our interests coincide with Al-Assad, we will go with him.” This showed Kurdish leaders’ resentment towards the roadmap.
However, on July 15th, Reuters reported that “The Manbij Military Council announces that the last batch of (YPG) military advisers completed its withdrawal on July 15, 2018, after completing their mission of military training and preparation of our forces…,” according a statement issued by the militia controlling the city. The Manbij Military Council, which is part of the SDF has repeatedly said that there were no YPG fighters in Manbij, and that there were only military advisers, who have as of July 15th left the city.
The Turkish General Staff said in a statement on June 24 that the two countries’ forces conducted patrols separately in the west of Manbij. The first patrols by Turkish and U.S. troops in the region began on June 18 and the 11th round of patrolling was completed on July 15, when reportedly the last military advisors left. The 21st round of patrols under the deal with the US to rid the area of the YPG/PKK terror group was completed on July 28th.
Most recently, on July 25th, US Congress officially delayed the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey by 90 days. The Defense Secretary’s report is to include an assessment of the presence of US diplomatic and military activities within Turkey. It will also contain an assessment of the impact of the potential purchase of the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf surface to air-missile system by Turkey.
Following the reveal of a draft 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, US Defense Secretary is to prepare an extensive report on Turkish-American relations and Turkey’s role in the F-35 program.
On June 21st, Turkey received its first F-35 in a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. However, the ceremony did not really deliver any actual F-35 under Turkey’s control and according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu no jets will arrive prior to 2020. Hurriyet daily news reported on July 24th that Ankara said was not expecting any problems with the delivery of the F-35 jets, despite the decision to block the sale of the aircraft. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, when asked about the bill by reporters answered: “Following the bill’s passing [in the U.S. Senate], this issue, as you know, is completely at the disposal of U.S. President [Donald Trump]. During our meeting in Brussels, Mr. Trump has also shown us the written statement he made. Such an issue [the banning of the delivery of F-35 jets] is out of question,” referring to his meeting with President Donald Trump on July 11th at the NATO summit in Brussels.
The worsening of tensions between Ankara and Washington has been developing throughout 2018, and even prior to that with US concerns over TurkStream, and especially the Kurdish issue.
Any further confrontation or threat of or actual sanctions will likely push Turkey into an even further cooperation with Moscow and its allies.