After failing to block Turkey’s purchase of the advanced S-400 Russian air defense system, Washington diplomacy in recent months appeared to have managed to “flip” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to support of US interests in several critical countries from Libya to Armenia to Ukraine, even Afghanistan. With the Turkish economy on the brink of catastrophe as the Lira plunges, it looks more and more like cynical strategists in Washington could have merely lured the wily Erdogan into a deadly bear trap.
Turkish President Erdogan has been called a master at playing off all sides to his advantage, a political chameleon who has flipped from Washington and NATO of which Turkey is a vital member, to Russia and Iran and also China.
In 2016 he accused the CIA of being behind a coup attempt to assassinate him and bring the CIA-controlled networks of exiled Fethullah Gülen into power as Washington had had enough of Erdogan’s flips in allegiance. The coup failed and reports were that Russian intelligence intercepts were given Erdogan that saved his life. After that, relations with Moscow improved markedly. In November 2015 Russia had imposed a severe travel ban to Turkey of Russian tourists and a ban on Turkish food imports in retaliation for a Turkish jet shooting down a Russian jet inside Syrian territory, an act of war. The Russian sanctions hit the Turkish economy deeply.
Then Erdogan began a shift towards Moscow. In 2017 Turkey ignored repeated protests from Washington and NATO and agreed to buy the advanced Russian S-400 air defense missile system, said to be the most advanced in the world. The same time Russia began construction of the first of two Black Sea gas pipelines to Turkey, TurkStream in October 2016, further distancing Ankara and Washington.
2018 Lira Crisis
By 2018 relations between Washington and Ankara had become strained to put it mildly. The Big Three US credit rating agencies, Fitch, Moody’s and S&P all downgraded Turkey’s sovereign debt to “junk” status citing Erdogan’s recent hostile political moves. The result was a free-fall of the Lira forcing the Central Bank to sharply raise interest rates and strangle economic growth in the process. By August 2018 the US was also imposing economic sanctions on Turkey demanding the release of Andrew Brunson and other US citizens accused of espionage on behalf of the 2016 Gülen coup attempt.