“The president is deceiving his own people” said political circles in Ankara and Istanbul as they followed in disbelief press statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the margins of the G20 Summit meeting in Japan that concluded in Osaka on Sunday.
Erdogan had claimed that Turkey would receive the first tranche of the controversial Russian S-400 missile system within the next ten days and that “there will be no US sanctions” against Turkey as a result.
The statement surprised officials working for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since they knew it was not true. It seems that Erdogan has been deliberately lying to his own people in reiterating his slogan of “no compromise on the country’s security and sovereignty” and claiming that the Russian missiles will be coming to Ankara as planned.
Perhaps he is hoping to restore some of his popularity after the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party’s defeat in Istanbul’s mayoral elections in June.
Before his trip, Erdogan implied that he would be travelling to Japan with great hopes and dreams and would try to promote them amid a mixture of promises and threats.
The question now is whether he will be able to convince those he met in Osaka of his point of view or whether this was all talk and no action given his ambiguous comments on the Russian missiles.
Despite warnings by those well-versed in the already tense Turkish-US relations, Erdogan has continued to deny that US President Donald Trump will take action against Turkey should the country, a NATO member, accept delivery of the Russian missiles.
Erdogan believes that Trump is sympathetic to Turkey and blames the administration of former US president Barack Obama for the conditions Washington placed on Turkey for purchasing US-made Patriot missiles should it also buy the Russian ones.
However, Trump has described the S-400 deal as “undoubtedly a problem,” saying that “the US is facing a complicated situation on how to respond” and “there is a possibility of sanctions” against Turkey.
The Turkish media, under the thumb of the ruling AKP, was quick to praise what it described as a drop in the value of foreign currency against the Turkish lira at the start of trading on 1 July, especially since the lira rose by 2.45 per cent against the US dollar.
The Turkish stock exchange index also rose, which the media said was due to Erdogan’s successes in Osaka.
It said that Ankara could not cancel the missile deal with Russia to please the Americans and that it would in no way impact the dozens of F-35s it will be buying from the US together with a training package for the pilots to fly them.
However, commentators have criticised the media’s optimism, saying that the US is a country of institutions and that it will not reverse the Pentagon’s objections to selling US fighter jets to a country armed with Russian missiles. Ankara has until 31 July to cancel the Russian deal or face the consequences, they said.
A report by the US think tank the Baker Institute on the S-400 missile crisis in June said that “the US and other NATO members have several harsh options to punish Turkey, most notably expelling it from NATO or imposing strict economic and collective sanctions.” It could also refuse to sell F-35 fighters to Ankara if it does not back down from the purchase of the Russian missiles.
The report said that Turkey would be “the biggest loser” if its membership of NATO was terminated or if NATO members downgraded their relations with Ankara, meaning that it would need to up defence spending at the expense of development.
This would greatly impact the daily lives of Turkish citizens already suffering serious economic hardships and could cause Ankara to curb its political ambitions in the region. It would also lose the trust of the US and EU, which is already wavering.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Erdogan ‘deceiving his people’