Erdogan Pivots East, Puts One Foot out of NATO

In the wake of the failed military coup which he survived, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already putting his shoulder behind the job of repairing his fractured relations with President Vladimir Putin whom he meets in St. Petersburg as soon as Aug 9.
Russia “isn’t just our close and friendly neighbor, but also a strategic partner,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, when he announced the visit, after discussing it in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Arkady Dvorkovich on July 26.
“Today, we are here to normalize the situation and our relations as soon as possible and at an accelerated pace since they were disrupted on November 24.”
He was referring to the shooting down by Turkish F-16 fighter jets of a Russian Su-24 all-weather warplane near the Syrian border.
There’ll be no shortage of things for the two presidents to discuss at the summit in St. Petersburg, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call Tuesday, after Putin conferred with the Russian Security Council on the Erdogan visit.
For the nine months after the downing of the Russian jet, Moscow and Ankara teetered on the brink of war, with Russia piling up fighter planes, radar systems and S-300 and S-400 Russian missiles in Syria, in case opportunity arise to strike back at the Turkish Air Force.
But the military putsch that failed to unseat the Turkish president changed all that. On July 17, two days later, Putin and Erdogan were not only talking about a rushed reconciliation, but ready to go forward towards a strategic alliance.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources offer a number of causes for this radical turnaround:
1. Russian media claimed that Russian intelligence forewarned the Turkish President of the military revolt that was thwarted in the early hours of July 16. The tip-off was said to have derived from sensitive Turkish military radio messages picked up and decoded by Russia's military intelligence monitors at Khmeymim airbase in Syria. The conspirators were reported to be planning to dispatch several helicopters to Erdogan's hotel in Marmaris to capture or kill him.
The Russian Defense Ministry passed this secret plan to the Turkish MIT intelligence agency in time for Erdogan to go to elude his enemies and seize the initiative for foiling the plot.
Our intelligence sources have not been able to corroborate this version of events. Neither has Ankara.
When he announced the forthcoming Erdogan talks with Putin, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister said on Tuesday: “I have no information on this matter.”
2. The deteriorating relations between Turkey and the US and especially their presidents. While officials in Washington, including the Pentagon, are leaning over backwards to paint a bright picture of military cooperation and unobstructed US-Turkish warfare on ISIS, the Incirlik episode is casting a dark albeit unacknowledged cloud.
One of Erdogan’s first actions after defeating the coup against him was to place the big Incirlik air base in southern Turkey in lockdown and switch off its power supply.
The 1,500 US Air Force personnel based there along with America’s Middle East nuclear weapons arsenal found themselves under siege and US Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing’s bomber and fighter planes grounded.
It was only on July 22, that power was restored to the air base and its operations partly resumed.
Turkish and US officials have alike taken care not to link America’s use of the important air base with Erdogan’s insistent demand for the extradition of the Turkish leader in exile, Fethullah Gulen, who has US citizenship, as the alleged brain behind the coup attempt. However, both parties know that, so long as the Obama administration resists this demand, Turkey may at any time clamp a new lockdown on Incirlink, holding the Americans posted there for air strikes against ISIS as virtual hostages – or worse.
When he watches this half-hidden scenario playing out, Putin must be rubbing his hands in glee and more than ready to turn it to profit.
So, if or when the Americans get fed up with Turkish harassment and decide to exit Incirlik, Putin will leap on
the chance of getting the Russian Air Force installed in their place.
(See DEBKA Weekly 716 of July 8: Putin Wants to Post Russian Warplanes at Incirlik and Other US Mid-East Air Bases).
Furthermore, if Erdogan forces the Americans to remove the sixty-seventy B61 gravity nuclear bombs stored at the base, this will be tantamount to Turkey’s withdrawal from NATO.
For the Russian leader, this development would be a huge personal and national strategic victory of paramount importance.
3. But Erdogan’s overriding motive after all may be his post-coup resolve to narrow down his political, strategic, and financial ties with the nations of Europe. This means finally relinquishing his long bid to join the European Union, and turning his face toward what seems to be a brighter future as a Central Asian power.
Turkey’s withdrawal from NATO would open the door to membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization – CSTO, alongside Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Erdogan envisions this treaty expanding with China soon following Turkey into the alliance.
Beijing too is on the move since its announcement in March of plans to create a new Central Asian security bloc.

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