By Fehim Tastekin
ISTANBUL (Al-Monitor) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have returned buoyed from the March 24 NATO summit in Brussels, hoping that the Russian war against Ukraine will encourage Western nations to remove bans on military sales to Turkey. While European countries are likely to be more flexible, US sanctions remain a tough row to hoe.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revived NATO and relatively eased Erdogan’s diplomatic isolation in the Western fold. Erdogan held bilateral meetings with the leaders of France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Estonia at the summit, and pressed for the removal of direct and indirect sanctions that NATO allies have slapped on Turkey’s defense industry amid frequent rows in recent years.
Referring to the role of the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 armed drones in bolstering Ukraine’s defenses against Russia, Erdogan said, “Given the obvious success of Turkey’s defense industry, there is no reasonable justification for the obstructions we face in this field. The lifting of restrictions imposed by some allies will be in our common interest. Covert or direct embargoes should not be even mentioned between allies. I shared our expectations with the leaders.”
Erdogan’s message is directed at a long list of recipients.
The United States expelled Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense systems. Arms sales to Turkey were effectively halted in light of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, in which Turkey backed Azerbaijan against Armenia, prompted scrutiny of the Bayraktar drones. Turkey’s request to upgrade its existing F-16 fleet and buy new F-16s has been snagged by Congress. The United States has refused to approve the sale of MK41 vertical launching systems and rolling airframe missiles, which Turkey planned to use respectively on its locally made ISTIF-class frigates and ADA-class corvettes. A 2018 deal for Turkey’s sale of 30 T129 ATAK helicopters to Pakistan has fallen through due to US reluctance to issue export licenses for the US-British-made engine. The sale of the same helicopter to the Philippines was greenlit, however, and Turkey delivered the first two of six helicopters earlier this month.