U.S. should call Erdoğan’s bluff on Patriot missiles - Bloomberg columnist

By asking the United States to deploy Patriot batteries on Turkey’s southern border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might be signalling his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that relations between Turkey and Russia are about to collapse as a result of tensions over the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, Bloomberg columnist Bobby Ghosh said on Friday.

The columnist said it was hard to know how seriously to take Turkey’s request that had been conveyed last week to James Jeffrey, the American envoy for Syria engagement. 

Ostensibly, the Patriots are meant to deter — or punish — the Russian air force, which has been providing cover for Syrian forces which in turn have killed 15 Turkish soldiers in Idlib since the beginning of February, Ghosh said. 

“But there is a strong possibility that the request is a ruse, and that the message is meant for Moscow, not Washington,” he said. “Erdoğan may be signaling to President Vladimir Putin that the new Turkish-Russian relationship is at peril over Idlib."

Erdoğan might want Moscow to believe that Russia’s actions in Idlib could push Turkey to mend ties with its Western allies, Ghosh said. 

“If it is indeed a bluff, Putin is unlikely to be taken in — and the U.S. should call it,” he said.

The relations between Turkey and Russia have been bourgeoning since 2016. Turkey’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 missile defence systems has strained its relations with the United States, which halted the delivery of 100 F-35 jets to Turkey and suspended Turkey’s participation to the programme to build the stealth fighters.

Turkey and Russia agreed in 2018 to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib to prevent a potential attack of the Syrian government on the rebel-held enclave. But Syrian forces launched in April an assault on Idlib, where Turkey has 12 observation posts. Russia, which backs the Bashar Assad government, says Turkey failed in removing jihadist fighters from Idlib. 

“By asking for the United States to deploy the Patriots, Turkey is in effect calling for American boots on the ground in the middle of the conflict,” Ghosh said. 

But U.S. President Donald Trump, who genuinely seems to like Erdoğan, can respond favourably to Turkey’s demands, Ghosh said. "He can ignore a request for Patriots made through Jeffrey, but should Erdoğan, responding to continued Russian action against Turkey and its proxies, get on the phone to the White House… anything is possible."