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Turkey in the Midst of Superpower Weapons Drama


Anton Chekhov said, “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must go off in the third.” In the drama that is unfolding between the United States, Turkey and Russia, the U.S. F-35 advanced fighter jets and Russian S-400 air defence missile systems that Turkey is attempting to obtain feature in every scene.

A saga a century ago had the same opening scenes. In 1911, in order to modernise its navy in response to the ongoing Greek conflict in the Aegean, the Ottoman Empire ordered two battleships from Britain. In 1914, a delegation lead by Ottoman naval officer Rauf Orbay went to London in order to procure the ships and deposit the final payment. The delegation had paid the full amount and was awaiting delivery of the ships, which were to be named “Sultan Osman” and “Reşadiye” and already had Ottoman flags waving from their masts. On August 1, 1914, three days after the First World War began, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill cancelled the delivery of the ships.

Reşadiye Dreadnought. Credit:

The British knew that the Ottoman Empire had made a secret pact with Germany, and did not want technology falling into German hands. The Ottoman Empire had not yet entered the war, but had started a propaganda campaign to prepare the public for joining the conflict. Britain was well aware.

The Germans knew that the Ottoman Empire was experiencing military and economic troubles, but Istanbul had the potential to mobilise the Muslim populations in British and French colonies, and to close the Bosporus Straits to Russian vessels. Germany needed to do everything in its power to bring the Ottomans into the war on their side. The Ottomans had previously wanted to join the war on the British-French side. But Britain and France wanted to divide up the Ottoman Empire, practically pushing it towards Germany.

Two German battleships, the Goeben and the Breslau, were pursued by British and French ships in the Mediterranean. On August 10, they passed through the Dardanelles Straits and took refuge in the Ottoman Empire. As retaliation for the two ships that they paid for and never received, the Ottoman Empire declared they had purchased these two German ships. They hoisted the Ottoman flag on their masts and renamed the ships “Yavuz Sultan Selim” and “Midilli”. But the captain and crew of the ships remained the same. In fact, the German crew began to wear fezzes on their heads. The German captain of these ships, Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, was brought to the Ottoman Naval Command.

Admiral Souchon and his Personnel. Credit:

Under the guise of conducting drills, the Yavuz and Midilli entered the Black Sea under Souchon’s command and began bombing Russian ports. In response, on November 11, 1914, Russia, Britain, and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The weapons the Ottomans received from Germany, in the place of the weapons they were supposed to receive from former ally Britain, brought about the end of the Ottomans.

Today, Turkey wants the latest model F-35 fighter jets and has long been a partner in the project to develop them and has already paid a deposit. But the U.S. Congress has voted to block the delivery of the planes to Turkey. For now, the decision is not binding. The Defense Department is to submit a report to Congress on whether Turkey is a good partner first.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attempts to secure the delivery of Russian S-400 air defence missiles that could potentially feed data on NATO aircraft back to Moscow is the main reason for the Congress decision.

Some government Turkish officials say the S-400s will be delivered at the beginning of 2019, but others say it will be midway through the year. The location of the S-400s is also being prepared. But there have yet to be any reports of personnel going to or coming from Russia for training on the S-400s.

Fatih Altaylı reported in Habertürk that once S-400s are in Turkey, they will be operated by Russians, and that Russians will train Turkish personnel over time.

Meanwhile, delivery dates for a portion of the F-35s are set for 2020 to 2021, and Turkey has already sent personnel to the United States for training, which is still ongoing.

If the S-400s are deployed in Turkey, at least one Russian base will be built in the country. This has three important implications:

The first is that the goal of expanding into warm waters set by Peter the Great (d. 1725) will be one step closer to fruition. For the first time since 1733, when Mahmut II gave concessions to the Russians with the Treaty of Hünkar Iskelesi, that Turkey will have granted Russia such privileges. Erdoğan will give to Russian President Vladimir Putin the bases that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin tried and failed to procure from Turkey. Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs under Stalin, held multiple meetings with Turkish Ambassador Selim Sarper in Moscow to suggest a joint base on the Bosporus Straits and adjustments to the borders at Kars, Ardahan, and Artvin, but these overtures were rejected.

The second is that according to Radio Free Europe, the United States has 35 bases around the world, whereas Russia has 9.

The new U.S. bases in Syria are not included in this list. If S-400s are procured, Turkey will be the only country other than Syria to have both an American and a Russian base.

The third is that according to Sputniknews, Russia has declared that it will not provide Turkey the codes to operate the S-400s.

Even if S-400s are deployed in Turkey, they will be under Russian control. The danger here is that, just as command of the Yavuz and Midilli warships was handed to foreign officers, so will control of them S-400s. If these missiles lock on to a U.S. warplane operating out of the Incirlik air base, what will happen then?

Only time will tell when the guns hanging on the wall will finally go off.

This article was originally published here. 

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