Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Russia is not demanding to land its planes in the İncirlik air base in southern Turkey, as several Russian news services have claimed. “Russia had no demands to use İncirlik air base, those reports are not true,” Yildirim told foreign correspondents in Istanbul on Saturday, according to Hurriyet Daily News. However, the prime minister did agree that should Russia wish to use the base for its operations against ISIS, it would be welcome to do so. Still, Yildirim added, “Russia doesn’t need to use the base. They have bases in Syria.”
Yildirim’s statement concluded an anxiety-filled few days in which Russian news sources were announcing that Russia has been demanding that Turkey give its air force access to the NATO air base in İncirlik, which is where US and coalition air forces take off on their strikes in Syria. Located some 65 miles from the Syrian border, Incirlik is also where an estimated 50 US B-61 nuclear warheads (think 100 Hiroshimas times 50) are kept.
According to Izvestia, a Russian lawmaker named Igor Morozov said it was only a matter of time before Turkish president Erdogan hands over the NATO base at Incirlik to the Russians, to intensify the war against ISIS. “You’ll see, the next base will be İncirlik,” Morozov told Izvestia, shortly after the Kremlin had revealed that Russian bombers have been using an Iranian airbase for their attack on Syria. He predicted İncirlik would be “one more victory for Putin.”
Those statements came against the background of a report by EurActiv, a Belgian foundation focusing on European Union policies, that the US has begun to transfer its nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, for fear of the worsening relations between Washington and Ankara.
EurActiv cites a Stimson issue paper from August 2016, suggesting that during the July failed coup in Turkey, the Incirlik base power was cut, and US planes were not allowed to fly in or out of the base. As the coup was being suppressed, the base commander was arrested. Another source told EurActiv that US-Turkey relations have so deteriorated after the coup that Washington no longer trusted Ankara with the nuclear weapons, and so the warheads are being moved to the Deveselu air base in Romania.
Foreign Policy on Friday debunked the story, quoting a tweet from nuclear weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis, the director of non-proliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, that said Romania does not have the special WS3 vaults needed to store the weapons safely. Also, the Romanian Defense Ministry released a statement saying “so far there have not been any plans or discussions on this topic.”
Of course, this entire brouhaha is borne by Erdogan’s obsession with his former ally and current enemy Fetullah Gulen, whose extradition from the US the Turks have been demanding since the failing of the coup (which Gulen’s supporters may or may not been responsible for). As long as the US insists on following the rule of law on the Gulen extradition, the Turks will persist in these shenanigans, until someone gets seriously hurt.
So far, as that Moscow parliamentarian has put it so aptly, one more victory for Putin.