For years, Ali Babacan was the moderate, European-oriented face of Turkey, serving as Ankara’s chief negotiator in the country’s European Union accession talks.

Over a span of 13 years he served as foreign minister and minister of economy, and between 2002 and 2015 he was deputy prime minister of Turkey. He was effectively one of Erdogan’s closest associates.

Abandoning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party in 2019, Babacan now leads his own Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and he has turned against his former boss with a vengeance, accusing him of destroying the country’s prestige and reputation internationally, particularly in the area of defence and foreign policy.

Turkey’s expulsion from F-35 fighter jets programme

Babacan lambasted Erdogan over Turkey’s being kicked out of the American F-35 fighter jet programme [due to Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems], in which Turkey was a partner, producing hundreds of core parts of the aircraft (for the center fuselage, cockpit display systems and other components).

Turkey has invested $1.4bn in the programme, and Erdogan hopes to recoup money from the procurement of 40 F-16 fighter jets and an upgrade of dozens more in Ankara’s fleet.

“They [the Turkish government] has destroyed our reputation around the world. As a friend of yours who served as Turkish Minster of European Affairs and Foreign Affairs, my heart is melting. I ask, where are the F-35 fighter jets in which we are partners [in the production programme], for which we paid billions of dollars?” Babacan said.

“We were one of four partners that had the technology. We spent billions of dollars during our tenure. They were unable to bring the planes, for which we had acquired ownership rights.”

Criticism of F-16s deal: ‘Is this an independent country?’

Babacan also unleashed scathing criticism of Erdogan over the F-16s, which the Biden administration wants to sell Turkey, because there is a push in Congress to impose limitations on their use.

“The American Congress says, “I will give you the F-16’s, but they will not fly over the Aegean. You will not fly over areas over which there is a dispute with the Greeks,” Babacan said.

“Is this sovereignty? Is this an independent country? Did we not build an F-16 factory in Turkey? This country produced F-16s in the 1990’s. Today they are asking for F-16s from the US, and America wants us to pledge before it delivers them that they will not fly over the Aegean,” he said.