Turkey and Russia have continued to relish robust and bolstering diplomatic cooperation, which was what distinctly informed Ankara’s decision to procure S-400 Missile Defence System from Moscow. But this move has incurred the wrath of Washington, which has threatened drastic diplomatic consequences if Turkey goes ahead to purchase the missile systems. KINGSLEY OPURUM writes to examine the situation.
Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed not to turn back from a deal to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia, as an informal deadline Washington set for Ankara to respond to a rival offer passed, adding that Ankara may subsequently look into buying S-500 systems.
NATO member, Turkey, has repeatedly said it is committed to buying the Russian missile defence system, despite warnings from the United States-led alliance that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defence system.
US officials had set an informal deadline of February 15 for Ankara to respond to the rival US offer and have said that if Turkey proceeds with the S-400 purchase, Washington will withdraw its offer to sell a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co Patriot missile package.
They have also said it would jeopardise Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets and possibly result in the United States imposing sanctions.
A State Department spokesman said last week that Ankara was told: “acquisition of the S-400 will result in a reassessment of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme, and risk other potential future arms transfers to Turkey.”
The US agreed to sell 100 of its latest fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters to Turkey and has so far delivered two of the aircraft. But Congress, last year, ordered a delay in future deliveries.
NATO nations, particularly the US, view Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made equipment with suspicion. Ankara has insisted that it needs alternative missile defences to counter regional threats.
It goes without saying that Washington’s grave concern about Ankara’s decision to procure the S-400s could eventually result in Turkey supporting Russia’s policies and strategic decisions, whether in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere.
Russia’s advanced S-500 anti-ballistic missile system has been reported to enter service with the Russian armed forces soon.
The first group of military officers is said to complete a training course this year to use S-500, a long-range system that will form the backbone of Russia’s air and missile defence systems, TASS news agency said.
However, speaking to journalists on the flight back from the Russian resort of Sochi, where a three-way summit on Syria between Turkey, Russia and Iran was held, Erdogan said Ankara would press on with the S-400 purchases.
“We made the S-400 deal with Russia, so it is out of the question for us to turn back. That’s done,” Erdogan said, according to broadcaster, NTV.
Erdogan stated that Turkey was open to purchasing Patriot systems from the United States as long as the deal served Turkey’s interests, but added there were issues on delivery and production that were still being discussed with Washington.
“The US administration views the early delivery issue positively, but they won’t say anything about joint production or a credit. We continue our work based on the promise of the S-400 deliveries in July.”
Analysts have opined that the US must also realise that Turkey does not consider Patriot an alternative to the S-400, adding that even if Turkey does buy Patriot, there would be no guarantee that it would not also buy S-400s or other Russian inventory.
Pundits have not picked holes in Ankara’s decision to purchase S-400 missile defence system from Moscow, rather, they have hailed Erdogan for the bold step to buy Russian-made missile system.
US officials have reportedly revealed that the formal Washington offer for Turkey’s purchase of Patriot systems expires at the end of March, after which a new offer would have to be submitted.
Meanwhile, media reports have disclosed that the installation of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in Turkey is slated to begin in October 2019. Selected personnel are believed to be sent to Russia to receive training and return to work in Turkey.
Pundits are of the opinion that Turkey’s Western allies, namely the United States, have failed to cooperate with it in its efforts to boost its defense capabilities, and that Ankara has decided to look outside of the NATO to meet its needs.
While pursuing S-400 project, President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey’s ties with NATO remain strong, and Ankara has sought to secure defense deals with other countries as well.
For years, Patriot air and missile defence systems have proved their mettle as a defence against enemy threats. They are combat-proven and, hence, have found a market for themselves worldwide.
NATO countries use Patriot as it is easier than upgrading their own defence systems to be interoperable, therefore providing greater defensive coverage. However, Turkey, a NATO member, is yet to possess the Patriot system.
Last year, Turkey signed a letter of intent with France and Italy to strengthen cooperation on joint defense projects. As a first step, the Franco-Italian EUROSAM consortium and Turkish companies are expected to look into a system based on the SAMP-T missile systems.