Turkey’s ‘Rift with West’ Paving Way for S-400 Missile Deal with Russia, Moscow’s First with NATO Member, Russian Paper Says
What is described as Turkey’s widening “rift with the West” may clear the way for its purchase of a S-400 ballistic missile system from Russia, a deal which is still in the making but has come closer to being realized, according to a Russian newspaper.
In February, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said Turkey was increasingly likely to strike a deal with Russia for the purchase of S-400 long-range air missile defense systems, and that it hoped that NATO “will understand”.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Turkey and Russia were still holding talks related to the S-400 missile system sale, including joint production and the price.
Turkey and Russia have been negotiating on their defense cooperation, in particular the former purchasing the S-400 missile system from the latter, since their rapprochement in August 2016.
Before that, relations between the two powers had been strained for several months following the downing of a Russian fighter jet by the Turkish Air Force at the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015.
Turkey had been trying to complete the purchase of a long-range air missile defense system since September 2013 when its Military Procurement Agency, the undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), selected as a vendor the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) FD-2000 (HQ-9).
Even though according to Turkish officials the Chinese offer was the best deal in terms of price and technology transfer, Turkey had to abandon it in November 2015 over major pressure by NATO.
Turkey’s Defense Minister has argued that there are some NATO countries using non-NATO systems, referring to Greece or former communist NATO member states in Eastern Europe which continue to operate Soviet Era weapon systems.
Turkish media have commented that Turkey may decide to use Russian missiles without integrating them into NATO systems, as Greece did for its Russian S-300 missile system located on the Aegean island of Crete.
Long-time NATO member Greece did not acquire the S-300 missiles from Russia but received them from the Republic of Cyprus under a weapon exchange following, Cyprus’ 1997-1998 missile crisis with Turkey.
Both China and India signed in 2016 intergovernmental agreements for the purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense missile systems, whose delivery is expected in 2020.
On April 16, a narrow majority of the Turks approved the transformation of their country into a presidential republic in a referendum disputed by the opposition and criticized by international observers.
The S-400 missile system deal between Turkey and Russia could be discussed during the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan scheduled for May 3, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier, Russian newspaper Izvestiya reported, as cited by state-run news agency TASS.
Another Russian anti-ballistic missile system, the S-300V, is reported to be presently competing in a Turkish tender against the US Patriot system.
The newspaper points out that in 2014 and 2015, the United States pressured Turkey into giving up on its decision to buy China’s HQ-9 missile system, which is said to be a lower-quality version of Russia’s S-300.
It is noted that Washington exerted pressure on Turkey by “using threats of freezing some military and technical projects as part of NATO”.
The current move by Russia and Turkey to agree on supplies of long-range missile systems seems to have more chances of being fulfilled, Mikhail Barabanov, a researcher at the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategic and Technologies (CAST), told the paper.
The reports emphasizes that a source close to the Russian Defense Ministry said that if Turkey bought Russia’s missile system, that would be the first deal of its kind in the history of the relations between Russia and NATO, i.e. the first time a NATO member state would buy a Russian missile system.
The source is quoted as stressing that political factors play a key role in Turkey’s decision on the deal with Russia.
The Russian newspaper writes that if Turkey goes through with the S-400 purchase it will be making a statement to the West since NATO arguably “did not offer due support” to Turkish President Recep Erdogan and the Turkish government during the failed July 2016 coup attempt.
According to the source cited by the Izvestiya, it is still unknown how many S-400 systems Turkey might buy from Russia but the deal is expected to be worth more than USD 2 billion.