Erdogan Sees ‘No Harm’ in Turkey’s Purchase of Russian Missiles S-400 despite NATO Criticism
There will be “no harm” in Turkey’s upcoming purchase of a S-400 ballistic missile system from Russia, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has said, retorting to NATO criticism over the long-negotiated arms deal between Ankara and Moscow.
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”.
In April, 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, and in May, a Russian newspaper reported that the growing rift between Turkey and other NATO members made the S-400 deal more likely to materialize.
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 in 2016 signed intergovernmental agreements for the purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense missile systems, whose delivery is expected in 2020.
There in no harm in Turkey’s missile defense system purchase from Russia, President Recep Erdogan declared on Tuesday in response to a US general’s concerns over the issue, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
“Why will it cause tension? A country should be in search for the ideal ways for its own security,” Erdogan said, addressing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament on July 25.
He argued that fellow NATO member Greece had been using Russian S-300s for years – even though Greece received them by accident, agreeing to take them from the ethnic Greek Republic of Cyprus in a standoff with Turkey in the 1990s.
“We have now taken steps with Russia about this issue. Deals have been inked. In God’s will, we will see S-400 missiles in our country and precede the process with joint production,” the Turkish President said.
Erdogan added that Turkey had been unable to cooperate with the US over the missile system, which was why it was seeking alternatives.
The Turkish leader’s remarks came days after US Gen. Joseph Dunford, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, said Turkey and Russia should not not agree on the procurement of the missile defense system.
“It would be a concern, were they to do that, but they have not done that,” Dunford reportedly said at a security forum in Aspen, Colorado, on July 23.
When asked about media reports on Turkey purchasing the Russian system, the US general called the reports “incorrect.”
However, his remarks contradicted previous statements by Turkish and Russian officials.
Turkey will cooperate with France and Italy on developing a national missile defense project, Deputy Prime Minister Fikri Isik said on July 4, when he was the Defense Minister, adding that the focus was on the “development of systems” rather than purchasing.
He did point out, however, that Turkey was going to meet its immediate demands by buying S-400 systems from Russia.
“All technical work is completed,” Isik added.
Russian presidential aide Vladimir Kozhin said in late June that Moscow and Ankara had agreed on the delivery of the S-400 systems but that the Kremlin had not approved a loan for the deal.
It is noted that Turkey and its NATO ally, the United States, have been at odds in a number of security issues, including Washington’s delivery of arms to the Syrian Kurdish militia (YPG), which Ankara sees as a terrorist group for their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the refusal of the US government to repatriate Pennsylvania-based Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen which has been demanded by Turkey over the July 15, 2016, coup attempt.
Turkey has had especially strained relations with another key NATO ally as well, Germany, over a wide range of issued, with no sign that the rift would be repaired any time soon.
Ivan Dikov, the founder of HeartlandHinterland.com, is the author of the book “Got Nukes, Mr. Dictator? You Hold on to Them!“, among other books.