May 23 2019

Turkey aims to reduce defence dependency with S-400 deal - defence minister

With its controversial purchase of Russian missile defence systems Turkey aims to break free from its status as a “market” nation, a journalist from pro-government daily Yeni Şafak quoted Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying on Wednesday.

Yet the damage caused to the NATO alliance by Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400s will be light compared to the repercussions if Ankara pursues further defence manufacturing partnerships with Moscow, according to expert analysis.

U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that the presence of Russian hardware in Turkey will endanger sensitive data from NATO systems, particularly the new generation F-35 jets, which Turkish defence firms helped produce.

However, Akar dismissed these concerns during an iftar meal with journalists at the defence ministry on Wednesday night.

“You want to be the manufacturer, while we are the market. No. Turkey is no longer a market. We are going to form a partnership,” Yeni Şafak journalist Mehmet Acet quoted Akar as saying about the S-400 deal.

Turkish officials have said they signed the deal for the Russian missile systems in Dec. 2017 after the United States turned down proposals to co-produce U.S.-built Patriot systems.

However, the S-400 deal included “weaker co-production terms than (Turkey) had previously demanded of firms in the United States and Europe”, Foreign Policy Research Institute director Aaron Stein said in an article for War on the Rocks on Thursday.

Nevertheless, the Turkish defence minister was unequivocal that the deal with Russia would not be cancelled, and confirmed that Turkish personnel had travelled to Russia to receive training for the new systems.

The next phase of the purchase will see the delivery of S-400 systems to Turkey in July before they are deployed in October.

When Akar spoke on Wednesday of the S-400 deal leading Turkey to a “new world”, his words echoed months of speculation that the purchase could deal a severe blow to the NATO alliance.

With that deal likely to go through, Turkey will already face expulsion from the F-35 programme and targeted U.S. sanctions.

But Turkish officials have hinted that even deeper defence ties with Russia are on the horizon, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu touting co-production of the Russian Su-57 fighter jet as a possible replacement for the F-35s, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussing a project to co-produce a missile.

“If Ankara were to reach agreement with Russia to co-produce components of either of these systems, the United States could decide that Russia could gain access to U.S. origin defense equipment, resulting in the revocation of licenses for U.S.-controlled technology”, Stein said.

This could also entail the United States moving its airbases away from Turkey, with Greece, Poland and Romania likely candidates, he said.

The FPRI scholar added that it would be “imprudent” not to expect Turkish retaliatory measures, and these could include preventing the United States from launching operations from Turkish territory.

Akar declined to respond to questions on retaliatory measures, telling journalists “when we say some things too early they lose their magic”.

For now, despite reports earlier this month of a possible U-turn on the S-400 purchase, the deal appears to be proceeding at full pace, and attempts by U.S. officials to dissuade their Turkish colleagues are falling on deaf ears.

Turkish officials have denied reports circulating this week that the United States set a deadline in early June to cancel the deal or face sanctions, Middle East Eye reporter Ragıp Soylu said in a report published Thursday.