Turkey’s deployment of Russian missiles will mean a Turkxit from West - analyst

Turkey’s deployment of Russian missiles at the heart of its air defence network would have repercussions beyond the military sphere and make its drift away from the West a reality, Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said on Friday.

Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of cancelling a reported $2.5 billion deal with Russia to buy S-400 missiles, despite the objections by Turkey’s NATO allies, who are concerned the system could collect data on NATO jets and undermine their defences.

Four U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would prohibit the transfer of new generation F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey until the U.S. government was satisfied Ankara’s planned purchase of the S-400s would not go through.

Two U.S. sources familiar with the F-35s worldwide production process and U.S. thinking told Reuters on Thursday that Ankara’s role in the jet’s production could be replaced

But speaking in Antalya on Friday at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Çavuşoğlu said Ankara would honour the deal with Moscow, adding that the two countries were now discussing delivery dates. 

Pierini said the United States and other NATO members would not accept any access by Russia that would damage the integrity of the F-35 fighter jets. While Moscow had already confirmed that the S-400 would come with Russian personnel, Turkey says that it would operate the S-400 system without Russian technical assistance, an argument that is unconvincing according to Pierini. 

Instead of strategic independence, Ankara would enter a stage of dependence on Moscow if the S-400 batteries were deployed in late 2019 at two non-NATO bases in Turkey, according to the analyst. “Turkey would be a prisoner of the Russian presence on its soil, with hardware, software, and personnel. This dependence would only deepen if Moscow were to provide Turkey with Russian Su-57 stealth fighters should Washington cancel the F-35 deliveries,” he said. 

Pierini questioned whether Turkey would act in solidarity with NATO and fulfil its commitments to the alliance under such circumstances, in case of a crisis in eastern Ukraine, the Baltic, or the Middle East, where Ankara also partners with Iran. “If suddenly drawn into the crisis, would Turkey call NATO for help or use its Russian missiles? Could Moscow retain veto power over the use of the S-400s in such circumstances?” he asked

NATO might also reconsider the role of its forward bases in the Mediterranean and the Middle East by taking into account the uncertainties stemming from the S-400 deployment in Turkey, Pierini said. “More generally, would NATO continue to include Turkish soldiers in its operations to counter Russian military activities around Europe? In other words, would Turkey’s participation in NATO activities continue uninterrupted?” he asked.

Deployment of the Russian missiles at the heart of Turkey’s air defence network will have repercussions beyond the military sphere, the analyst said. “If the S-400s are eventually deployed, Turkey’s drift away from the West would become real.”