Erdoğan may have bought S-400s over fear of Turkish air force - Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might have chosen Russian S-400 missile systems over U.S.-made patriot batteries due to his fears of the country’s air force, Reuters said on Thursday, citing three U.S. officials and defence sources.

The delivery of the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems started three days before the third anniversary of 2016 failed coup attempt, during which Turkish F-16 pilots bombed the parliament and presidential palace in Ankara, and Erdoğan’s flight to Istanbul was nearly shot down after he had evaded capture at a villa in the coastal town of Marmaris. 

“It may just be a coincidence, but there could hardly be a more fitting week for Russia to start shipping the new S-400 missile defence system to Turkey than the third anniversary of the failed military coup,” Hareetz said on Tuesday. 

The theory that the decision to buy Russian systems might be linked to the coup attempt has gained ground within the U.S. administration, Reuters said. 

The Patriot batteries which would avoid friendly fire against NATO warplanes might have failed to ease Erdoğan’s concerns according to this theory.

“There’s some talk that he (Erdoğan) wants the (Russian) system just to protect himself. He doesn’t want a NATO-integrated system,” Reuters quoted as one U.S. official as saying. 

According to another U.S. official, some Turkish officials described their own air force as one of the top security threats facing the country during a 2018 meeting. “And the S-400 system was designed to counter NATO aircraft,” the official said.

A senior Turkish official talking to Reuters denied that concern about the military was a motivating factor in the decision to buy S-400 systems. 

But Tamer Korkmaz, a columnist of the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper said on Monday that the fact that the delivery of S-400s had coincided with the third anniversary of the failed coup on July 15 was noteworthy, adding that buying the Russian systems meant Turkey was no more under the yoke of the United States. 

Since the failed putsch, Turkish pro-government outlets have accused the United States of helping coup plotters by allowing them to use İncirlik airbase in the southern province of Adana.  Early in June, Yeni Şafak said that starting the delivery of the S-400 systems would be a message to the United States’ attitude during the coup attempt citing a retired brigadier general. 

The government also blames Washington for denying the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a cleric that heads a religious movement, which Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the putsch.

The Turkish officials also chose an airbase in Ankara, which was used by the coup plotters on the night of the failed putsch, for the installation of the S-400 systems. The radar of the Russian systems is expected to remain in the same airbase, which has been downgraded since the coup attempt.