Turkey’s public welcome of S-400s meant to highlight shift away from U.S. - analysis

Turkey’s choreographed reception of shipments of Russia’s S-400 missile defence systems last month was intentional and meant to underscore the country’s shift away from the United States, said journalist Niko Efstathiou in Greek daily Kathimerini on Tuesday.

Turkey started receiving S-400 components three days before the anniversary of a 2016 coup attempt on July 15, which Ankara says was led by a religious group headed by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkish TV channels live broadcast the arrival of S-400 shipments at an airbase in Ankara, which was downgraded by the government after the coup attempt on the grounds that it had been used as the headquarters of coup plotters within the military. 

“The links between the purchase of the Russian anti-missile system and Erdogan’s attempt to recover from the July 15 coup attempt are anything but coincidental,” Efstathiou said, adding that Turkey had insinuated many times its suspicions of a U.S. role in the coup attempt.

“By acquiring the S-400s in a public, choreographed ceremony, Ankara completes its careful attempt to shift away from the ‘unreliable’ Washington – which continues to reject Turkey’s requests for Gülen’s extradition, citing a lack of evidence – choosing instead to solidify a strategic partnership with Russia,” said Efstathiou.

Washington, which repeatedly warned Turkey that its S-400 acquisition might have grave consequences, suspended Turkey’s participation in its F-35 stealth fighter programme over concerns that the S-400 posed a security threat to the F-35. 

But last week, the United States and Turkey began  to establish a joint operations centre in Turkey for a planned safe zone in northeast Syria, which Turkey demands, saying that Kurdish-held enclaves in the region threaten Turkey’s national security. 

Efstathiou said this helped Ankara delay talk of possible U.S. sanctions to be imposed under a 2017 law that necessitates the placement of sanctions on American allies that purchase arms from Russia.