Turkey's S-400 deal boosts U.S.-Russia tensions

Turkey's plan to buy the S-400 Russian missile defence system, together with that of Qatar, poses a new challenge by Moscow to U.S. influence in the Middle East, according to an analysis in the Arab Weekly. 

Ankara and Doha are in talks with Moscow to buy the S-400 rather than the US Patriot system, potentially souring U.S.-Turkey relations and adding a military dimension to tensions in the Gulf, which have been high since the Saudi-led bloc blockaded Qatar in mid-2017. 

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has also expressed interest in the S-400 system. 

Ankara is in the final stages of S-400 negotiations. U.S. officials have urged Turkey to buy the Patriot system instead, arguing that the Russian system would not be compatible with NATO weaponry and might give Russia a chance to spy on Western military technology, such as the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to Mohammed Alkhereiji, Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

The United States has put delivery of F-35s to Turkey, a key NATO ally, on hold.

“We’ve clearly warned Turkey that its potential acquisition of the S-400 will result in a reassessment of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme and risk other potential future arm transfers to Turkey, as well as lead to potential sanctions,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said earlier this month. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said his country will not go back on the Russian missile deal. “The S-400 is over for us,” Erdoğan said this past weekend. “We have an agreement with Russia now, we will start joint production. Maybe we will get into a S-500 after the S-400.”

Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think-tank, told Arab Weekly: “I disagree with the optimists who see the current noise as simply a bargaining ploy of the Turkish president. Erdogan is beyond the point of no return on the S-400 issue.”

In Doha, the S-400 issue featured in recent talks between Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdulrahman al-Thani and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Thani described Doha’s efforts to expand military ties with Moscow as “a sovereign decision” that did not concern any other country.

“There is a discussion over the procurement of various military equipment from Russia,” he said, adding that no deal has been finalised over the S-400, according to Alkhereiji.