Why it is not easy for Turkey to give up Russian S-400 missiles

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has proposed moving S-400 air defence missiles purchased from Russia to a location away from NATO facilities to help resolve a dispute with the United States over the acquisition of the advanced weapons.

Ankara is calling on Washington to agree an arrangement akin to that undertaken by Greece in the 1990s, when Athens took control of S-300 missiles from Cyprus and stored them away on the island of Crete.

But the United States is sticking to a position that Turkey must abandon the S-400s, purchased in 2019, and cancel plans to buy more, Akar said in an interview with the Hürriyet newspaper last month.

Aaron Stein, research director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, said that U.S. President Joe Biden’s approach to Turkey, and in some cases the cold shoulder it receives, is indicative of a new approach that breaks with the policies of his predecessor.

“It is clear from the outset that the Biden team has come in and has sought to reset the terms of the Turkish-American relationship from the Trump administration,” Stein said in a podcast with Ahval News.

Turkey’s acquisition and testing of the missiles is central to a deterioration in diplomatic relations with the United States.

Turkey has been excluded from purchasing the F-35 stealth fighter jet. Trump introduced sanctions on its defence procurement agency in January, responding to bipartisan calls from Congress to punish it for acquiring the missile system.

Some analysts speculate that Biden may introduce stronger economic sanctions on Turkey, especially if it purchases more of the weapons or activates them, raising the specter of financial turmoil in the country.

Turkey entered a currency crisis in 2018 after Trump imposed punitive measures on its overheating economy in response to the detention of a U.S. pastor on terrorism charges. Pastor Andrew Brunson was later released and the sanctions lifted, but that was too late to prevent a painful economic recession.

Biden has not included Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan among the key U.S. allies he has telephoned after his January inauguration. Biden will call Erdoğan “at some point” and has not gotten round to speaking with many world leaders, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week.

Turkey has the second-largest standing army in the NATO alliance.