With the United States imposing significant pressure on its long time ally Turkey, one of the NATO alliance’s oldest members, to cancel its planned acquisition of the Russian S-400 long range air defence system in favour of a Western made alternative, details have emerged regarding the terms proposed by the U.S. in closed door talks with Turkey.
The United States previously threatened Turkey with both economic sanctions and the cancellation of sales of the F-35 single engine stealth fighter, though the Turkish government for its part remained adamant that it would not be influenced by external pressure.
With Turkey increasingly in need of an advanced and reliable air defence system, and Western made alternatives costing far more than their Russian counterpart and having a highly questionable performance record, the country has sought to minimise damage to its relations with the Western bloc without compromising on the acquisition of the critical weapons system.
Turkish diplomatic sources speaking to local media have reported that diplomacy has been hectic on all levels, with the United States’ hard line influenced by its perception that the proliferation of Russian made air defences is a serious threat to its security interests undermining its freedom to project power through its aerial assets.
Turkish officials officials notably made the following case regarding the need for the Russian air defence platform: “Imagine if, for example, relations with Iran deteriorate over Syria and they launch missiles on us.
How will Turkey be able to protect itself?” With Patriot missile batteries, the United Staes’ equivalent to the S-400, having failed to intercept far more basic makeshift missiles than those in the Iranian arsenal when recently deployed to protect Saudi Arabia, and proven effectively useless even against relatively basic Iranian made surveillance drones in Israeli hands, this remains a viable point.
The United States has according to Turkish reports sought to make a concession to allow Turkey to save face over the S-400 acquisition – namely that the U.S. will not retaliate against Ankara with sanctions should it proceed with the purchase so long as Turkey pledges not to use the weapons system.
“Turkey should not use the S-400s even if it does buy them from Russia,” a U.S. official reportedly stated. In this way, Turkey would appear not to have succumbed to external pressure but its missile system would serve as a mere token of its supposed sovereignty.
By leaving the S-400 offline, they would be unable to detect U.S. and Western made combat aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 over European and Middle Eastern airspace – thus eliminating the risk of Russia gaining valuable intelligence on NATO operations through its weapons system.
Turkey for its part has reiterated that it has refused Russian offers of a nine month delivery for the S-400, which would have entailed Russian personnel operating the system for Ankara for several months until Turkish operators could be trained, instead agreeing to a 19 month delivery schedule under which Russian personnel would not have access to the systems after their delivery.
A Turkish official reportedly informed his U.S. counterparts: “If we had accepted a nine month delivery option then we would have no control on the use of the S-400. They would be used only by Russian experts, as national software would to be ready to be uploaded. Instead, we have chosen a 19 month option so that we could prepare our technical works and use them under fully Turkish control.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later issued a personal response to Washington’s proposal that the country leave its S-400 batteries idle, stating regarding the advanced missile platforms: “We purchase them not in order to store them in warehouses. They will be used appropriately if it is necessary. And what should we do with these defensive systems if not use them? To rely on the mercy of the United States?”
Ultimately the S-400 acquisition is set to remain a major point of contention between Washington and Ankara, with Turkey’s immediate security interests conflicting with the Western Bloc’s new Cold War against Russia.
One option could be for Turkey to lessen the blow to Western producers by purchasing the Patriot missile system alongside the S-400, as though it has no capabilities the Russian system lacks its acquisition would go a long way towards appeasing Washington and potentially facilitating greater acceptance of the S-400 purchase – sparing the U.S. the loss of face of a NATO ally choosing a Russian made system over their own.