Is Moscow using the S-400 against Turkey?

The military logic of Turkey’s highly controversial purchase of S-400 ballistic missile defense systems from Russia in 2017 continues to challenge many analysts.

The subject remains a major sticking point in Turkey’s strained relations with the United States and its European allies.

He also deprived Ankara of a strategic asset, such as the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets with which he hoped to bolster his air force. Turkey was kicked out of this program by the United States because of its multibillion dollar purchase of S-400.

It is still unclear where and when Ankara hopes to deploy the Russian systems and what any possible scenario for their end use will be.

Nonetheless, what many feared may now turn out to be true. Indications are emerging that Moscow could use the S-400 issue to put pressure on Turkey at a time when Ankara is trying to improve its ties with the West.

The announcement last week from Alexander Mikheyev – the head of Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport – that the second batch of S-400s would soon be heading to Turkey caused a stir in Ankara.

Responding to questions from reporters at the Army Forum 2021 in Moscow, Mikheyev said the final touches were being made to an agreement regarding the sale.

He said the deal would be finalized shortly. “We’re working on it. And ‘soon’ means this year, of course.”

Clearly unhappy with the timing of this statement, Ankara’s response to Mikheyev has been chilling to say the least.

Sources close to the Turkish defense industry denied that such a deal would be reached in the coming months.

“It is a subject which can be discussed at any time, but we do not have such a demand at this stage,” a defense source told BBC Turkish.

The stake of the day, according to the same source, is Afghanistan and the close dialogue between Ankara and Washington on this subject.

“The Russian side declares its intention or tries to manipulate the cooperation we are engaged in with the United States,” the source said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also wary. He touched on the subject in general terms when interviewed by journalists on his return flight from a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

“We are not hesitant about the second batch of S-400 from Russia or similar matters. We have taken many steps with Russia regarding the S-400 or other defense industry issues, ”Erdogan said.

However, he refrained from going into details and said nothing to indicate that an agreement for the delivery of more S-400s was in the works and would be concluded by the end of the year.

“At this point, Russia has nothing to lose when it comes to the S-400s. The sale was completed and the money received, ”said international relations professor Ilter Turan from Istanbul Bilgi University.

When asked by Al-Monitor, Turan hinted that Moscow was also satisfied with the political results of the sale.

“Whether Ankara makes these systems operational or not, this purchase has raised doubts about Turkey’s commitment to [NATO] and sowed the seeds of discord within the alliance, ”Turan said.

Analysts believe Erdogan is now caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Russia. His vision of establishing strategic ties with Moscow to replace Ankara’s seriously deteriorated ties with the West has turned out to be a pipe dream.

Ankara has notably discovered over the past three years that disputes with Moscow and Russia over issues such as Syria, Libya, the Caucasus and Ukraine are not only insurmountable but are also sources of potential tensions between the two. countries if they are not managed with care.

It was also a period in which Erdogan had to think more realistically about Ankara’s dependence on the West for a multitude of reasons, the most urgent of which was the deterioration of the Turkish economy. .

The S-400 problem also resulted in the imposition of US sanctions on Turkey under the Counting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Erdogan’s meeting with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO summit in Brussels also underscored his need to improve Turkey’s relations with the United States.

These links have seriously declined in recent years on a number of issues. Subject S-400 is just one of them.

Erdogan’s offer to Biden to help Washington emerge from its debacle in Afghanistan was also viewed in this light by seasoned diplomats.

Responding to persistent calls from Washington, especially Congress, for Turkey to change its stance on the S-400s, Erdogan nevertheless stressed before meeting with Biden that Turkey’s stance on this issue would not change.

Erdogan’s political position in his country has been weakened due to the mismanagement of his administration on many levels, so he cannot afford to be seen as backtracking on such a controversial issue.

He knows this would fuel the opposition’s claim that its foreign policy choices have been disastrous for Turkey.

Many argue that Erdogan found himself in a trap of his own accord with the S-400 issue by handing Russia a card it can use to try to influence Turkey’s decisions.

Moscow is closely monitoring Erdogan’s efforts to reach out to the West for economic support and assistance against a new influx of refugees, this time from Afghanistan.

“Making such a statement at a time when Turkey is trying to improve its relations with the United States could be an attempt to hinder this process,” Turan said, referring to the remarks of the CEO of Rosoboronexport.

The Russian side has also made it known through various channels that it is generally unhappy with Turkey’s positions on regional conflicts ranging from Syria and Libya to Ukraine and the Caucasus.

Amberin Zaman of Al-Monitor highlighted Moscow’s latest rebuke against Turkey regarding Ukraine and Crimea.

Turkey’s critical aid to Azerbaijan in the fight against Armenia’s Nagorno-Karabakh also ruffled the feathers in Moscow.

Russia is doubly sensitive to this issue because Turkey is providing the Ukrainian army with the same drones that it supplied to the Azeri armed forces with great efficiency.

The idea once much touted by Erdogan and his supporters that Turkey and Russia could forge strong ties with the goal of jointly opposing the West has turned out to be the mistake it always has been.

Realizing this at a time when it faces serious problems on all sides, Ankara is trying to regain its place in the Western alliance.

The need for Turkish support – especially in Afghanistan now – also ensures that the United States and Europe are keen to continue to cooperate with Turkey on a host of practical matters.

Foreign policy analyst Barcin Yinanc noted that in recent conversations with European leaders, Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s desire to join the “Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)” program related to security and defense policy. of the European Union.

“Turkey’s desire to join [PESCO] shows that if he wants to prevent NATO from losing its forces, it does not want to be excluded either [Western] structures other than NATO, ”Yinanc wrote in his column for the T24 news portal.

Turan recalled that Turkey had actively participated in recent NATO exercises and had posed no problems for NATO ships using the Montreux Treaty to access the Black Sea for military maneuvers.

“Turkey is taking steps to balance the ties it is developing with Russia. Turkey and Russia continue to cooperate but at the same time they try to counterbalance each other’s strength, ”Turan said.

Turan added, however, that Turkey also did not want to close the door on Russia on matters such as the purchase of more S-400s “because it is not known how relations with the West will develop”.

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