Russian S-400 Missile Defense System

Turkey’s S-400 contract: Why does Ankara insist, Washington oppose?

Alwaght – The S-400 air defense systems deal between Russia and Turkey remains a serious challenge in the Turkish-American relations, despite the fact that over the past year Ankara leaders did much to alleviate the Western concerns and the US and NATO kept opposing Turkish purchase of the state-of-the-art anti-aircraft systems. Turkey’s instance on procuring the arms finally made it sign a delivery contract with Moscow. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, on April 3 at the meeting of the NATO foreign ministers held in Washington said that the S-400 contract with Russia is a “done deal.” Despite this emphasis, the American officials keep warning Ankara leaders about the negative consequences of going ahead with the deal on the Western-Turkish relations. With regard to the Turkish economic hardships at the present time, any impact of frayed relations with the West on the Turkish economy are unwelcome by the President Recept Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

On Monday, Erdogan’s office released a statement saying that the president in a phone conversation with the US President Donald Trump discussed creating a joint working group in relation to the S-400 systems procurement.

“Our Honourable President brought up the proposal to establish a working group regarding the procurement of the S-400 defense system from the Russian Federation,” the office stated.

This seems to mean that despite the White House pressures, Erdogan has no intention to back down from the contract. But what is making the Turkish leader so tough in his insistence on taking the long-range missile system from Kremlin?

S-400 significance

A set of reasons encourage Turkey to go after S-400 deal. Here are some of them:

1. The agreement to buy the Russian-made air defenses has so far been crucial to the improvement of the relations between Ankara and Moscow. Turkey shares permanent geopolitical interests with Russia and can never ignore them. The Russian president managed to launch a set of military operations inside the north of the war-ravaged Syria, including Afrin, Manbij, and Jarabulus towns, by getting the green light from Kremlin. The operations were vital to the Turkish interests while the West declined to support them and even opposed them.

2. The weakness of the Arab world leaders and being blackmailed into buying the American-made weapons have been the source of humiliation to them by the Trump administration. This left a negative picture of the Arab rulers in the eyes of the Muslim and Arab world’s public. But Erdogan is resisting the American pressures to save his charisma as the key figure in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and develop a high-profile image of himself in the regional public minds.

3. The US has so far rejected to deliver the Patriot missile system to Turkey. By moving to buy the S-400s, Erdogan creates a positive balance and a competition between Russia and the US. Erdogan’s game yielded some results. Over the past few months, Washington offered Ankara delivery of the Patriot missiles. Turkey’s FM in early March said that Turkey and the US were negotiating the purchase of the Patriot systems. The Israeli daily Jerusalem Post in a recent report speculated that Turkey was given open hands in Syria’s north to act against the Kurds based on agreements with Washington in return for it to cancel S-400 purchase.

However, Turkey is not much confident of the West. It has its own justifications. For example, the US took equivocal stances in the dispute between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Turkish opposition leader who is accused by Erdogan of arranging the failed military coup of 2016. Additionally, Ankara is in full mistrust in its key NATO allies in Syria’s sensitive regions. For example, the dispatch of the French and American troops to Afrin came after Turkey launched a military campaign, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, in January 2018 to wrest the town from the Western-backed Kurdish fighters. The deployment set off the alarm bells for Turkey not to rely much on the West. The possible designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization will complicate the already-frayed relations with the White House and compound the mistrust. So, Turkey seeks to equip itself with the S-400s to make up for the distrust.

4. West Asia’s regional structure is apparently based on the balance of power. Considering the Saudi Arabian plan to buy the S-400s and Israeli regime’s development of the domestically-developed Iron Dome, Turkey finds it unavoidable to preserve the balance of power by promoting its air defense capabilities with the Russian systems.

5. The S-400 is economical for Turkey. Ankara can procure it for $2.5 billion, $1 billion cheaper than the Patriot. Moreover, the two sides agreed the price will not be paid by the US dollar and the payment can be made after the delivery in installments.

Why does the US oppose the contract?

The US and NATO show objection to Turkey equipment with the S-400 systems for a couple of reasons. Buying heavy weapons like air defenses from Russia will make Turkey regulate its strategic relations with Russia based on the Moscow-supplied arms. This, on the other side, could push to lower levels the Turkish-American relations. Washington finds Turkish closeness to West’s rival harmful to the American interests.

The US insists on the Israeli military superiority over the other regional states. Equipping Turkey’s military with the S-400s will be read against the Israeli superiority agenda. Furthermore, once Turkey finally gets the Russian systems, it will scale down its military dependence on the Americans. Additionally, the Americans argue that procurement of the S-400s by Turkey and its integration into the NATO-connected Turkish military will reveal data of the American-supplied weapons, such as the F-35 stealth fighter jets, to the Russians. In response, Ankara argues that Greece, a NATO member, has Russian-made S-300 systems but it did not pose risks to the NATO military facilities and data security.

One main drive for the White House opposition is the damage the deal inflicts on the American military industries. With the deployment of the S-400s, the American-supplied F-15 and F-16 fighter jets operating in air defenses’ range will become practically unviable. This will stir a fierce competition in West Asia and North Africa for buying the Russian-made anti-aircraft and missile systems. Countries like Greece, Morocco, and Algeria will be pushed to update their heavy weaponry, meaning a drop in the demands for the F-15 and F16s. in such conditions, only the F-35 is useful. But Washington cannot supply it to any demanding party due to security limits. So, many states already using the American warplanes will have to boost their airspace with Russia’s S-400. These consequences are the root cause of the American opposition to and concern about the Turkish-Russian contract.