Russia will start the controversial delivery of the S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey in July, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport has said, even though Washington has threatened sanctions if the deal goes through.
“Everything has been already discussed and agreed,” Alexander Mikheev told Interfax. This was the first official statement of the Russian company which produces S-400 about the delivery calendar of the S-400.
The system is meant to be operational as of October, İsmail Demir, the president for Defence Industries under the Turkish Presidency, had said in a televised interview earlier.
Turkey, a NATO ally, had officially signed a $2.5 billion agreement with Russia for the S-400s long-range anti-aircraft missile system in December 2017 despite the US pressure on the grounds that the system risks NATO security, both on political and technical grounds.
Washington has threatened to impose sanctions if Turkey seals the cooperation with Moscow. One of the reasons provided by the US side were concerns that the system could be incompatible with NATO’s air defence systems.
The US State Department in January 2019 formally made an offer to Turkey for the sale of the Patriot air and missile defence system for an estimated total of $3.5 billion.
In parallel to the Patriot negotiations, Washington increased pressure on Ankara to kill the deal with Moscow and stressed that it can only supply the Patriot systems if the deal with Russia is cancelled.
However, Ankara stood its ground and was quick to assure that the purchase should not be seen as a hostile step towards Washington and that Turkey would remain committed to the NATO alliance.
Turkey and the US are also partners in an international consortium producing the F-35 aircraft, of which Ankara is meant to receive more than 100 by 2023 as replacements for its outdated F-16 aircraft. In addition to that, an F-35 engine maintenance centre is being set up in Turkey to serve the European region.
For the US, Turkey’s role in the production of the F-35 would create the desired leverage on Ankara’s policy and boost support for Washington’s leadership in NATO.
But the S-400 deal also means more than an arms purchase transaction to Russia. According to Vladimir Frolov, a Russian political analyst, this could be seen as a long-awaited victory of Russia over NATO and the US. “Breaking up NATO from inside and walking away with $2.5 billion to boot — that’s quite a priceless catch,” he said.
Washington is now threatening to block Turkey’s participation in the F-35 project and the delivery of its newest fighter jets if Ankara refuses to reverse its decision regarding the S-400.
On 1 April, Washington announced it was suspending the shipment to Turkey of equipment necessary for operating the F-35 until Ankara confirmed that the S-400 deal was off.
“Turkey must choose,” US Vice President Mike Pence said on 3 April at a NATO event in Washington, “Does it want to remain a critical partner of the most successful military alliance in the history of the world? Or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions that undermine that alliance?”
US lawmakers have also threatened to impose sanctions against Turkey in accordance with the well-known ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)’.
Its key provision is to impose sanctions against entities engaging in transactions with the Russian intelligence or defence sectors. Such a step could be harmful to Turkey’s already unstable economy.
In response to the looming threat of sanctions, Turkey has asked the US to establish a working group with the participation of NATO to find a mutual solution on the S-400/F-35 crisis, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a press conference in Ankara on 19 April.
“Turkey understands NATO’s concern on the procurement of the Russian S-400 air defence system,” he said and added “We need to take into consideration NATO’s concerns. It is not true to say Turkey disregards them. We are always sensitive.”
However, if the US does not agree to establish a working group and continued insisting on imposing sanctions on Turkey, Ankara may start looking for some further defence trade agreements with Russia to replace the F-35.
Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on 23 April that Turkey was unfazed by US threats and had a Plan B in case the US continues to block F-35 deliveries and terminates the deal.
Right after that statement, Russia signalled its willingness to sell its own warplanes to Turkey if the US halts the delivery of F-35 fighter jets.
[Edited by Aleksandra Brzozowski/Zoran Radosavljevic]