Turkey Shies Away From NATO And Seeks Antiaircraft Missiles In Russia

Alexander ZemlianichenkoAP

Ankara has signed a preliminary deal with Russia for the acquisition of four S-400 Triumf antiaircraft missile systems, the news agency Bloomberg reports. The deal is worth 2.5 billion dollars and raises concerns about Turkey’s stance within NATO.

This agreement will have Turkey deploying the first pair of S-400s systems within the country during the next year, with the others being produced locally at a later time. This indicates that there will be a level of transfer of technology, something that has been pursued by Ankara for quite a while.

Ever since Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power back in 2003 (at the time as a Prime-Minister) that Turkey has been pushing for an independent brand of foreign policy, not necessarily linked to NATO’s interests. This includes an attempt to assert the country as one of the great powers in the Middle East, a move seen by some analysts as a revival of the old Ottoman policy. One should remember that the Ottoman Empire ruled over the whole region before World War One and that the modern Turkey was forged from its broken remains.

Among these attempts of national reassertion is the investment in an autonomous weapons industry, and this agreement with Moscow seems to be one more step in that direction.

Altay MBT during official presentation in 2015.
[Image by Burhan Ozbilici/AP Images]Featured image credit: Burhan OzbiliciAP

Historically, Ankara has depended mostly on the US to procure advanced weaponry, and even today most of Turkish military equipment is of American origin. For this reason, Turkey possesses one of the largest F-16 fleets in the world and its Army boasts large quantities of US-made tanks like the M48 or the M60. In fact, Turkey has the second most numerous army within NATO.

However, Turkey is also a respectable industrial power, and has been producing relatively simple military gear for decades, mostly licensed versions of light weapons and transport vehicles from other NATO countries. But the push to have its own fully-developed weapons industry has been gaining momentum during the last few decades. Currently the country is developing their own main battle tank, the Altay, and also produces a version of the Augusta A129 attack helicopter adapted to domestic needs.

More recently, in 2014, Turkey also tried to acquire Chinese antiaircraft missiles, with the goal of eventually producing them internally, but pressure from NATO countries led to the cancellation of the negotiations.

Moreover, the US and other NATO allies deployed Patriot missile systems along the Turkish southern border as a defense against the possible spilling of the Syrian conflict, while also sending aircraft to Turkish airbases to partake in the campaign against the Islamic State. But the enthusiasm to keep the missile systems in Turkey has waned greatly during the last couple years, as reported by Al-Jazeera.

President Erdogan from Turkey makes a speech during the anniversary of 2016's coup.
[Image by Kayhan Ozer/AP Images]Featured image credit: Kayhan OzerAP

The push for traditionalism in Turkey and the persecution of journalists and the political opposition to the government have been greatly criticized by the Western countries. The attempted coup from one year ago and the purges in the military that followed have also raised questions about the stability and even legitimacy of President Erdogan’s regime.

On the other hand, Ankara has grown disappointed with its Western allies. The support provided by the other NATO countries to the Kurdish militias, which are seen as terrorists by Ankara, is a strong point of contention. The Turkish military and its allies have been constantly clashing with the Syrian Kurds, even though the latter are spearheading the campaign against the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa and have US troops embedded among them.

Though these differences between Ankara and NATO are worrisome, the relation with Moscow is not traditionally friendly. The Ottomans fought the Russians bitterly during World War One, and during the Cold War Turkey was seen as a barrier against the Soviets and their growing influence in the Middle East. In the end of 2014 the Turkish even shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber, and one should keep in mind that Moscow is an ally of Iran, which is a rival of Turkey.

But the agendas of both Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin have been overlapping more often as times passes. Like his Turkish counterpart, the Russian President is criticized for pursuing the press and the opposition, and both make efforts to present themselves as tough leaders pushing for a stronger presence of their nations among the international community.

Furthermore, Moscow has less of a problem with technology transfer than Washington does. It also has less qualms in how Russian-weapons are used.

Patriot missiles cannot be deployed near Greece or Armenia, traditional enemies of Turkey, while the S-400 probably won’t have the same political limitations. This interests Ankara greatly.

Considered among the most advanced antiaircraft systems in the world, the S-400s were deployed by Russia near its bases within Syria to dissuade air strikes from the Western Coalition. The systems were noticeably unable to intercept the aircraft and Tomahawk missiles that attacked Syrian governmental bases earlier this year, although it is unknown if that was by defect or device. The downing of American aircraft by the Russian forces could easily lead to a grim escalation of the Syrian crisis.

A single S-400 system consists of two radars (91N6E and 96L6), a command post and up to 72 launchers, with the option of additional equipment.

This system should not be compatible with Turkish current weaponry and military doctrine, which are still NATO-standard for the most part, but the improvement of the relations with Russia should be worth it. In fact, this acquisition is to be counterbalanced by more exports of Turkish vegetables to Russia.

[Featured Image by Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Images]