Turkey Defies NATO and Buys Russian S-400 SAMs

 - September 15, 2017, 8:07 AM
An S-400 SAM launcher vehicle rolls though Moscow during a military parade. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The controversial purchase of Almaz-Antei S-400 Triumph long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems has been confirmed by both Ankara and Moscow. According to Russian wire agencies, the value of the deal exceeds $2 billion, whereas Turkish sources give it as $2.5 billion. This makes it the biggest Russian weapons sales for a NATO member state to date. Reportedly, a first pair of S-400 batteries will be shipped to the customer within two years of contract signing, and two more will be produced locally under license. 

The deal had been under negotiation for a long time, but it did not receive an official confirmation until September 10, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told journalists that Ankara had transferred a prepayment for the S-400 systems, thereby bringing into force a retrospective contract. The government-controlled Hürriyet newspaper quoted Erdoğan as saying that both he and Russian President Putin “are in agreement on the issue” and “resolute” to see the deal materialize.

Soon after, Russia’s Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation released a statement confirming that the S-400 contract had been activated. The statement said: “Because of the specifics and sensitiveness of the theme, we consider it incorrect to reveal all the details at this point. It is the foreign customer who has a priority right to comment on the contract.”

Later on, Erdoğan addressed the issue several more times. In particular, he stated that Turkey will ignore the “outcries” of NATO partners and will continue to carry out its independent policy in weapons procurement. He added that after the U.S. and Israel refused to sell Turkey advanced UCAVs, the country managed to develop such systems at home and launch them into quantity production. He was likely referring to the MQ-1 Predator, of which the U.S. provided a few, but which did not go into production in Turkey as desired. The country then developed its own MALE UAS capability in the form of the Turkish Aerospace Industries Anka.

Seemingly, the S-400 deal comes in two parts, the first of which is now finalized, while the second is still being negotiated. According to Russian sources, the license part of the agreement and issues of the technology transfer might take a year to be agreed. Besides, the second part should be funded by a Russian credit line that Moscow has agreed to open for Ankara’s arms purchases.

The two countries are yet to reach agreement on to what extent Russia’s high technologies will be transferred to the new customer. In July the head of Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, told the media that license production would not be set up in Turkey. Later, however, both Moscow and Ankara downplayed his words.

An analysis of news items that have been published on the S-400 deal over the past few months points out at a rather dynamic and intense negotiating process between Moscow and Ankara. Apparently, the process has been pushed hard by presidents Putin and Erdoğan, who had to interfere personally on a number of occasions to overcome various obstacles that hampered the ongoing negotiations. Both sides acknowledge the fact that the S-400 deal is highly motivated politically.

Vladimir Kozhin, advisor to President Putin on military-technical cooperation with foreign countries, also recently confirmed that “the contract has been signed and is being prepared for materialization.” At the same time he acknowledged the high complexity of the deal and the pressure from the West on Turkey not to execute it. “Moscow will ensure that the deal’s implementation goes in strict accordance with Russian strategic interests,” Kozhin told the Moscow-based Kommersant newspaper. He added that the S-400 system has won orders and commitments from “countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and members in the Collective Security Treaty Organization”