Russia and Turkey as a Complex Ally: NATO Reaction on the Purchase of S-400

In international politics, there is no permanent friend and enemy. Every country here works only for the national interests. Moscow and Ankara relations status again remind us of this fact. These two countries are working for reducing the tensions in Syria for almost six years and in these six years, their relationship also was in a changing process. During the cold war, the relationship status between turkey and former Soviet Russia was not warm enough, as turkey always with the United States as it felt the threat of its sovereignty because of communist USSR. Geopolitically important these two countries again ended up a conflicting situation in 2015 when Turkish pilot shot down a Russian warplane. And in the same year in March in terms of agricultural trade relations, Turkey excluded Russia from the list of countries free of duties for imports of agricultural products.

But now the picture is different we can see both the countries are trying to warm up their relationship in the name of a different agreement including economic, trade and security agreements. Last year June Mr. Erdogan apologies for the incident and also condemn a violent coup attempt against Turkey’s government. Turkey and Russia already signed a big gas pipeline deal on 10 October 2016. Through this pipeline, Russia can reach Europe’s energy market. As Russia remains the strongest partner of Turkey, Erdogan government offered a Russian company to build Turkey’s first nuclear plant.

And as both Russia and Turkey is fighting against IS in Syria, Russia allowed Turkey army to set up a buffer zone inside Syria.  Russia and Turkey pledge to increase bilateral trade by more than fivefold, to $100bn a year but most of the sanctions on Turkish food products by Putin government in 2015 still remains in place.

Most recently Turkey and Russia signed a controversial arms deal that is thought to be worth $2.5bn. Turkey is arming its forces with Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. This deal creates a tension within the NATO and other western allies as Turkey has the second largest army in NATO. Moscow and Ankara already entered the final stages as partial payments already done by Ankara for the S-400 missile defense system. A source close to the talks told RBTH that, “Steps have been taken and signatures signed with Russia concerning the S-400s. God willing we will see the S-400s in our country,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on July 25.

Negotiations for this deal have been taking place since 2016. According to Rostec Corporation CEO, Ankara decided to but the missile with the loan as each missile system costs $500 million, an expensive deal. The other security talks between these two countries indicate Turkey’s interest to get joint production of the anti-ballistic missile system on its territory but Russia yet not responding positively on this issue. The S-400 Triumph has the capability of intercepting all types of warplanes and rockets. It also includes fifth-generation fighter jets and ballistic missiles at a range of 400 km as the only system of the world that can hit targets at 40 km range at five meters heights ranging. The system integrates autonomous threat detection, targeting system, launches and command control and multifunctional radar system.

Russia and Turkey as a complex ally: NATO reaction on the purchase of S-400
Triumph air defense missile system

Reaction from other NATO countries: The NATO alliances are worried about the decision saying the system was not compatible with its equipment. After NATO criticism as response Mr. Erdogan responses by stating that, “Nobody has the right to discuss the Turkish republic’s independence principles or independent decisions about its defense industry. “We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves — we are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to defend our country.”

Erdogan also commented Washington’s reaction to its refusal to supply combat drones to Turkey. Erdogan stated that Ankara developed and began to produce the drones itself and it is the issue bothering US and Israel. From Pentagon the message sent to Ankara citing NATO membership to state the reason and to defend itself by means of alliance’s ‘interoperable missile defense system’.

In the question of NATO membership whether this purchase is going to be an obstacle or what reaction of this the Kremlin aide stated earlier that’ each party undertakes commitments determining what it has the right to do with the delivered weapons, and what it cannot do.

The S-400 is Russia’s next-generation air defense system. It carries three different types of missiles capable of destroying aerial targets at short-to-extremely-long ranges. It is designed to track and destroy various types of aerial targets, from reconnaissance aircraft to ballistic missiles.

To deter Soviet Union from engaging any attack on Western Europe the ally that is known as NATO established with its 11 members in 1949. By 1952 other two country Greece and Turkey joined the group and till date, this military organization has 28 members. Since 1952 to 2017 as a NATO member, Turkey played a vital and important role to hold the influence of western world in the Middle East. The recent purchase of defense system considering as the betrayal of Turkey to NATO alliance as the deal is with Russia that was the former Soviet Union. NATO has no formal mechanism to remove its members in bad standing.

According to political analyst Stanislav Khatuntsev, The S-400 missile defense systems deal between Russia and Turkey has emerged as a very sensitive issue for the United States and NATO. Khatuntsev pointed out that there are several reasons why the US has been so concerned over the S-400 deal between Russia and Turkey. Turkey has always a reliable member of NATO forces in the Middle East. The white house always expects loyalty from turkey but this deal seems to indicate the changing mind of Ankara and it also shows the drifting away from Washington. Another reason for US concern over the issue would be financial issues as defense system is always expensive and Turkey is not buying the US made the weapon. And the factor that US defense companies are losing a significant share of the global arms market is also an important reason to worry.

Scholars are also expressing their worry as since the beginning of these two empire state the relationship status is not stable so relying deeply upon for security issues would be harmful to Turkey. Some others are also commenting that Ankara getting a closer tie with Moscow after its recent souring of ties with the US and Europe. Relationship with Europe has gone bad a dispute over the question of Turkish minister’s campaign abilities in European countries. Erdogan accused Germany and Netherlands of ‘Nazi Tactics and also warned Europeans to change their attitudes towards turkey. Erdogan’s win over the April referendum disappointed those who were predicted to have a newly confined Turkish leader and improvement of the relationship status with Europe. In May at NATO summit Markel raised another issue with Erdogan that Turkey is blocking German MP’s to visit their soldiers who are working at an American-Turkish joint air base. And this visit is a routine work for Germany but it was not the first time for Turkey to blocked German parliamentarians from accessing their soldiers.

And with the US the reason behind this attitude according to critics is Turkey is feeling security threat because of the creation of a Kurdish entity or a state on their border and the action regarding these issues from us side is very confusing. As the US has sent a mixed signal towards Turkey and the entity as well. YPG Syrian Kurdish rebels are linked with rebel Kurds in Turkey and Erdogan’s government objects US supports for the YPG.

In other sectors of mutual agreements, the trade facilitation has its own place in the measurement method for these two countries. Russian news agency TASS reports on 22 May that, on the sidelines of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) summit Russia and Turkey have signed a joint agreement on lifting mutual trade restrictions. Earlier on 3 May 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said opening talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. After their meeting, Erdogan noted that the two leaders will have a good opportunity to discuss both aspects of bilateral cooperation and regional issues.  Pennsylvania University professor Bulent Gultekin in an interview with Al Jazeera in 2016 stated about Turkey Russia relations as there is a perfect complementarity between the two countries and Turkey needs Russian gas and Russia needs Turkish produce beaches and warmer weather. Before the 2015 plane incident the trade between these two somewhere around $US 24 billion. For the energy security, Turkey has to import 60% of all its natural gas supplies from Russia. And last year ban caused Turkey’s economy a $550 million loss. Days before Erdogan’s visit to Moscow Russia lifted some of the restrictions for some agricultural products. And in entrepreneur level also it is showing that Turkey’s nationals and companies are struggling in Russia even though they have created as many as 100000 jobs there according to the head of Russian-Turkish Business Association.



Alma Siddqua Rothi

MSS student, Center for South Asian Studies, Pondicherry University, India.

studied, International Relations, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh.

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