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Russian-Turkish S-400 talks: measuring Erdogan’s grudge against the West

Turkey’s defense ministry has appeared with an unexpected statement. Last Friday, the Turkish defense minister said that very soon Turkey was going to start talks with Russia. The subject is its wish to buy S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft weapon systems. It was a sensation, especially when Russia’s defense ministry confirmed Isik’s words.

This is the background of this story. Last year, the Turks decided to suspend their tender to buy anti-aircraft weapon systems. The T-LORAMIDS (Turkish Long Range Air and Missile Defense System) program they launched in 2009, had given quite unexpected results: Turkey’s army command and defense industry had decided to develop a national air defense system. And their decision to buy some foreign system was just a temporary measure.

In Sept 2013, the T-LORAMIDS tender was won by CPMIEC from China, who had outrun Lockheed Martin/Raytheon, Rosoboronexport and Eurosam. The Chinese offered the lowest price - $3.44bn for HQ-9 (export name - FD-2000). But later, yielding to the pressure of western partners, the Turks delayed the purchase to finally annul the deal and to say that they were starting to develop their own air defense system.

They added that it was a long and hard process and they urgently needed foreign technologies. Raytheon-Lockheed Martin was ready to supply Patriots within 40 months, Eurosam said it would supply SAMP-T in just 18 months. But both projects are still on the negotiating table.

In both cases, the Turks sought to get the license to produce the systems. The Americans were ready to give it. The Turks promised a production worth $2bn with their share therein to be 80%. The details of their talks with Eurosam are not known but the Europeans would hardly refuse to outstrip their American rivals.

According to Chinese mass media, the key reason why the Turks rejected the HQ-9 was that the Chinses had refused to give them full access to that technology.

At the moment of Isik’s sensational statement, none of the talks had been finalized. Isik said that they hoped for NATO’s serious approach (towards their wish to have anti-aircraft weapons and to harmonize their air defense system with NATO requirements). But the final goal of the Turks, according to Isik, is to be able to produce such systems on their own.

The preconditions laid by NATO and Turkey make us doubt that the Russian-Turkish talks are possible. In mid-October, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia was not planning to sell its S-400 systems to anybody except its strategic partners, India and China. According to Rogozin, the Russians give their advanced technologies only to the most trusted partners.

But even in China’s case, Rogozin advised not to hurry as the contract was the result of very complicated three-year talks. But with India being in the queue, Turkey’s chances loon quite vague.

Today, the Russians are no longer hostile towards the Turks but they don’t trust them fully and will hardly do in near future. Turkey is a NATO member. This factor alone is enough to make the Russians think twice, especially as S-400 was designed against potential missile threats from NATO…

So, why are the Turks and the Russians spreading such rumors?

Today, the Turks’ relations with Europe are in crisis, with almost no hope left for EU membership in 2023, the centennial of the Turkish Republic. The factors of Gulen and the Kurds have shattered their ties with the Americans. But they still wish to be in the club of great powers. And the plan to have a strong national air defense system is part of this wish.

The only problem that they have neither money nor technologies for such a project. Here they need a partner but since they are a NATO member, they have little choice: either the Americans with their Patriots or the Europeans with their SAMP/T. But since neither of the potential partners are showing zeal, the contacts with the Russians and the Chinese are a good way for the Turks to make them move.

Neither HQ-9 nor С-300/С-400 can be incorporated into NATO’s air defense system. This is what the Turks’ partners from Washington and Brussels had been saying throughout the T-LORAMIDS tender. NATO has an Air Defense Ground Environment and Turkey is part of that system.

As far as China is concerned, the Americans were strongly against the Turks’ plans to buy HQ-9 systems as the producer, CPMIEC, is on the sanction list. So, should the Turkish Aselsan try to make any contract with that company, it will face financial restrictions from the American side.

So, the only option for the Turks is to bluff. Today, 60% of their investments come from Europe, with Europe also being the buyer of half of their goods. And they are no less dependent in defense.

Under such circumstances, they cannot move to the East but can just blackmail the West with some wishes to do it.

Concerning the Russians’ interest in the matter, we can say that sometimes it is good to negotiate even if the negotiations are doomed to failure.

Erdogan is disappointed with the West and the Russians can use this fact. And even though he is not going to break away from NATO, his criticism of the EU is affecting NATO.

The Russians will not sell its S-400s to a NATO member but they are not willing to burn all the bridges and are hinting that everything is possible – on condition that on day the Turks decide to break away from NATO. This is Russia’s position.

For the moment, the Turks are not revaluating their relations with the United States and NATO. “We are not considering this right now. We are moving along with NATO as we have always done,” Erdogan told CBS recently.

“Right now” was the key word in Erdogan’s statement. Today, the Turkish President is disappointed and hesitant and we must use any pretext here. The S-400 talks are just a reference point for the Russians to better understand what is on the Turks’ mind.

EADaily’s Middle East Bureau

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