Defense Politics

Turkey makes move to resolve S-400 issue with the US

Turkey proposed to not fully activate its controversial Russian S-400 missile defense system offers an olive branch to the new US administration to start negotiations over the issue that has severely strained bilateral ties between two countries, according to analysts. 

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Ankara indicates it may be willing to compromise on the Russian air defense system that strained ties with the US. According to AlJazeera news. 

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkey will negotiate for the ‘Crete model’ regarding the use of the S-400 air defense system. 

The Defense Minister was evaluating the tensions between Turkey and the USA over the Russian S-400 missile defense system while addressing the reporters in Capital Ankara. Daily Sabah

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Hulusi Akar said Turkey wants to open negotiations similar to one with Greece. Greece is also a NATO member and it acquired the Russian S-300 air defense system in 1997. 

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NATO countries use S-300:

“We will open negotiations for a model used for the S-300s in Crete”, Hulusi Akar said referring to Greece’s use of the Russian S-300 missile defense system despite being a NATO member. 

He further said that there are many NATO members, which were part of the Warsaw pact led by the Soviet Union, who continue to use Soviet-made defense systems and weapons. Daily Sabah reported. 

Turkey makes move to resolve S-400 issue with the US
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 3, 2021. (AA Photo)

The Russian S-300 missile defense system has been sold to 20 countries, including NATO member countries such as Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Greece. 

The Russian made S-300 system was completed in 1978. It is used to defend the air space from short and medium-range air attacks and was considered as one of the most powerful air defense systems at that time. 

In 2019, the relation between Turkey and the United States was badly strained when Ankara confirmed the S-400 deal with Russia. The US says the defense system could be used by Moscow to obtain classified details about the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets. Also, the Russian S-400 is incompatible with the NATO systems. While Turkey insists that the system would not pose any threat to the NATO alliance. 

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“There is no decision to use them (S-400) constantly”, Hulusi Akar said. Adding the missile could be deployed only if Turkey comes under threat. 

Turk minister Hulusi said, “We have said the negotiations could be held under the umbrella of NATO. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said he was positive about the issue.” 

Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and current analyst, told Al Jazeera that Akar’s comments could produce a basis for talks between the US and Turkey to resolve the festering dispute. 

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” Ankara is trying to open a dialogue with the US by saying that it might not keep the S-400s operational at all times”, Sinan said. “Greece’s S-300 missiles are not kept active and rarely used, including in some NATO military drills Greece takes part in, which actually makes the alliance know the Russian system better.”

US sanctions:

The United States under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctioned Ankara over buying the S-400 missile defense system from Russia in December 2020.

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Hulusi Akar in his interview also criticized the US sanctions, pointing out that the law’s title literally calls Turkey “an adversary”. 

“We reject Turkey – a NATO ally and US strategic partner – being called an adversary. How can this be possible?” Hulusi said. 

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program:

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jet is the most expensive fighter jet program in US history. In July 2019, the US removed Turkey, a NATO member state, from the F-35 program days after Ankara received the first delivery of the S-400 defense system from Russia. Turkey as a partner in the 5th generation F-35 program, manufactures some of the key parts for the F-35 jet. 

The newly elected Biden administration has said it will continue former President Trump’s policy of excluding Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program. 

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“Our position has not changed,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a news conference. “We urge Turkey not to retain the S-400 system.”

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Why does Turkey need S-400?

Turkey has decided to acquire the S-400 missile defense system from Russia after failing to agree on terms with former President Obama’s administration about the US-made Patriot air defense system, which is widely used by NATO members. 

Former President Trump has admitted Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400 system from Russia is justifiable. He blamed Obama for the crisis. 

“Obama administration said no, no, no to Turkey when they wanted to buy Patriot and they bought S-400”, President Trump said in a speech in 2019. He further said Obama’s decision created a ‘mess’ with Ankara. 

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Analysis:

If the former US administration had agreed to the Patriot air defense system deal with Ankara then the crisis may have not been raised. 

Showing positive gestures for talks from Turkey and the United States is a good step forward to resolve the issue on the table.

Sources:

  1. Article published in Al Jazeera news
  2. Article published in Daily Sabah
  3. Article published in Reuters news