S-400 agreement much more than an arms deal
“They went crazy because we made the S-400 agreement. What were we supposed to do, wait for you? We are taking and will take all our measures on the security front…”
With that statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dispelled all doubt about the arms deal he had just made with Russia. The purchase of advanced S-400 air defence systems is thought to cost about $2.5 billion.
Erdogan was vague about the details. “A deposit has also been paid, as far as I know. The process will continue by the transfer of a credit from Russia to us. Both
Mr Vladimir Putin and myself, we are determined on this issue,” Erdogan told the Turkish press.
The issue is Turkey’s apparent strategic shift. The deal accelerates its move away from the NATO alliance and comes against the backdrop of increasing tensions with the United States and Germany, Turkey’s main arms suppliers.
The S-400 system can carry ballistic and cruise missiles and other weapons at a range of 400km. It can simultaneously engage 300 targets. If positioned at an airbase in southern Turkey, it would be able to reach Syria, Cyprus and the northern half of Israel.
At the technical level, the deal raises many questions. S-400 is not interoperable with NATO hardware and NATO allies are only free to buy weaponry and defence systems so long as they are operable with the alliance. Some observers are now describing Turkey as NATO’s “rogue partner.”
The arms deal has shown Russian President Vladimir Putin’s skillfulness in causing divisions within NATO. He knows Turkey’s anti-Kurdish position. More to the point, he is emboldened by the apparent rise of “Eurasianist,” pro- Erdogan generals within the Turkish army after the coup. This may prompt Putin to forge a regional alliance with Iran and Turkey, as a further challenge to NATO.
The American decision to deliver advanced weapons to Syrian Kurds fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) caused outrage in Ankara. Erdogan is increasingly being viewed in Washington as “an unpredictable ally, but not a partner.” The US Congress is said to be furious over the savagery employed by Erdogan’s bodyguards towards protesters in the American capital in May. There is also increasing concern over human rights breaches in Turkey.
Germany, too, appears to have lost patience with Erdogan. It has pushed for an end to EU accession negotiations altogether. And it has frozen all major arms exports to Turkey.
This is a row that will not go away. It is bound to affect NATO and will weaken Turkey.
So why is Erdogan pushing the crisis? To him, it is the personal that matters. In the clash between Erdogan’s own agenda and US-European-NATO interests, the Turkish president places his own priorities over those of his country.
He sees himself cornered because he’s been unable to convince the world of his view of last year’s coup plotters and their agenda. The corruption accusations aren’t going away either. Erdogan believes the US was behind the failed coup.
He sees the trial of Turkish- Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab in New York as a threat to his political survival. His party no longer has interlocutors in the US capital and is viewed with mistrust. Unsurprisingly, Erdogan recently lashed out at the indictment of former Turkish economy minister Zafar Caglayan for allegedly conspiring to help Iran evade US sanctions. He categorised it as part of a political move against Turkey.
Communication with Berlin remains poor, perhaps at an all-time-low. More than 600 Turkish military and civilian officials have sought asylum in Germany and Berlin has refused Turkey’s extradition requests. What’s more, 65% of the German public supports its government’s hard-line policy towards Turkey.
Things have reached the point that Western capitals see the detention of an American priest and several German citizens as a symptom of Ankara’s desperation.
There is little doubt that Turkey’s interests are held hostage to those of its troubled president. And the S-400 arms deal marks a crucial threshold that confirms Turkey is, at large, without a strategy and fragile.