In a statement made on April 24, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said the purchase of the S-400 air defense system will be discussed during the Russia-Turkey summit on May 3 in Sochi.
Earlier the official said the talks with Russia on the deal have reached a «final stage». According to him, «Work on the S-400 has reached a final point. But the final stage does not mean 'let's sign a deal tomorrow morning'«. He said Turkey would not be able to integrate the S-400 into the NATO air defense system. Fikri Isik noted that NATO countries have failed to present a «financially effective» offer on an alternative defense system, adding that this has forced Ankara to search for other sources.
The news of the S-400 negotiations between Ankara and Moscow surfaced in November 2016, a year after Turkey walked out of a $3.4 billion contract for a similar Chinese system, namely FD-2000, the export version of HQ-9, claiming that Beijing had been unwilling to finalize the deal. In 2015, Ankara was angered by the US decision to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile battery from the border with Syria, prompting Turkey’s efforts to end dependence on Washington.
After the meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 10, Erdogan declared that alliances like NATO or allies that ignore Turkey’s interests did not have the right to question what Turkey does to protect itself. According to him, no one has the right to object to Ankara’s current negotiations with Russia on the purchase of advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense capable system. Back then, President Erdogan indicated that his latest meeting with Putin had created an environment for facilitating further security cooperation with Moscow as well as in economic and military sectors.
On March 14, Russia's Rostec Corporation's CEO Sergey Chemezov said that Turkey was ready to buy S-400 from Russia on a loan granted by Moscow. It is widely believed that the S-400 is the best air defense system in the world. With Russia’s help Turkey could start production on its own soil, thus greatly enhancing its industrial base.
Military cooperation between the two countries has been on the rise recently. Last year, Russia and Turkey signed a declaration on unprecedented partnership in defense industry. The parties also agreed to form a joint military and intelligence mechanism to coordinate their activities in the Middle East.
General Hulusi Akar, head of the Turkish armed forces’ General Staff, visited Russia in November, 2016. Ankara also seeks procurement deals in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology. Russia and Turkey would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism.
In January, Russian aircraft supported Turkish forces in the battle against Islamic State (IS) militants holding the town of al-Bab northeast of Aleppo. A group of Russian warplanes, consisting of four Su-24Ms, four Su-25s and one bomber Su-34, as well as eight Turkish fighter jets, four F-16s and four F-4s, participated in the first joint air strike. It was the first time the air forces of Russia and Turkey were engaged in a joint operation conducted with the consent of the Syrian government.
The intensification of Russia-Turkey military cooperation takes place against the background of Ankara’s worsening relationship with NATO allies. Turkey’s officials have complained about NATO’s unwillingness to cooperate with their country. For instance, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has criticized NATO, saying it was not fully cooperating with Ankara. According to him, NATO was evasive on such issues as the exchange of technology and joint investments. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that he was disillusioned with the US policies.
The NATO annual report for 2016 says Turkey only took part in four of the 18 key NATO exercises held last year. Despite having the fourth-strongest military in the bloc (after the US, France and the UK but ahead of Germany) and the second-highest number of military personnel (after the US), its involvement in NATO's deployments is small, amounting to just 4 percent of the personnel in the mission to train the Afghan security forces, and 7 percent of the Kosovo force.
Ankara has recently blocked some rolling programs with NATO, including political events, civilian projects and military training, in an escalation of a diplomatic dispute with a number of European states. Turkey's action encompasses many more areas of NATO’s activities. The programs cover most of Europe, plus many countries in the Middle East and Asia. Kosovo, Georgia, Ukraine and Afghanistan are affected. «It is a very unfortunate situation and it means some cooperation programs can't be launched», said NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Bilateral cooperation on security issues may be spurred as a result of Turkey getting closer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The government is studying the possibility of joining the SCO as a full-fledged member. Ankara is also showing increasing interest in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). It was invited to join the organization in 2014. This will open new opportunities for developing trade. Furthermore, many of the present and potential members of the EAEU are countries with whom Turkey already has close relations in many fields.
Turkey is a major Eurasian power. Its integration into the Eurasian system acquires greater significance as relations with the EU and many NATO member-states worsen. Further progress will facilitate dialogue between the Eurasian powers and Turkey and strengthen Ankara’s position with regard to the West. Unsurprisingly, as its relations with the West sour, Turkey is reaching out to other poles of power. This multi-dimensional foreign policy will strengthen Turkey’s standing in the world.
Vladimir Putin congratulated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on winning the April 16 referendum on constitutional amendments. It gave President Erdogan wide-ranging powers, but it may also give a new lease on life to the process of Russia-Turkey cooperation. All told, there is each and every reason to expect the May 3 summit to be a landmark event in the history of bilateral relationship.