Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire S-400 – the Russia-made most advanced long-range missile defense system in the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already said that Moscow is ready to sell it. According to Russian Presidential Adviser for Military and Technical Cooperation Vladimir Kozhin, Russia’s contract with Turkey has been agreed in general, with financial details still to be ironed out. The system is capable of intercepting all types of modern air weaponry, including fifth-generation warplanes, as well as ballistic and cruise missiles at a maximum range of nearly 250 miles.
According to the preliminary agreement, Ankara is to receive two S-400 missile batteries within the next year, and then produce another two inside Turkey, although the Turkish defense industry has no experience of producing such systems. Not yet.
Unlike NATO’s US-made Patriots temporarily deployed in Turkey some time ago, the Russian S-400 deal has no political strings attached, and could, potentially, boost Turkey’s defense industry bringing Russian-Turkish military cooperation to an unprecedented level. The two nations will work together for many years and the process is likely to encompass other areas of interaction.
Last year, Russia and Turkey signed a declaration on partnership in defense industry. The parties agreed to form a joint military and intelligence mechanism to coordinate their activities in the Middle East. Ankara also seeks procurement deals with Russia in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology.
In 2013, Turkey wanted to purchase the HQ-9 long-range air defense system from China but had to scupper the deal in 2015 due to political pressure from NATO allies. Not this time. The pressure is there but Turkey stands tall – it wants the best and the best is S-400. Today, the Turkish government is pursuing a more independent policy while its ties with NATO, the EU and the US are getting increasingly strained.
The deal is a clear shift of Turkey away from NATO and the West. The system won’t be compatible with the rest of the alliance for the purposes of integration. In March, 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, «Being a NATO member does not mean we are not independent. We can have close ties with Russia while performing our responsibilities toward NATO. We find objections on this matter inappropriate».
Turkey has been angered by what it sees as lukewarm condemnation by its Western allies of the abortive July 2016 putsch against President Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara suspected that the West had a role to play. Russia was the first country to be visited by the Turkish president after the failed coup.
The idea of joining the EU has lost its attraction for Ankara as the union is facing a number of problems, including Brexit, the refugee crisis, the surge of far-right movements and the creation of blocs within the bloc while the concepts of «two-speed Europe» and «multi-speed Europe» are seriously considered as alternatives to the EU we know today.
The territorial dispute between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea and Turkey’s support for Northern Cyprus has traditionally spoiled relations between Turkey and NATO. According to the NATO 2016 annual report, Turkey took part in only four of the 18 key NATO exercises held last year. Despite having the fourth-strongest military in the bloc and the second-highest number of military personnel, Turkey’s involvement in NATO's deployments amounts to just 4 percent of the personnel in the mission to train the Afghan security forces, and 7 percent of the Kosovo force.
Turkey has recently blocked some rolling programs with NATO, including political events, civilian projects and military training, in an escalation of its diplomatic dispute with a number of European states. The action encompasses many more areas of NATO’s activities as the programs cover most of Europe, plus many countries in the Middle East and Asia. As its relations with the West sour, Turkey is looking for other partners.
Russia and Turkey lead the management crisis process in Syria. With the Islamic State (IS) retreating everywhere, the time draws nearer when Russia and Turkey will face the question about what to do next. It could be the start of forming a broader alliance.
If the coordination of efforts in Syria is successful, the lucrative prospect in bilateral trade, mutual investment, tourism and the Turkish Steam gas project will provide a powerful impetus to the development of relationship.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the first statement about the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as far back as 2013. In 2016, he repeated it again, saying «Some may criticize me but I express my opinion. For example, I have said ‘why shouldn’t Turkey be in the Shanghai 5?» Turkey was granted dialogue partner status in the SCO in 2012. This year, Ankara chairs the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Energy Club. The SCO’s clout is rapidly increasing in the world. The accession would bring economic benefits for Turkey.
Ankara is also showing increasing interest in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). It was invited to join the organization in 2014. Many of the present and potential members of the EAEU are countries with whom Turkey already has close relations in many fields.
Ankara is also getting closer to Beijing. The two countries are closely cooperating to implement China’s the One Belt One Road project. Turkey is again taking the position as a key investment and cooperation partner that will help bridge the East and the West.
Turkey’s gradual shift from the West to Eurasia and other partners is part of a broader process as the West gets weakened, divided and less attractive. The very notion of «Western unity» is fading away. Unsurprisingly, as its relations with the West sour, Turkey is reaching out to other poles of power. The S-400 deal conforms to the trend.