Turkey has completed its purchase of Russia’s advanced missile system, and relations with NATO are still tense

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  • Turkey says it has finalised a deal to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 missile-defence system.
  • Ankara also says it wants to work with NATO countries on defence projects.
  • NATO leaders appear to be sending warnings to Turkey over the purchase and potential deployment of the weapon system.

Throughout the summer and autumn in the US, Turkey moved ahead with plans to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-missile defence system.

The purchase concerned NATO members and underscored the contentious relationship between Ankara and the West, but Turkey said this week that it had been completed.

“It is finished. The S-400 missiles have been bought. The rest is just details now,” Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said this weekend.

As a NATO member, Turkey would typically buy weapons interoperable with the defence alliance’s weapons systems, but Ankara sought out new options after several NATO countries declined to renew their deployments of Patriot missile-defence systems in Turkey, leaving only a handful there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he pursued the S-400 because the West denied him a comparable system. He has also expressed frustration with the EU over its response to the attempted coup against him in summer 2016 and accused the bloc of “messing us about” on issues like visas and Syria migrants.

Ankara’s plans to buy the missile system were “a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the US and Europe,” an analyst at a Moscow-based think tank said this summer. In September, a Turkish state-media agency published a graphic appearing to tout the S-400’s ability to shoot down US aircraft.

NATO officials, for their part, have warned Turkey about the consequences of purchasing the S-400. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said numerous times that the system would not be interoperable with NATO weapons systems.

But Canikli also said this weekend that Turkey was making arrangements with Eurosam, a French-Italian consortium developing anti-aircraft defence systems.

“We are also making preliminary agreements with the EUROSAM consortium to have this technology to develop, produce and use our own sources for air-defence systems,” Canikli said. He signed a letter of intent to work with Eurosam on defence projects several days before.

Ahmet Berat Conkar, the head of Turkey’s delegation to NATO’s parliamentary assembly, said the day after Canikli’s comments that the S-400 purchase was not a political message but a decision based on technical and financial concerns that wouldn’t hinder cooperation with NATO partners. He also pointed to the Eurosam agreement as a sign of Turkey’s continued intention to work with NATO allies.

NATO officials, however, appear to still be wary of the deal and the looming introduction of a Russian weapons system into the military of one of their partner forces.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Donald Trump
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Donald Trump in New York, September 21, 2017. Pool Photo via AP

At the end of October, Czech Gen. Petr Pavel, who heads NATO’s Military Committee, indicated Turkey could be on its own to face restrictions on participation in NATO air defences if it went ahead with the S-400.

“But the same way that nations are sovereign in making their decision, they are also sovereign in facing the consequences of that decision,” Pavel said.

Putting the S-400 on Turkish territory would create “challenges for allied assets potentially deployed onto the territory of that country,” Pavel continued without elaborating, though he may have been referring to the F-35 stealth fighter.

Mattis reiterated on Monday that the Turkish S-400 system would not work with NATO weapons and that Ankara would responsible for that.

“Clearly, it will not be interoperable with NATO,” he told reporters. “So they’re going to have to consider that if they go forward.”

When asked about Turkish claims there was no alternative to the S-400 offered by the West, Mattis said only, “That’s a sovereign decision for Turkey.”