The decision to procure Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems has spurred tension between Turkey and its major NATO ally, the U.S. Following Ankara's decision, discussions about Turkey's 67 years of NATO membership have surfaced, portraying a grave and short-sighted approach to the realities Turkey has been facing the last five years. Turkey has frequently explained the urgent need for an air defense system to its partners given the terror threats the country is facing on its southern border due to the terror groups in northern Syria, militarily supported by NATO members, Turkish media reports.
The failure of NATO allies like the U.S. to address Turkey's defense needs and fulfill their commitments have compelled Ankara to look for alternatives to air defense systems developed by countries outside the alliance. Since the beginning of the process in 2017, Turkey has on numerous occasions stressed its willingness to cooperate with NATO allies to find a solution for how to utilize the Russian standalone defense system. Addressing the concerns of the other NATO members, the relevant Turkish authorities even proposed the establishment of a joint working group to figure out the technicalities but have received no response so far.
NATO has positively responded to Turkey's proposal to form a joint working group to ease concerns over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems, but Ankara still hasn't received word from the U.S. on the matter, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Friday.
Speaking at a press conference with his Romanian and Polish counterparts, Çavuşoğlu said Ankara was aware of NATO's concerns.
The foreign minister said Turkey offered the U.S. the option of forming a working group of experts to determine whether the S-400s posed a threat to F-35 fighter jets, but the decision on whether Ankara should buy the Russian systems has never been on the table. "We never found these claims credible. There are S-400s in Syria and F-35 jets have flown over them repeatedly. If those claims are true, those missile systems would have already gathered enough information about the aircraft," he said, adding that a similar condition also exists in Norway, which borders Russia.
Washington argued that the purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile systems could risk the security of some U.S.-made weapons and other technology used by NATO, including the F-35 fighter jets. Turkey has responded that it was the U.S.' refusal to sell it Patriots that led it to seek other sellers, adding that Russia offered it a better deal, including technology transfers.
Turkish officials assured U.S. counterparts that the S-400s will be based on domestic software and will operate with unique radar, detection and surveillance systems. Çavuşoğlu said even though Ankara had its doubts over the claims, it still offered to establish a working group to ease concerns over security or compatibility. "We need to consider NATO's concerns. It's not right to say Ankara does not care. We are sensitive to this issue," Çavuşoğlu said and added that Turkey urgently needed air defense systems. "Our allies and NATO must also understand this very well. We need our air defense system urgently," he said. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu recalled that the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands withdrew Patriot missile batteries from Turkey in 2015. Germany, the United States and the Netherlands all deployed Patriots in early 2013 after Turkey asked its fellow NATO partners for help in protecting its territory amid an escalating civil war in neighboring Syria.
The minister also noted that Turkey last year signed a deal with EUROSAM to participate in the joint production of the SAMP-T air defense system. "This agreement shows Turkey's commitment to prioritizing its allies. Our desire is to work with allies, but when we cannot buy defense products from allies, we have to look for alternatives," Çavuşoğlu said. He urged Turkey's allies and NATO to understand the rationale behind its decision to procure a Russian-made system. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Tuesday in Washington that Russia may deliver the S-400s in June, earlier than the initially agreed date of July.