The background of the Russian-Turkish S-400 supply agreement

Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 600, p. 48, on Oct. 14, 2017

In recent days, a verbal escalation from several Turkish officials led by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to the Russian side about the supply agreement of the Russian S-400 missile systems is evident. Officials from the Russian side said Russia would not give up full system technology in Turkey, a statement accompanied by a strong Turkish reaction and threats to end the deal if it is not accompanied by technology to build their divisions. It is noted that the Turkish side has paid the initial amount of this transaction, which was officially signed almost two months ago.

Discussions on the S-400 purchase began during the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Moscow in early 2016 and was condemned by Europe and NATO member states that saw it as incompatible with allied systems to tackle the Russian threat. I believe that this move by Turkey came as a retaliation to NATO member countries because they avoided protecting it after the deterioration of Turkish-Russian relations that followed the fall of the Russian aircraft at the Turkish-Syrian border. In addition, at that time, Germany withdrew the Patriot system from Turkish territory, and Washington increased its support for Kurdish militias in the northern part of Syria. The failed attempted coup in mid-2016, and Ankara’s suspicion that NATO countries were involved in it, increased its motives towards completing the deal.

A high-ranking western source, aware of the details of the deal, assured me that it includes the transfer of the technology that accompanies the S-400 and stipulates that delivery will take place within one year of its signature. However, the blockages of the past two months have led Russia to request an extension of the delivery deadline to two years. Ankara agreed. The visit of Russian President Putin to Turkey about ten days ago apparently affected the details of the transaction. The same source pointed out to me that the meeting was held in a climate of tension, as the Turkish side is disturbed by Iraqi Kurdistan’s pursuit to secede, and considers that the Russian economic agreements with Erbil, particularly in the oil and gas sectors, encouraged its decision. Putin argued that oil and gas agreements with the Kurds are a matter of Russian national security and can not allow them to be disrupted or complicated. As a result, the situation between Ankara and Moscow has remained tense.

Last week, King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow. During his four-day visit he signed several commercial and defense agreements including the sale of S-400 and their technology to Saudi Arabia, unlike the Turkish deal. On the other hand, information has been reached in Ankara that Russia is preparing to sign a new oil deal with Erbil, prompting Turkish officials to threaten with cancellation if the missile system is not accompanied by technology and that Turkey can buy a defense system from another country.

In recent days a new tension has been created in US-Turkish relations with the arrest of two Turkish officials working at the US Embassy in Ankara. But the real cause of tension was Turkey’s recent movements on Syrian soil, particularly at the borders with the US-backed Kurdish rebels. It turns out that Ankara’s strategy, which has recently chosen to pull the cord between Moscow and Washington, is likely to lead it to lose both sides and to face international isolation, which will complicate the situation in the region as a whole .