Turkey announced earlier this week that it had
finalized a multibillion-dollar purchase of the S-400,
Russia’s most sophisticated surface-to-air-missile system.
The acquisition has been discussed for several months and comes
amid a period of strained relations between Ankara and its
partners in the NATO military alliance.
Finalizing the $2.5 billion deal appears to have inflamed those
tensions however, and at least one US senator is saying sanctions
on Turkey may now be necessary.
Turkey’s purchase of the weapons system appears to stem in part
from reluctance by NATO members to sell it certain arms. Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized the alliance
several times since announcing the purchase on Tuesday.
“Nobody has the right to discuss the Turkish republic’s
independence principles or independent decisions about its
defense industry,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.
“We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves — we
are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to
defend our country.”
He was more direct the following day, saying NATO “went
crazy just because we made the S-400 deal. What were we supposed
to do? Wait for you? We are taking care of ourselves. We are
taking security measures and will continue to do so.”
NATO has warned Turkey that members of the alliance are obligated
to use military hardware that is interoperable with each other’s
systems. (NATO leaders are also wary of the
introduction of Russian equipment to a NATO member’s military.)
Turkey, for its part, has rebutted that by citing Greece’s
purchase of Russia’s S-300 missile system several years ago.
Turkey has also criticized the US and its allies for their
reticence about selling it military arms and technology. Ankara
has touted the
technology transfer component of the deal with Russia, which will
aid its rapidly expanding domestic defense industry.
A NATO spokesperson told Politico that
the bloc had not been informed about the details of the
purchase. However, they said, “It is up to allies to decide what
military equipment they buy.”
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was less sanguine about the
deal, asking the Trump administration to review its impact on
US-Turkey security cooperation and on Turkey’s NATO
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Cardin warned that the deal
violated a bill signed into law in August that imposes sanctions
“on any person that conducts a significant transaction with the
Russian Federation’s defense or intelligence sectors.”
“These are mandatory sanctions and constitute a commitment
by the United States to deter Russia from attacking the United
States and its allies in the future,” the letter said, according to
The White House has resisted the sanctions measure as
interference in the president’s freedom to conduct diplomacy, and
the State Department has stopped short of
discussing punishment in this case. But the Pentagon has
expressed more worry about the acquisition.
“We have relayed our concerns to Turkish officials
regarding the potential purchase of the S-400. A NATO
interoperable missile defense system remains the best option to
defend Turkey from the full range of threats in its region,”
Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael said in a
The deal also carries diplomatic weight.
The Erdogan government was irritated by what it saw as an
lackluster response to an attempted coup against him in summer
2016. Germany has been a particular target of
ire, especially after Berlin decided to limit some arms sales
to Turkey over concerns about a crackdown and mass arrests in the
wake of that coup.
In addition to frustration about arms sales, Turkey
has been dismayed
with the US’s cooperation with the YPG, a mostly Kurdish group
fighting ISIS in Syria. Turkey considers the group an offshoot of
the Kurdish rebel group PKK, which both Ankara and Washington
have labeled a terrorist group.
The deal also underscores what many in the West see as an
increasingly cozy relationship between Russia and Turkey. Some
view the sale as another step by Moscow to undermine NATO — a
sentiment Russian presidential adviser Vladimir Kozhin may have
tried to nurture by saying, “I can only
guarantee that all decisions taken on this contract strictly
comply with our strategic interests.”