Turkey has signaled that it is ready to back down in its dispute with the United States over the activation of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) purchased from Russia and may agree to a model based on another NATO member, Greece, using S-300 SAMs. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said today, Feb. 9, that Ankara could activate the S-400 from time to time on certain occasions instead of putting the system on permanent combat duty, the Daily Sabah reported.
“We don’t need to use them all the time. We could use them depending on (the appearance of) threats,” the military chief told a group of journalists in an interview published Tuesday by several Turkish publications.
On this occasion, Hulusi Akar recalled the so-called Cretan model, to compare his proposal to the U.S. side with the way Greece uses the S-300 system, which Athens bought from Moscow in the 1990s, after Ankara put strong pressure on the original owner of these SAM systems, Cyprus, to give them up. Greece currently uses the S-300s on Crete for military exercises or tests, without putting the defenses on permanent combat duty.
“We are open to negotiations based on the model used in Crete,” Akar said.
Turkey’s apparent concession came after Washington imposed sanctions on a group of Turkish officials in December under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Turkey was also excluded from the Pentagon’s 2019 F-35 fifth-generation fighter jet program because of Ankara’s acquisition of the S-400.
In the interview, Minister Akar also reiterated his proposal to create a working group to jointly study the “S-400 issue” with the U.S. and NATO.
Several Turkish sources stated that Ankara and Moscow had already completed negotiations on the delivery of the second batch of S-400 and that “only Turkey’s last signature is needed for the implementation of the agreements.” According to a senior Turkish official, the new arms deal with Moscow would put Ankara in a difficult position, as Russia “agreed to the much-coveted (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan technology transfer and joint production conditions for the second batch of supplies” of S-400, the Middle East Eye news and analysis website reported Tuesday.
As EADaily reported, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said earlier this year that now is not the time to clarify relations with the new Joe Biden administration over Ankara’s purchase of S-400. “It would be more useful to start the process (of settling bilateral differences – Ed.) first and then determine the method of solving the S-400 problem,” Hulusi Akar said in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet published on January 4. As he emphasized then, the purchase of the Russian defense systems was not a choice for Turkey, but a necessity for the security of its 83 million citizens.
Recall that then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on December 14 that the U.S. imposes sanctions against the leadership of the Defense Security Board (SSB) of Turkey, including its director Ismail Demir, because of the purchase of Ankara SAMs S-400, which “contradicts” its status as a NATO member. The sanctions prohibit the SSB to receive loans from the U.S. and international financial institutions, restrict export licenses for Turkish military products made with U.S. components, and initiate a visa and asset freeze for senior SSB personnel.
Since the beginning of the last year, Washington has been demanding from Ankara to drop its plans to deploy Russian SAMs, pointing out that it would put an end to Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program and offering the NATO ally an “alternative” in the form of supplies of American Patriot anti-missile systems. After Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program, the Pentagon announced the purchase of eight F-35A Lightning II fighters, which were originally intended for Ankara. In all, the Turkish side expressed a desire to buy 100 latest combat vehicles. The United States and its European NATO allies fear that the radars on the S-400 could detect and track the F-35s, which would make them less stealthy for Russian systems in the future.