Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) As expected NATO officials have started to put pressure on the Turkish government, reacting against the proposed purchase of the Russian anti-aircraft system S-400.
At a breakfast for defense correspondents, Czech General Petr Pavel, Chairman of the NATO military committee, said ‘The principle of sovereignty obviously exists in acquisition of defense equipment but the same way that nations are sovereign in making their decision, they are also sovereign in facing the consequences of that decision’.
The presence of the S-400 in Turkey would create ‘challenges for allied assets potentially deployed onto the territory of that country,’ Pavel said. He didn’t define the ‘allied assets,’ but appeared to be referring to the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which several NATO allies have committed to buy.
Pavel echoed earlier statements by NATO officials that the S-400 system would not be integrated into the air defense systems of the alliance and suggested Turkey could face other restrictions by going ahead with the purchase, estimated at $2.5 billion.
The real threat to the Turkish government came direct from the US government. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a list of more than three dozen off-limits Russian companies and warned businesses and nations worldwide that those doing business with the Russian firms could face U.S. sanctions. The list of Russian firms includes missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey, maker of the S-400.
Turkey began talking up its interest in the S-400 system last spring and announced in July that a deal had been made. In early September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had made a down payment, without disclosing the amount.
Erdogan said he had no choice since NATO and the U.S. had denied him a similar system, and he dismissed the alliance’s objections. ‘They went crazy because we made the S-400 agreement. What were we supposed to do, wait for you? We are taking and will take all our measures on the security front,’ Erdogan said during a meeting with mayors from his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara.
It seems that the Turkish government is anxious to have an air defense system that it can control itself. There is also the question of cost. The S-400 is cheaper than systems supplied by the United States.
NATO officials have pointed out that the S-400 deal is not yet finalized with Russia and clearly hope it never will be. Never the less Pavel said at the breakfast Wednesday with defense reporters that Turkey is still a valued member of the alliance. He added that NATO allies are justified in raising ‘all concerns and potential difficulties’ they may have with each other, but ‘no one challenges the role of Turkey as an important ally at the very difficult crossroads of challenges to the alliance.’