Will Turkish taxes go to Russian S-400s to rust in a warehouse?

Will Turkish taxes go to Russian S-400s to rust in a warehouse?

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek said on Oct. 5 that new tax incomes will be spent on buying new weapons systems.

Turkey’s gross external debts stock, according to the Treasury, reached $432.5 billion in June 2017, more than half of Turkey’s gross national product, the first time since its level in 2003, a year after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) took the helm of the government following a major economic crisis of the predecessor coalition in 2001.

The core inflation also increased to nearly 11 percent in August, the highest since February 2004. It is true that the IMF and Fitch Ratings are reviewing up their growth estimates for Turkey, but this is the other and worrying side of the Turkish economy.

Under such circumstances, Şimşek, the deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, says in order not to increase debts further, the government decided to impose more taxes on certain goods. For example, Turkish buyers will pay the highest taxes in Europe when buying cars.

The news came at a time when Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said a pre-payment has already been made to Russia to buy the S-400 air defense missiles. Details of how many batteries are going to be bought, the amount of the pre-payment and the total amount of the purchase have not been revealed yet, but the total amount is estimated by defense sources as $2.5 billion.

Turkey has been trying to pick the best air defense system to acquire for a couple of years. Turkey’s initial criteria were not only to purchase the air defense missiles but to have joint production in Turkey over technology transfer with IFF (identification, friend or foe) codes. The problems had surfaced during the joint production of F-16 fighter jets in Turkey in the mid-1980s. The NATO-standard IFF systems of the F-16s could not identify the NATO member Greek planes as a “foe,” which was necessary for the Turkish Air Forces in their frequent encounters with Greek fighter jets over the Aegean Sea. Then-President Turgut Özal had insisted and Turkish company MİKES had written national codes for the F-16s.

The Chinese FD-2000 missiles were announced as the winner but soon after the option dropped when China started negotiations with the Russian S-400s, which proved they admitted to the superiority of the Russian missiles. The French-Italian Aster 30 system, which is also a NATO-standard, was also shortlisted, but it was expensive and not so keen on technology transfer and related issues. Turkey was actually the host for the U.S.-made Patriot missiles since the Gulf War in the 1990s. They were back to protect Turkey’s strategic İncirlik air base, used in operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the NATO global missile system radar in Malatya after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. But Patriot was close to technology transfer and joint production.

Then Russia entered the Syrian civil war in mid-2015, right after Turkey opened up İncirlik for anti-ISIL operations. Right after, Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su-24 for violating its border with Syria in November 2015. The Russians deployed S-400s in the Hmeymim air base near the Syrian city of Latakia in December 2015. Turkey made peace with Russia with the intermediation of Kazakhstan in June 2016 before a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, which the Turkish government accuses the U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen of being behind it. Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin started to pay mutual visits, and the S-400s became Erdoğan’s choice.

The U.S. strongly reacted against it, but Erdoğan said Greece has already been using Russian-made S-300s for years and nobody was saying anything. Interestingly enough, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg did not react much and said it would be Turkey’s sovereign choice to have a system that is not interoperable with NATO’s air defense system. Perhaps Stoltenberg already knew that the Turks have been carrying out intense talks with the French-Italian system to understand whether a joint production with technology transfer was possible. But that would’ve take some time, perhaps at least two years, to understand that, and if the answer was yes, another two to three years to start production.

In the meantime, Erdoğan wants to go ahead with the Russian system, which could be delivered within two years, with no technology transfer and joint production options.

The S-400s are currently used only by Belarus outside of Russia (given the Syrian base can count as Russian soil anyway). China, Turkey and India are listed as “future operators” and a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, which indicated its intention yesterday, as “potential operators.”

Aster 30 is currently used by nine countries. The Patriots work in 12 countries outside the U.S., such as Greece.

Yes, the Greeks use Patriots because they cannot use S-300s, which they had acquired from the Greek Cypriot government after

Turkey’s strong reaction some 20 years ago. They are deployed in the island of Crete and, according to diplomatic sources, have rusted in a military warehouse there, because they cannot be used together with NATO systems.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion