The ball is in US court as S-400s arrive in Turkey
In the end, the transfer of the first parts of the Russian S-400 air defense systems to Turkey has begun as the Turkish government officially announced the shipment on July 12. The delivery of the systems has been publicized through separate statements of the Defense Ministry and Defense Industry Presidency.
There are important details in these two statements:
The Defense Ministry statement informs that Turkey and Russia signed the deal on the procurement of the S-400 systems on April 11 in 2017, much before the legislation of the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) which entered into force in August 2017.
As this statement officially confirms the transfer of the S-400, it may now lead to U.S. sanctions as stipulated in the CAATSA. The act suggests triggering the process once it’s proven that a significant amount of the transaction of the goods cited in the legislated document has taken place.
The ministry also informs that the parts of the S-400s have been deployed to Mürted, a military base near Ankara. Although it does not say whether or not the system will permanently be based there, the fact that the base has already been equipped with suitable military facilities, including hangars, it would not be wrong to suggest the address of the Russian systems is going to be Mürted.
This obviously kills options for the deployment of the S-400s to a third country in a bid to avoid American sanctions.
The statement issued by the Defense Industry Presidency envisaged that “Once the system is completely ready, it will begin to be used in a way determined by the relevant authorities.” This statement kills another option that has long been circulated within the diplomatic communities in Ankara, Washington or elsewhere. Turkey made clear that it will definitely put the S-400s to use as it ruled out to keep them in a hangar in unopened boxes.
Beyond these points, this transfer of the S-400s makes Turkey the first NATO country deploying a sophisticated Russian weaponry in modern times, especially amid a growing row between the alliance and Moscow over a number of issues, including a row on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) as well as on the annexation of Crimea.
NATO and some leading NATO members do not hide their concerns on Turkey’s decision to cooperate with Russia in the field of the defense industry on the grounds that it could further distance NATO’s second largest army from the Western bloc. Turkey’s statements that it also seeks cooperation with Russia in the co-production of under-development S-500 systems have been regarded as Ankara’s long-term engagement with the Russians.
It’s also believed that this shipment of the S-400 systems will have immediate results. The first one concerns Turkey’s participation in the F-35 aircraft project. A letter sent by former acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan had urged that Turkey’s participation will be ceased in the event that it deploys the S-400s by July 31. The cessation of the Turkish participation includes the training of the Turkish pilots in the U.S. and the production of around 900 parts of the aircrafts by the Turkish defense industry companies.
Equally important, the transfer of these Russian systems may trigger the imposition of sanctions outlined in the CAATSA. The Turkish confirmation that it has started to deploy the parts of this system seems to be a sufficient evidence to this end.
This development surely puts Turkish-American ties in a new situation, with concerns that they could be seriously harmed. After this move of Turkey, the ball is in the U.S.’s court. Turkey hopes that it will either avoid sanctions or will be subjected to a softer package of sanctions in light of the Osaka meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump.
It’s a fact that Trump has preferred to blame the Obama administration for this ongoing crisis over the Turkish purchase of the S-400s, but he still could not assure Erdoğan that he won’t be sanctioned. The scope, the magnitude and content of the potential U.S. sanctions will be determinant for the future Turkish-American relationship.
A harsh response from Washington will surely further deteriorate ties between the two countries with concerns that it could also disrupt ongoing dialogue on a number of issues concerning Syria, in the eastern Mediterranean.