Will Turkey activate the S-400s?
Turkey is expected to activate the S-400 air defense systems from Russia in the coming weeks, more precisely until the end of April, according to statements issued by highest-level officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the past months.
As can be recalled, the shipment of the air defense systems had begun in July 2019 and concluded in the fall of last year. The sophisticated air defense system and its components were unboxed and installed at a military base near Ankara since then.
It’s believed that the training of the Turkish personnel by the Russian experts is about to be completed while initial tests of the S-400s have also been accomplished. The years-long process will be ended with the announcement of the activation of the S-400 system by Turkey.
The U.S. had threatened Turkey with sanctions due to this purchase but had not yet started to implement them except for suspending Turkey’s participation in the multilateral F-35 aircraft program.
The problems between Turkey and the United States, as well as other NATO allies, stemming from Ankara’s decisiveness for the use of S-400s, is still on the table despite relative softening in the language after Turkey engaged in direct military conflict with the Syrian army and indirectly with Russia in Idlib in January and February.
The escalation in Idlib has led to a gradual reconciliation between Turkey and the U.S. in this period amid Ankara’s demands from NATO to do more for the protection of its airspace against a potential Syrian missile attack. Both NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and top U.S. leadership had launched work on a package to be provided to Turkey.
Although two months have passed since then no concrete response could be given to Turkey and the main reason is the continued disagreement over the deployment of the S-400s on a NATO territory.
Last week’s NATO online ministerial meeting has proven this fact once again. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison reiterated the fact that the allies are working on a package for Turkey but underlined once again the need to get rid of the Russian military equipment first.
“We hope that we will be able to put together the package that would help Turkey, and we hope that Turkey will also not put the Russian missile defense system in their country that is deterring some of the capabilities that we would be able to give them to fight against the Syrian aggression,” she was quoted as saying on April 1 in Brussels.
Turkey’s view, however, has not changed. In an interview on March 10, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu objected to the U.S. point of view by stressing that the S-400s would not cause any technical or security problem for the U.S. military equipment to be deployed on Turkish soils. Çavuşoğlu had also repeated Turkey’s firmness in the deployment and activation of the S-400s.
Heavily pre-occupied with the fight against the coronavirus, it was obvious that NATO foreign ministers did not find time to discuss other key security issues, including Syria. The defense ministers are set to hold an online meeting in mid-April, but their main agenda will continue to be COVID-19.
Indeed, the pandemic has completely occupied the international agenda. But certain things won’t easily escape from the international attention, and the activation of S-400s is one of them.
Many in Ankara believe that the activation of the Russian systems would be delayed as Turkey wants to see how things in Syria’s Idlib will evolve in the coming period amid a fragile ceasefire in the enclave.