Turkey brushes off NATO concern over Russian missile defense system purchase

Turkey brushes off NATO concern over Russian missile defense system purchase

By Loree Lewis   
A S-400 Triumf launch vehicle. (Photo: Соколрус)

WASHINGTON – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed Wednesday concerns voiced by the U.S. and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies about his country’s deal to procure a Russian made surface-to-air defense system.

“They went crazy just because we made the S-400 (anti-aircraft) deal. What are we supposed to do? Wait for you? We are taking security measures and will continue to do so,” Erdogan said Wednesday while in Ankara, according to state-owned Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan announced Tuesday that Turkey had made the first payment for a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, estimated to cost some $2.5 billion. The purchase came after protest by NATO and alliance member states, which cited the benefit of having a NATO interoperable missile defense system.

Turkey had earlier planned to purchase a system similar in nature from China, which the U.S. had also objected to.

Turkish officials have previously said that NATO countries have not provided financially accessible military hardware, including an alternative to the Russian-made system. Turkey commands the second largest standing military inside of 29-member-state-NATO.

A NATO official said by email that while the alliance does not ban purchases of military hardware from manufacturers outside the alliance, “interoperability of our armed forces is fundamental to NATO for the conduct of our operations and missions.”

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that “NATO has not been informed about the details of any purchase.” The official said no NATO ally operates the S-400 system.

The procurement comes at a tense time in relations between Turkey and the West, and particularly the U.S.

Talking about the arms deal Tuesday, Erdogan reportedly said that NATO allies had provided “tanks, cannons and armored vehicles to the terror organization but we can’t procure some of our needs, although we want to pay the price.”

He was referencing the U.S. decision to arm the Kurdish YPG under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces for the fight against ISIS in the city of Raqqa, despite a fierce protest by Turkey. Turkey considers the YPG as terrorists, and one in the same with the PKK, a Kurdish group that has fought a three decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

“Erdogan is saying ‘we can’t rely on the West to protect us’ because he is unhappy with the U.S. and other Western allies, especially with the support given by Washington for the Syrian Kurds whom he regards as a threat to Turkey because of their links with the PKK, and therefore ‘we have to make decisions like this’,” said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has previously expressed his opposition to the arms deal. The Pentagon said Tuesday that it relayed its concerns to Turkey, and that the U.S. is committed to expediting the delivery of military equipment purchased by Turkey when possible.

“Turkey is a key NATO Ally, and we are committed to our strong defense partnership,” Defense Department spokesperson Johnny Michael said in an email.

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