WASHINGTON — For the State Department and Pentagon, the battle to stop purchases of the Russian-made S-400 anti-missile system by friends and semi-allies has become a Game of Bemoan.
India has voted yes to the S-400. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are about to say “I do” to the Russian proposal. And Turkey, a member of NATO, seems unswayable in its decision to buy the S-400 — even in the face of threats from the U.S. and others.
On Tuesday, the TASS Russian News Agency reported that about 100 Turkish military personnel in charge of operating S-400 missile defense systems are set to arrive in Russia later this month to begin training on the system.
They will be joined by military personnel from China, TASS reported. “Simultaneous training of anti-aircraft gunners from China and Turkey will represent an unprecedented case in the history of (the) former (Soviet Union) and modern Russia,” TASS quoted one unnamed source as saying.
It is not an optic the Pentagon wants to see. And the trend line looks worse, at least for the moment.
On Saturday, Russia Today TV reported that Iraq and Russia are now engaged in talks over a deal to supply Baghdad with a S-400 missile defense system. They quoted Hakem al-Zamly, the former chairperson of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee.
Asked if the U.S. is losing the battle over preventing nations from obtaining the S-400, John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, told TMN “pretty much.”
“This is an electronic duel,” Pike said. “China needed the S-400 to reverse engineer, Turkey wants it to learn how to build a big SAM [surface to air missile], the [Gulf states] would be shooting at Iran, which is a turkey shoot.”
The S-400 entered into service with the Russian armed forces in 2007. According to open-source reports, the S-400 can hit targets at heights up to 18 miles (30 kilometers) within a range of 249 miles 400 kilometers. It also can reportedly handle supersonic targets and chemical attack air defense.
The U.S. policy is to put sanctions on nations that purchase the S-400. Some sanctions have already been placed on China, to the objections of Beijing. The Trump administration continues to weigh sanctions against India, whom it is courting as a military and economic ally.
The sanctions legislation permits Washington to act against individuals, companies or countries that are “disturbing international security.”
The U.S. has pushed the Patriot anti-missile system to India and the others as an alternative. None have taken the option, with Turkey being the critical nation as it is part of NATO.
“I think the S-400 is more of an issue to be managed than a big problem that changes everything,” Pike said. He also said Raytheon, the maker of the Patriot system, is having success in selling the system to 16 nations.
“Turkey is a special case,” Pike said. “They are getting mighty big for their britches. They no longer fear the Soviet Union, nor do they seek or anticipate European Union membership, so their NATO membership is increasingly in doubt and the S-400 deal is a good way for them to talk about their new and improved Ottoman Empire.”