F-35 hits the S-400

By Sergei Strokan, Elena Chernenko, Kirill Krivosheev

Before leaving for the summer holidays, the US Congress will have to pass a law on appropriations for national defense for 2019. He gives the White House the right not to punish the three states that are on the list of key buyers of Russian arms - India, Vietnam and Indonesia. At the same time, the administration failed to persuade Congress to include in this list one of the key US allies in Eurasia - Turkey. If Ankara purchases Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, it may refuse to supply more than 100 F-35 fighters for a total of $ 10 billion. According to the experts interviewed by Kommersant, the question of whose favor the choice of Ankara will make remains open.

In the dispute about which of the branches of the US government will make the main decision on the implementation of the law "On Counteracting US Enemies through Sanctions" (CAATSA), the point is put. Agreed by the House of Representatives and Senate committees, the version of the National Defense Appropriations Act for 2019 gives President Trump's administration the authority not to apply CAATSA sanctions against the three leading buyers of Russian arms and technology - India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Tactical cooperation between Russia
and Turkey can become strategic
By conceding to the White House, which had previously urged Congress not to punish these states to avoid complications in military-technical cooperation with them, the US Congress nevertheless showed its inflexibility towards other states, including Washington's key ally on the southern flank of NATO-Turkey. So, the amendment included in the draft defense budget for the coming year will suspend the sale of a large batch of fifth-generation F-35 fighters to Ankara until the US administration fulfills several conditions. The most important of them is the provision of a report to Congress on the implications for Turkey of Turkey's cooperation with Russia in the military-technical sphere. Earlier, US lawmakers warned that in the event of the already signed contract for the supply of Turkey's Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, the country's getting F-35 fighters would be very problematic. As expected, the House of Representatives will vote for the final version of the defense budget for 2019 until the end of July, after which it will be approved by the Senate in August, even before Congress leaves for the summer holidays, and finally, President Donald Trump will sign.

The question of whether Turkey should be refused delivery of the F-35 in case of its unwillingness to close cooperation with Moscow on the S-400, until the last moment remained an apple of discord between the presidential administration and the Congress. In this case, each of the parties, seeking the right to leave the last word in this dispute, tried to play in advance.

Thus, at the end of June, despite the objections of legislators, the Pentagon delivered the first two F-35 fighters to the Turkish side: a solemn ceremony was held in Fort Worth, Texas. Recall that Ankara is interested in acquiring more than one hundred F-35. The total amount of the deal is estimated at $ 10 billion, and if implemented, it could become one of the largest in the US-Turkish defense cooperation.

Nevertheless, after the summit of the US and Russian presidents in Helsinki, opponents of Donald Trump, who accused him of being too compliant to Vladimir Putin and almost betraying national interests, demanded to speed up efforts to adopt new anti-Russian sanctions and to strictly enforce existing ones. As one of the priority measures, Democrats in Congress proposed to deprive the White House of the opportunity to bypass the CAATSA law, which obliges US authorities to impose sanctions against countries that purchase Russian weapons. The resulting compromise temporarily removes from the potential sanctions three countries of Southeast Asia, but increases the pressure on Turkey.

Turkey's new security concept may lead
to a dialogue with Damascus

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in a difficult situation. Earlier, the Turkish side made it clear that it would not give up the contract with Moscow, and warned the US of the counterproductive nature of the sanctions. However, the experts interviewed by Kommersant pay attention to the fact that the price of the issue for Turkey in the event of the preservation of the S-400 deal can be high, given that Washington has powerful levers of influence on Ankara. It's not just about the threat of disrupting the deliveries of F-35 fighters, but also about the possible abandonment of other military supplies and even the gradual withdrawal of military-technical cooperation, which will hurt the defense of Turkey.

Simultaneously with the demand to the administration to provide a forecast of the consequences of cooperation between Turkey and the Russian Federation, Congress demanded from the Pentagon a report on the impact of the Turkish companies on the production program of the F-35.

According to experts, the question of whose benefit Ankara chooses will remain open. "Turkey's desire to obtain the S-400 is explained both by security considerations and geopolitical reasons. The possession of this system will provide Ankara with multi-purpose protection against long-range missiles, which in the Middle East region are owned by several states - Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and cover from air strikes in the event of a conflict with a regional player, "explained the senior scientific Vasily Kashin, a member of the Higher School of Economics, Vasiliy Kashin. Besides, in the conditions of the consistent deterioration of relations with the US, it is of fundamental importance for President Erdogan not only to have an advanced air defense system. He needs a system that will not be controlled by the West and will provide his country with strategic autonomy in matters of security. "

"Anti-aircraft systems are necessary for Turkey to ensure its own security. At the same time, the alternative proposals of NATO allies were unacceptable for Ankara. The Turkish authorities imposed such terms of sale as geographical restrictions for the deployment of anti-missiles or restrictions on the transfer of sensitive technologies, "former Turkish Foreign Minister Yashar Yakysh continues." As a result, Ankara considered that the Russian proposal was more suited to it. "

Turkish officials have repeatedly said that the deal to purchase Russian anti-aircraft missile systems involves the transfer of sensitive technologies and the localization of production. However, the Russian authorities, commenting on this topic, did not directly confirm this.

Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov assesses the importance of Russian S-400s to ensure the security of Ankara more restrained, insisting that Turkey's desire to obtain Russian air defense systems is largely due to the political game that President Erdogan conducts in relations with the US and Western countries, trying to put pressure on Washington and Brussels by playing the "Russian card".

NATO's Ankara is a unique asset of Moscow's diplomacy
"The military argument in seeking to obtain Russian S-400 for Ankara is far from being the main one. If, under the threat of US sanctions and the curtailment of military-technical cooperation with the US, President Erdogan realizes that in the issue of the S-400, the costs and risks for him are higher than originally thought, then he can opt out of the deal with Moscow. The Russian side should be prepared for such an unfavorable scenario and consider possible options for compensation in the event that the contract for the S-400 is not carried out, as it happened in time with the French Mistral helicopter carriers, "Mr. Pukhov explained to Kommersant.

However, the Turkish interlocutors of Kommersant do not share this opinion. "Ankara will still not refuse to purchase the S-400," Orkhan Gafarli, an expert at the Center for Political Studies in Ankara, assured Kommersant. "This requires a multi-vector policy. In addition, Ankara also has its advantages: its strategic position is extremely important for NATO. " A similar point of view is expressed by an expert of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs Timur Akhmetov, who lives in Ankara. "For the purchase of the S-400, Turkey will be punished only by the failure of the F-35 contract, but I do not think that the US will go on to complete the cessation of military-technical cooperation," Timur Akhmetov told Kommersant.

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