A case for military-technical partnership between Turkey and Russia

by Ilya Kramnik

The contract for the supply of anti-aircraft missile systems S-400 to Turkey can be only the first sign if the two countries manage to establish full-fledged cooperation in the military sphere. Izvestia understood the chances of Moscow and Ankara for strategic rapprochement.

It is necessary to realize that the situation in the relations of the two countries is rather unusual and has arisen on a historical scale recently, against the background of the events of the last 20 years. The drive of cooperation between Russia and Turkey was the disappointment of the leadership of both countries in the “Western choice”, aggravated by the crisis in relations between Moscow and Brussels and Washington, as well as the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by the pro-Western leadership of the armed forces of the country during the coup in summer 2016.

These events led to a dramatic change in the configuration of political relations. A new cold war has actually begun between Russia and the West, fraught with the collapse of the last pillars of strategic stability formed in the post-war period. The relations between Turkey and the EU are overshadowed by the failure of Ankara's many years of efforts to join the European Union and the contradictions that regularly arise on a number of different issues - from the approach to respecting human rights to problems in the energy sector. In many ways, similar problems complicate relations between Turkey and the United States, and the failed coup attempt against the background of deepening contradictions regarding the prospects for resolving the Middle East conflict did not add sympathy for the Turkish leadership to Washington.

The expansion of cooperation between Russia and Turkey from the energy sector to the military in these conditions was a natural step. Could it be the beginning of a long journey?

Up to the present, military-technical cooperation was characterized by irregularity and relatively small volumes of supplies of the least expensive equipment. Among the most notable deals of recent decades, we can recall the supply of Mi-17 helicopters for the Turkish Gendarmerie under a 1995 contract, the same agreement on the supply of about 500 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers and the 2008 contract on the delivery of Kornet ATGM. None of these deals changed the picture as a whole: Turkey remained a country oriented in military cooperation to the West.

It cannot be said that Russia did not attempt to strengthen its position in the Turkish market: Moscow also participated in the helicopter tender, offering Ankara Ka-50-2 (not to be confused with Ka-52!) - a double version of the Black Shark Ka-50 with landing pilots one after another (and not close by, as on the Ka-52), and in the T-LORAMIDS tender for the supply of long-range air defense systems, but to no avail. As a result, the main "booty" of Russian gunsmiths were service contracts - for the maintenance of the above-mentioned equipment, as well as Soviet-made weapons purchased by Turkey in other countries.

The new stage after the well-known events of 2015–16 was marked by negotiations and the subsequent contract for the supply of the S-400 system. Ankara acquired four C-400 divisions (a battalion in Western terminology) worth about $ 2.5 billion.

Due to its scale, as well as the level of the transferred system, the contract has its own characteristics that can seriously affect the development of cooperation between the two countries in the future.

Let's call them:

- this is the first major military deal of Russia and Turkey;

- the first delivery of a complex modern system that requires deepening of interaction - taking into account the need for thorough preparation of a sufficiently large number of military and technical specialists;

- because of the capabilities of the S-400, this deal opens the way to the creation of a national air defense system of Turkey, capable of combining Russian, Western, and, in the long run, own production.

How can the cooperation of the two countries develop in the future? For a start it is worth highlighting the general parameters by which it can be characterized, and to name the goals.

Firstly, unlike most other cases, the military-technical cooperation of Russia and Turkey can become a two-way road. Due to the level of technological development in Russia and Turkey, both parties can act as importers and exporters, transferring both finished products and technologies.

Both sides may be interested in developing joint programs and projects, including with the involvement of third countries. Finally, both Moscow and Ankara show interest in the cooperation of the armed forces, especially after a serious weakening of the position of the pro-Western faction in the military leadership of Turkey.

The objectives of cooperation can be summarized as follows:

- development of the defense industry of both sides through increasing technological capabilities, expanding the market and the range of products;

- improvement of mutual relations in the course of this development - due to a better understanding of the capabilities and needs of the parties and the development of contacts at different levels;

- strengthening security in the Black Sea, the Levant, in the Middle East

If we talk about concrete potential examples of cooperation in the military sphere, then it is worth starting with military aviation, where serious changes are possible in the near future.

Taking into account the difficulties with the supply of F-35 for the Turkish Air Force and the imminent refusal of these supplies from the US due to the decision of Ankara to purchase C-400, the purchase of Su-35 fighter jets in Russia becomes a possible option. When concluding a large contract (for 80–100 machines of this type), it becomes possible to transfer technologies, including the transfer of a number of works to the Turkish industry for the final assembly, maintenance, repair of these aircraft and their engines, as well as the production of components with a gradual increase in localization .

In the future, if Ankara wishes, it is possible to establish cooperation in the creation of the fifth generation fighter for the Turkish Air Force on the basis of the Su-57 (T-50) fighter preparing for mass production in Russia. This machine could well not only replace the F-35, but also satisfy Turkey’s desire to obtain its own combat aircraft, albeit with supplies from a number of foreign components.

In the field of air defense, as already mentioned, the delivery of the S-400 paves the way for the creation of an integrated national air defense system in Turkey, with the active involvement of the Turkish industry. On the part of Russia, we can talk about the supply of additional S-400 systems, shorter range systems, as well as joint development of air defense systems, as was done, for example, in the case of South Korea - in whose interests with the participation of the Almaz-Antey concern The KM SAM medium range air defense system was developed.

Russian missile technologies may be of significant interest to Turkey, including the organization of joint development of missile systems along the lines of Bramos and cooperation for export to third countries.

In the field of naval technology, Russia can participate in the renewal of the submarine fleet of Turkey, including in the form of a joint development of a diesel submarine of a new generation, taking into account the actual sabotage of the construction of the 214 submarines for the Turkish Navy by the German side.

In addition, Russian weapons can be used to upgrade the Turkish MilGem warships, which are currently supposed to be equipped with American harpoon anti-ship missiles, which are significantly inferior to modern Russian models in TTX.

In turn, Russia may be interested in a number of Turkish developments. First of all, in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles, where Turkey already has experience in its own production and development of UAVs, including drums.

In the naval sphere, Moscow may be interested in Turkish boats, characterized by high performance, as well as Turkey’s experience in building a universal landing craft. The first ship of this type, the Anadolu, should be launched next year. 

Russian industry and the Navy may be interested in getting acquainted with the project and building ships of this type in Russia with the participation of the Turkish industry.

Finally, both parties can develop joint projects, both for their own armed forces and for export to third countries.

Among the potential objects of such cooperation, implemented already at the current level of relations, the following can be singled out:

- improvement and development of land technology, taking into account the experience of the Middle East conflict;

- development of a maritime patrol / anti-submarine aircraft based on the Russian Il-114 platform;

- development and production of light jet combat aircraft based on the Yak-130 platform;

- development and production of counter-terrorism systems and other security features

Already in this case, the volume of cooperation may amount to many billions of dollars, not to mention possible larger transactions.

The potential of cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the military field for Izvestia was appreciated by the deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) Konstantin Makienko. He drew attention to the fact that cooperation should not be limited to the standard set of “energy, space, weapons”:

- We should talk about creating an environment for cooperation, which will make it long-term, securing the geopolitical shift we are witnessing. This is primarily a connection between people, allowing you to create trust. It is necessary to train cadets and students, both Turkish in Russia and ours in Turkey, according to joint training programs. Creation of joint departments in a number of universities, both technical and humanitarian. The interaction of the armed forces - with joint exercises, internship officers and so on.

If we talk about the technical side - we must perceive Turkey not as a client and a buyer, but as a potential partner. In many areas, it is not far behind us, it allows us to complement each other’s developments. Of course, we have something to take in Turkey, and this opportunity must be used. If we talk about the sales of our weapons there, then first of all - these are air defense systems, which Turkey does not have, the editorial staff noted.

It’s still difficult to say how feasible these prospects will be, but you can see that there is a favorable environment for them. In any case, the common interests of Ankara and Moscow in the field of energy cooperation, taking into account the absence of unresolved contradictions in politics, can become a pillar for deepening ties between the two countries. The fact that the world is on the verge of change has been talked about for a long time - why not express it in this form?

Further reading:
Turkish helicopters pay the price for Ankara's rejection to cooperate with Moscow
F-35 hits the S-400
Eurasian vector in Russian-Turkish relations
NATO's Ankara is a unique asset of Moscow's diplomacy

Erdogan's Islamists will lead reforms in Turkish army


When Ankara restores its sovereignty over Turkish enclave in Syria

Nothing is calm on the Turkish border. Again. This time it is about the escalation of situation on the line of contact with the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization. At the end of October, Turkish border guards for the first time in several months of relative calm bombarded the  Kurdish positions in the area of ​​Zor Maghar, located on the banks of the Euphrates River. The Turkish leadership now talks about preparations for the next operation in Syria with the aim to clean up the whole Turkish border from terrorist groups.

It is not by chance that Ankara emphasizes that this is precisely a forced military cross-border operation against terrorists. Turkish diplomats before the start of Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018 referred to Article 51 of the UN Charter, according to which Turkey had the right to self-defense in the face of threats to its national security. Ankara’s diplomatic front has been strengthened by the high level of readiness of the armed forces, which have been conducting anti-terrorist operations in northern Iraq for over a year  now.

Turkish authorities are forced to take into account not only the foreign policy atmosphere before the start of a possible operation, however. The ruling party would not risk its political image, not having behind the tangible support of Turkish society. It seems that the Turkish authorities may raise the issue of transfer of the tomb of Suleiman Shah, grandfather of Osman the First, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, to its original place, the east bank of the Euphrates.

In February 2015, the tomb under the protection of sizeable Turkish military convoy of 39 tanks and 57 armored vehicles was moved  closer to Turkish border. Ankara believed that approaching ISIS militants were about to capture the memorial complex, and together with it a Turkish garrison, which would be a catastrophic blow to the image of the government.

Now, when Turkey is looking for a convincing argument for a limited invasion, the idea of ​​returning the tomb of Shah represents an ideal opportunity. Moreover, the territory of the complex is considered the sovereign lands of the Turkish Republic, according to a bilateral agreement with Syria.

With the complication of the dialogue between Ankara and Washington on the evacuation of Syrian Kurds from the city of Menbij, Turkish officials hinted that the operation to transfer the tomb, and with it the creation of a protection zone around, essentially an enclave of Turkish territory inside Syria, was not a whim, but a necessity. The link between the news of the intention to return the wandering Shah to the ancestral territory with Turkey’s desire to put pressure on Menbijd is obvious: the territory of the tomb is located a few meters from the main M4 highway connecting Menbij with the so-called Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, the political project of the Party of the Union, which Ankara accuses relations with the Turkish terrorist Working Party of Kurdistan.

The highest circles of Turkey understand the consequences of inaction regarding the long-term US plans in northern Syria. Ankara realizes that its American partners are seeking to restrain Syrian-Kurdish nationalism in the framework of the processes taking place in Syria. Hence the support of the American leadership of the negotiations of the Syrian Kurds and the official Damascus on the parameters of future autonomy in the north of the country.

For Turkey, at least for today, this means implementation of a political project for which the Kurdistan Workers' Party separatists have been fighting for with the central government of Turkey for more than 30 years. On the scale of the region, this means the appearance of the next Kurdish autonomy on the map of the Middle East, and with it the strengthening of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey itself, where at least 15 million representatives of this people live.

In addition, Ankara is worried about the US attention shifting from the confrontation of the consolidation of the central government in Syria, which Turkey also opposes, towards deterring Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in Syria. High-ranking officials in Ankara emphasize two factors that could potentially threaten Turkey’s national security.

First, the US confrontation with Iran through local proxy forces can escalate into open armed clashes, which can destabilize the entire section of the Turkish border as far as Iraq. In the conditions of chaos and instability, the anti-Turkish forces can get the opportunity to conduct sabotage operations already in the territory of Turkey itself.

Secondly, the American policy of active containment of Iran in the region implies a more active inclusion in possible actions against Tehran by the Arab regimes, primarily Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Under the conditions of the Middle East Cold War between the Qatar-Turkey-Muslim Brotherhood against axis of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, emergence of unfriendly forces on the Turkish border will make the region more unpredictable and may further destabilize the eastern provinces Turkey as well.

It’s hard to say when Turkish tanks cross the Syrian border this time. It is obvious that active hostilities can lead to unforeseen incidents with the American contingent stationed in northern Syria, located in several dozen strongholds along the entire border.

It is obvious that for the time being, Turkey is trying, despite friction with its NATO allies, to solve the problem of the emergence of a “garrison state” under the leadership of the PKK through diplomatic channels. Moreover, it is necessary to take into account that Ankara does not want complications with the United States in Syria, being at a disadvantage in the negotiations around Idlib. Any step against US interests in Syria could deprive Turkey of a favorable bargaining position with Russia.

Considering this, we should expect that the priority for Turkey will not be military pressure on the United States - Ankara will obviously try to transform the territory of northern Syria from the PKK project to a more neutral federal political entity, where, besides the Kurds themselves, Syrian Turkmens and the Arabs.

The operation to transfer the tomb of Suleiman Shah will remain on the agenda in Turkey for some time. The issue of restoring Turkish sovereignty over the enclave will be discussed in the context of protecting the local Turkmens population. There are already news about ongoing training of militants from among the Syrian Turkmens to assist the Turkish army in the event of the start of such an operation.

The rhetoric around this can play a positive role in the internal political situation: in March 2019 in Turkey they plan to hold local elections. Today the party of Erdogan is in a forced alliance with Turkish nationalists. But conduct it so symbolic for the nationalist electorate operation on the eve of the elections - the victory of the ruling party is assured.

The peculiarities of Turkish diplomacy and Turkey’s perception of threats at its own borders should lead Russia to involve Ankara in significant Syrian initiatives, rather than to dismiss. Any attempts to isolate Turkey entail an intensification of militaristic thinking in Ankara. And with the growth of nationalist sentiment, the position of diplomats will certainly be inferior to the military. It is worth emphasizing that at the moment Turkey in most cases focuses on the diplomatic solution of issues in relations with partner countries, which, however, should not be interpreted as weakness.

For further reading:


Is the Black Sea a “powder keg” of world politics?

By Alla Yazikova

Russia has long sought to get to shores of the Black Sea, making a lot of effort to strengthen its position in the adjacent regions - in the Caucasus and the Balkans. Already under Peter the Great, Russia marched in the Caucasus direction on the frontier of open confrontation with Persia and Turkey. The result of repeated wars between Russian and Ottoman empires was also the consolidation of Russia's positions in the Balkans and in the Black Sea region. After the First World War, the collapse of Ottoman Empire and formation of the USSR, Russian-Turkish relations were significantly strengthened, and it should be noted the role played by the first President of Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1923–1938).

In July 1936, the Montreux Convention was signed by the joint efforts of the Black Sea states, namely USSR, Turkey and Romania. As for warships, class and tonnage restrictions were introduced for non-Black Sea countries. The total tonnage of military vessels of non-Black Sea countries should not exceed 30 thousand tons, and the duration of their stay is not more than 21 days.

It is important to emphasize that the Montreux Convention is valid to this day and is automatically extended if none of its participants have any objections. Turkey was recognized as the custodian of the Convention, on whose territory the Black Sea straits are located.

The convention was also signed by Great Britain, France, Greece, Italy, then Yugoslavia, but the United States did not sign it at the time, and today it creates a number of legal problems of their stay in the Black Sea.

Over the past three decades, Russia (before it - the USSR) has achieved significant success in consolidating its position in the Black Sea region. After the Second World War, on its shores were located predominantly the Soviet republics of the USSR and the countries of the Soviet bloc. The only exception was Turkey - a member of NATO since 1952, but relations with it were gradually improved. The positive changes in Russian-Turkish relations were facilitated by the visit of Turkish President Turgut Ozal (March 11, 1991), who arrived in the USSR at the invitation of Mikhail Gorbachev, which coincided with the 70th anniversary of the first Soviet-Turkish treaty signed on March 16, 1921.

Along with the discussion of a number of international issues that are significant for both countries, a number of agreements were signed in the field of trade and economic cooperation. In particular, an agreement was reached on increasing the loan from the USSR to the sum of 400 million dollars by Turkey, and also that the volume of gas sold to Turkey would be doubled - from 5 to 10 billion cubic meters. Cooperation in the field of trade and tourism economics, as well as the attraction of Turkish construction companies to Russia, became the main area of cooperation between the two countries.

It was also decided to support the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) project, which in June 1992 included 11 countries of the Big Black Sea region (Albania, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine). Later, BSEC joined Serbia.

At the same time, in relations between Russia and Turkey as the main "stake-holders" of the Black Sea straits, disagreements repeatedly arose, which in most cases were resolved through negotiations. So, in January 1994, without any consultation with the parties to the Montreux Convention, primarily with Russia, Turkey introduced a special Regulation on shipping in the Straits area, which entered into force on July 1 of the same year. The regulation provided for a restrictive order of passage through the Straits, up to the prohibition of passage for ships, depending on their tonnage and the nature of the goods being carried. Some of the provisions of the Regulations later proved to be useful, but, as the then Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation noted, the former ambassador to Turkey, Albert Chernyshev, the very manner and form of Turkey’s actions "was demonstratively defiant."

The reasons for such “misunderstandings” can be explained by the uneven nature of Turkish-Russian relations. On the one hand, Russia recognizes in all official documents of Turkey “the status of a world power”, not as a combination of economic, military and foreign policy potential, but as a result of the fact that Russia has nuclear potential and is a member of the UN Security Council.

At the same time, the Turkish leadership did not miss the opportunity to declare itself the main “keeper” not only of the Black Sea straits, but also of the Black Sea itself, on the shores of which NATO members are today located - Romania and Bulgaria. In 2003, an attempt was made by the Turkish patrol boat to prevent the passage of the Russian warship “Caesar Kunikov” through the Straits, and only the appearance on the deck of Russian marines prevented the imminent incident.

After the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber in the Syrian skies on November 25, 2015, relations between Russia and Turkey were frozen, and Turkey unilaterally repeatedly tried to complicate the situation by preventing passage through the Straits of Russian military courts. The situation was even more unacceptable after the attempted military coup in Turkey (July 15–16, 2016), when Turkey closed the Bosphorus for the passage of Russian oil tankers and grain bulk carriers. On the same days, the rebels managed to block the bridge over the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

It should be mentioned that attempts to overthrow the government through military coups were made in Turkey several times (1961, 1971, 1980). Overthrown by the military in September 1961, Prime Minister Ali Adnan Ertekin Menderes was executed by hanging. Prime Minister Sami Suleiman Gundogdu Demirel was forced to abdicate and subsequently appeared before the court. The main requirements of the military, as a rule, boiled down to the need to "put an end to anarchy and implement the reforms of the first president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk." Among them is the prevention of the Islamization of Turkey and the increase in corruption among the top Turkish politicians.

Internal instability and the absence of normal business relations between the main Black Sea countries - Russia and Turkey - contributed to the gradual consolidation of positions in the Black Sea region of the United States and NATO countries.

At the end of 2005, agreements were signed with the members of NATO - Bulgaria and Romania on the establishment of US naval bases on the Black Sea coast. The strategic balance of forces was even more disturbed after the decision was made in 2010 to deploy the US missile defence system in Romania.

Relations between the United States and Russia became even more complicated in 2014–2016 after the annexation of the Crimea and Sevastopol, the Russian naval base on the Black Sea, and against the background of multiple contradictions between them over the conflict situation in eastern Ukraine and military operations in Syria.

At the session of the NATO Council held in July 2016, Romania’s proposal to create a naval group of the Black Sea countries of NATO was considered, but it was not implemented due to the disagreement of Bulgaria, and the remaining Turkey and Romania could hardly be recognized as a “grouping”. Nevertheless, the activities of the Black Sea countries were continued, both on a multilateral and on a bilateral basis.

In May 2016, the Ukrainian-Turkish military cooperation road map until 2020 was signed. According to the Minister of National Defense of Turkey, besides military-technical issues, plans for conducting joint manoeuvres, as well as joint measures “to enhance security in the Black Sea region,” were discussed. At the same time, referring to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “NATO is absent on the Black Sea,” and “this sea has become almost a lake in Russia. If we do not act now, history will not forgive us.”

In Western media, these statements were compared with the words of the Turkish president during a visit to St. Petersburg (August 2016) after an attempted military coup in Ankara, when he repeatedly thanked Vladimir Putin for his help, calling him a "dear friend."

This does not deny the fact that Russia remains the only state that is opposed by active military groups of NATO countries in the Black Sea. In addition to the US military bases in Romania and Bulgaria, Russia is concerned about the uncertainty of the position of Turkey, which has the greatest military potential of the Black Sea states. Thus, in terms of the number of submarines, Turkey surpasses all coastal countries (according to open data, there are 14 of them).

According to the commander of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia, Admiral Alexander Vitko, after the annexation of the Crimea and Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet "began the process of large-scale renovation and modernization of military equipment." In 2015, about 40 new ships entered the fleet, including three diesel-electric submarines and two small rocket ships, a squadron of SU-30SM multi-role fighters was formed.

In August 2016, exercises began with the participation of ships of the Black Sea Fleet - simultaneously in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. A number of ships are equipped with Caliber missile systems, which have already gained fame in the fighting in Syria. In the autumn, the aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, capable of striking long-range aircraft and cruise missiles, should join them.

Summing up, it is impossible not to notice that, despite the complexity and sometimes the explosiveness of the situation in the adjacent regions, the situation on the Black Sea remains relatively stable. In many respects, this is facilitated by the maintenance by the Black Sea countries of the legal regulation (the Montreux Convention, July 1936), which this year is 80 years old. Experts who call the Black Sea a “powder keg” are not right. In the years between the two world wars, this term characterized the situation in the Balkans, both because of the constant conflicts between the small countries located there and because of the attempts of aggression against them by the major powers - Hitler's Germany and fascist Italy.

As for the situation in the regions of which the “Big Black Sea Coast” consists, including the western and eastern Balkans, the countries of the South Caucasus, the southern regions of Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea, as well as Turkey, there are still unresolved conflicts here. The Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) and the structures created on its basis, the BSEC Parliamentary Assembly, the International Center for Black Sea Studies, the Business Council and others, play an important role in resolving disputes. It is important that within the framework of the BSEC Parliamentary Assembly representatives of countries that do not have diplomatic relations among themselves can lead a discussion on controversial issues, and in some cases they manage to find interim solutions to questions relating to their competence.

But the main thing is the strengthening of Russia's positions on the Black Sea, the expansion of the capabilities of its Black Sea Fleet and its contacts with the countries of the “Greater Black Sea Area”.