2019-05-20

Turkey may use Russian S-400s to improve its posture in the Mediterranean Sea


NATO turned 70 in April - a solid age for any international organization. It seems, however, that for such a long time the United States has never learned to see in Turkey a full-fledged ally who may have its own interests. Pending the delivery of Russian S-400 air defense systems to Turkey in July of this year, the parties are trying to find a common language, but Ankara’s American partners out of habit speak the language of ultimatums.

Turkey must decide whether it wants to remain in the most successful military alliance in the whole history of the world or put the security of this cooperation at risk," US Vice President Mike Pence said recently. The White House is concerned about of strategic weapons in Turkey's hand, which could potentially threaten the alliance and US interest in the region.

In talks with his obstinate ally, the Americans point out that Ankara should not simultaneously operate fifth-generation F-35 and S-400 air defense systems due to the fact that the radars of the Russian system may disclose technologies that make the American aircraft especially valuable in the upcoming conflicts: rapid exchange of data on the combat situation with the central command post on the battlefield and the ability to maintain low visibility in the fight against the air defense of a potential enemy, Russia or China.

Turkey, while acknowledging concerns of the Americans, proposed the creation of a technical commission, whose task would be to eliminate any fears of Washington. In response, the Americans continue to escalate the situation, threatening Turkey not only with complete exclusion from the F-35 program, but also with the imposition of sanctions and the cessation of military-technical cooperation on other defense projects.

The US response may indicate the existence of growing mistrust and even fear of the US political elites regarding Turkey’s long-term plans to expand its interests in the region.

The change in the global balance of power is not in favor of the United States forcing Americans to reconsider extend of their involvement in the affairs of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The focus is not only on finding more effective methods of projecting force in exceptional cases, as shown by the recent shipment of an aircraft carrier to the shores of Iran. Of special importance for the global domination of the United States is the defense potential of the regional allies networked with the American political system, not through market interests, but via cultural affinity and ideological heritage.

First of all, we are talking about security guarantees for Israel. The US administration is not limited to promoting the rapprochement of the monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Tel Aviv on the basis of common anti-Iranian sentiments. The United States is making a significant contribution to the development of Israeli defense capabilities and energy security. Such support in practical terms is expressed in the transfer to Israel of an exclusive export version of the F-35 (with heavy contribution of the Israelis with their avionics), as well as in promoting cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean waters with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus in the field of natural gas production.

In parallel with this, Turkey is trying, on a number of critical issues for US interests, to adhere to an independent position, which is not always approved per se in Washington. For example, Ankara’s desire for an independent foreign policy in the Middle East effectively leads to a weakening of the US sanctions blockade against Tehran. The United States cannot but be disturbed by Turkey’s stubborn desire to support the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the region, which Washington is about to classify as a terrorist organization upon request of the Gulf monarchies.

Not surprisingly, Israel today is talking about the undesirability of transferring fifth-generation F-35 aircraft to Turkey. Future strategic deterrence weapons may not be effective in the event of a regional conflict with the likely involvement of Turkey or the pro-Turkish forces. The ability to study the behavior of these aircraft in critical situations, along with the effective use of the S-400 can limit the freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force .

Israeli air forces operate openly in the Turkish zone of influence near Cyprus and Aleppo, which indicates the likelihood of a repetition of the unauthorized invasion of Israelis into Turkish airspace (as was the case in 2007 when the Syrian nuclear reactor was successfully bombed by the IDF). Such an incident will obviously lead to a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Tel Aviv. Turkey is unlikely to be sincerely ready to engage in a dialogue with Israel on military-political issues, given the Israelis ' active support of Kurdish nationalism.

Apparently, the United States understands the importance of taking preventive steps, not waiting for Turkey to receive Russian air defense assets and integrate them into the actively developing navy and amphibious power projection capabilities. According to Washington, the transformation of the mechanism of economic cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel into a system of mutual security guarantees will serve as a deterrent for Turkey.

The start of the exploration of natural gas reserves by the Turkish vessels in the disputed waters of the Mediterranean provoked criticism not only from Greece, Cyprus and the EU, but also from the United States as well. It seems that Turkey does not intend to wait for the resolution of the Cyprus issue, on which the demarcation of international maritime borders depends.

Russian S-400 air defense systems can give Turkey the necessary confidence in defending its national interests. The reason for the disagreements between Washington and Ankara over Russian air defense systems lies not in the technical details as such, but in the growing mistrust between the two NATO allies who are not ready today to share influence in the region. Against the background of the weakening of the combat potential of the Turkish Air Force, subjected to large-scale purges after the attempted coup in July 2016, Russian air defense systems capable of closing most of Turkey’s exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea can significantly strengthen Ankara’s position.

Obviously, Russia, as one of the world's leading exporters of weapons, should carefully monitor that economic transactions do not undermine the existing foundations of military-strategic parity in the region. In such an important matter, it is necessary to know the buyer by sight: to understand his long-term political plans well and to have guarantees that the weapon will not be used against the core interests of Russia itself anywhere.

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