A Turkish Army tank is seen on patrol in the predominantly Kurdish town of Cizre, Turkey.(Photographer: Staton R. Winter/Bloomberg News)

Turkey Planning to Buy Both Russian and U.S.-Made Missiles

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. proposal to sell an advanced air defense system to Turkey may not be enough to persuade Ankara to abandon an arms deal with Russia that’s strained relations between the NATO allies.

Turkey is planning to buy both Russian and U.S.-made missile-defense systems even if Washington agrees to sell Patriot batteries to Ankara, two Turkish government officials familiar with the country’s defense policy said Wednesday. It’s not clear the U.S. would agree to that, but there were signs it was prepared to make other overtures to persuade Turkey to give up the Russian missiles.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the U.S. military is preparing to withdraw its forces from northeastern Syria, removing the possibility of their getting caught in the middle of a threatened Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish troops.

After balking for years at selling Turkey its Patriot missile defense system, the U.S. State Department notified Congress on Tuesday that it has proposed doing just that, a gambit designed to get Ankara to halt the S-400 deal, which could compromise NATO technology. The Kremlin said the sale would be unaffected by Washington’s offer, and Turkey’s Defense Ministry declined to comment.

The U.S. had earlier resisted selling Turkey the Patriot because it objected to Ankara’s demand to share technology. But as tensions with Iran rise, it wants to bring the Turkish government more firmly within NATO’s orbit.

Ankara is trying to diversify defense suppliers, and one big advantage of the Russian systems is that it gives the buyer some control over the technology, unlike American counterparts, said Konstantin Makienko, deputy head of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow think tank.

“There is a 90 percent chance that the Russian contract on the S-400s will be implemented,” Makienko said. “They also may buy Patriots in the future.”

New Crisis?

There’s also the possibility that the U.S. and Turkey may find themselves at cross-purposes over the American offer.

If the U.S. aim “is to persuade Turkey to drop the purchase of S-400s, then that could lead to a new crisis,” Kilic Bugra Kanat, an analyst with the Ankara-based SETA think tank, told a conference on Wednesday.

Turkish-U.S. ties are already rocky over a series of disputes including Washington’s support for a Syrian Kurdish force that Ankara regards as a mortal enemy; Turkey’s demand that the U.S. extradite a preacher it accuses of instigating the failed coup attempt in 2016; and the conviction of a Turkish banker on Iran sanctions violations charges.

The reported planned pullout of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, where they are involved in the fight to dislodge the remnants of Islamic State, could go a long way toward improving ties and making the abandonment of Russian missiles more palatable to the Turkish government.

Turkey finalized plans to buy the Russian systems last year, with first delivery scheduled for October 2019. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been adamant that Turkey would take the Russian missile system, saying traditional allies in the West failed to meet his country’s defensive needs.

Russia has promised Turkey joint production and technology transfer as part of the agreement, a key Turkish demand. That said, officials in Ankara have lately softened demands on transferring know-how should the U.S. decide to sell Turkey some of its most advanced air defense systems.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.