by Aggelos Skordas
Within 2019 Russia will begin delivering its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense system to Turkey. The contract between Moscow and Ankara was signed in 2017 and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed that a deposit of the 2.5 billion dollar deal has already been paid. The agreement between the two countries has caused a fierce reaction by NATO as Turkey is a member of the alliance and has deepened the country’s rift with the United States.
On Tuesday, Russian Interfax news agency, citing state arms exporter Rosoboronexport officials, indicated that the state intermediary agency would also switch to using local currencies instead of the US dollar in deals with foreign trade partners. “The contract is implemented within the agreed time limits. In 2019 we will start implementing the contract”, Rosoboronexport’s CEO Alexander Mikheev was quoted as saying. Earlier, unnamed Turkish officials also confirmed to local media that the missiles will be deployed by July 2019.
Washington has expressed concern that Turkey’s deployment of the Russian anti-aircraft weapon system could put at risk the security of several US-made weapons used by Turkey, including the F-35 fighter jets and radar facilities. On August 13, US President Donald Trump signed a defense bill, which would delay the delivery of the F-35 to Turkey, although Turkish diplomatic sources quoted by state-run Anadolu agency said that the bill signed by Trump “does not bring any sanctions” against Ankara.
The bill calls for the US Secretary of Defense to submit a report within 90 days addressing the impacts of Turkey’s purchase of S-400s on US-made weapon systems in Turkish territories, Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reports.
The S-400 system is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometers away and has previously been deployed solely by China and India.
The announcement is expected to further deteriorate relations between Washington and Ankara. The two NATO allies disagreement on a number of issues -including US support of Kurdish armed groups in Syria, Washington’s refusal to extradite Turkish imam and opposition figure Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara accuses as the mastermind of the July 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan and the continuing detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey over terror-related charges- has caused an unprecedented crisis between them.
Additionally, Turkey’s intention to purchase both the F-35 jets and the S-400 missiles has caused concerns in Greece and Cyprus as Erdogan has lately intensified hostile rhetoric against the two countries. Athens and Nicosia fear that in a possible crisis with neighboring Turkey, similar to that of 1996 over the status of the Imia islets in the Aegean, the two sophisticated weapon systems could give Ankara a significant operational advantage.