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Kremlin confirms Turkey buying Russian S-400 missile defence system

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
The China Post


ISTANBUL/MOSCOW - Russia and Turkey have signed a contract for Ankara to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system, the Kremlin confirmed on Tuesday, in a move that could set off alarm bells in Washington.

"The contract has been signed and is being prepared to be fulfilled," Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was earlier quoted by local media as saying that his country had put down a deposit for the advanced missile system, the best that Russia currently has on offer.

US military officials and politicians have expressed concerns over the intentions of Turkey, a NATO member, to buy the Russian system amid wider signs of Ankara getting closer to Moscow over the past year.

Joseph Dunford, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in July that such a purchase "would be a concern" for Washington.

At a hearing by the US Senate's foreign relations committee last week, both Republican and Democrat members expressed concerns over the reports that Turkey was planning to move ahead and buy the Russian system.

Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the committee, floated the idea that the purchase could violate US sanctions against Russia.

Russia's Kozhin told TASS that "all the decisions made for this contract strictly comply with our strategic interests."

"In this regard," Kozhin continued, "the reaction of some Western countries that are trying to put pressure on Turkey is completely understandable to us."

Erdogan said Turkey would independently determine its defence requirements, the Hurriyet newspaper and others reported.

"Our friends have signed with regards to the S-400. As far as I know, they also paid the deposit," Erdogan told reporters.

The Russian S-400 is not compatible with NATO systems. Some media reports have said the deal could be worth up to 2.5 billion dollars.

While Washington has largely been negative on such a purchase, there have been hopes that the deal would not go through, stemming from the belief that in the past Turkey has flirted with Russia and Iran when its relations with the West were strained.

Also, previous Turkish efforts to buy a Chinese missile defence system were not successful in part over disagreements on knowledge transfer.

Steven Cook, an expert with the US-based Council on Foreign Relations who testified at the Senate hearing last week, called on the US to "re-evaluate its relationship with Turkey" and deal with Ankara "purely in transactional terms." Turkey joined NATO in 1952.

"We should make it abundantly clear, and not just privately, but publicly to the Turks, that if they move forward with the S-400, there will be consequences for them," said Cook.

NATO still has Patriot missiles stationed in Turkey that were deployed at Ankara's request amid the unfolding crisis in neighbouring Syria, and the alliance maintains a number of bases in the country.

In 2015, Turkey downed a Russian warplane, sending relations into a tailspin, but several months later patched up the ties. Since then, Ankara and Moscow have seen warming relations, with reaching an accord on Syria increasingly at the forefront of talks.

The US and Turkey have seen their relations deeply shaken in recent years, in part over differences in Syria.

The US has prioritized the fight against the extremist group Islamic State, while Turkey is increasingly alarmed by Washington's alliance with Syrian Kurds to fight the jihadists.

A number of US citizens are being held in Turkish prisons without trial, including Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor in jail since last year, adding to growing international concerns about human rights and backsliding on democracy in Turkey.

The US, meanwhile, has indicted Turks, including a former minister, in connection with busting sanctions on Iran. Several of Erdogan's presidential bodyguards were also indicted after they brawled with Kurdish protesters in Washington in May.

Turkey, for its part, wants the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric Ankara blames for last year's coup, but so far Washington says there is not enough evidence against the preacher, a legal resident.

"Turkey needs the US, and the US needs Turkey," said Gonul Tol, director of Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "They will keep the relationship at a functional level."

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