Turkey in search of way out of S-400 deal with Moscow, say analysts

Amid claims that Turkey may hand over the S-400 air defense system to be bought from Russia to some other country under mounting U.S. pressure, analysts said Turkey is looking for a way out of the trouble.

“It looks as if Turkey will back down from the S-400 deal in some way,” Hasan Koni, an analyst on international relations with Istanbul Culture University, told Xinhua.

Okan Muderrisoglu, a columnist for the pro-government Sabah daily, wrote Tuesday that after the delivery of the S-400 missiles is complete, the option of keeping them in Azerbaijan or Qatar was on the table for Ankara.

Turkey is scheduled to get the first batch of the sophisticated long-range air defense system from Russia in July, making it the first NATO country to have the missiles.

Turkey will probably do a turnaround regarding the S-400 system by offering Russia some concessions, argued Koni.

“In case Ankara would not budge, the U.S. may economically ruin Turkey,” he explained.

Jogn Sitilides, an adviser to the U.S. State Department, told U.S. media days ago that President Donald Trump would economically punish Ankara if the S-400 deal is not scrapped.

Amid signs of recession, Turkey needs roughly as much as 200 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, nearly 175 billion dollars of which is short-term debt, to run its economy.

Washington, extremely vexed by its ally’s decision to acquire the S-400 missiles, warned Turkey of sanctions if it follows through the deal.

The United States argues that Russian missiles on Turkish territory could gain valuable intelligence on the technical systems of the U.S.-made stealth F-35 jets expected to be delivered to Ankara in November.

Turkey appears to be trying to come up with a new formula for the S-400 missiles to avoid confrontation with the United States, Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security policy analyst, told Xinhua.

The United States threatened to block the transfer of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and remove it from the F-35 joint production program unless Ankara drops the S-400 deal.

The Sabah columnist’s article about the S-400s may be aimed at preparing the ground for the ruling party’s supporters to get used to such an idea, commented Koni.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top Turkish officials had repeatedly underlined that there was no turning back from the deal with Moscow.

However, in what could be seen as a sign of Ankara’s search for a way out in the S-400 issue, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that “if we are a NATO member, we must also pay heed to NATO’s concerns.”

Cavusoglu dismissed, nevertheless, Washington’s argument that the missiles would pose a threat to the F-35 jets, noting that the U.S. and Israeli F-35s have been flying over Syria where the S-400 system is deployed.

Cavusoglu was in Washington D.C. early this month to discuss the S-400 issue with his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo, while Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met there with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in the past week.

Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak was received by Trump at the White House last Monday, which was described by media reports as a surprise meeting.

According to press reports, Turkey is hoping for Trump to intervene to lighten any sanctions against Ankara over the S-400 issue.

Ankara’s pledge that the S-400 batteries would not be interconnected to the NATO facilities in Turkey has failed to convince Washington.

The United States has offered to provide its Patriot missiles if Turkey drops the S-400 deal, but the offer appeals less to Ankara as it does not essentially include any transfer of technology.

Neither of the analysts thinks Azerbaijan or Qatar is a practicable option for Turkish S-400s given that the U.S. has its largest military base in Qatar with many aircraft and that Azerbaijan is within Moscow’s sphere of influence.

“Why should these countries risk attracting Washington’s anger?” Ozcan asked, noting Moscow may not be willing to share the technical information it would necessarily pass on to Ankara about the S-400 system with either Azerbaijan or Qatar.

Local media reports said in recent months that Ankara was considering passing the S-400s to countries such as India and Venezuela.

Ahmet Takan, a columnist with the Yenicag daily, claimed in mid-March that Ankara had given Moscow the message that it may give up the S-400s.

Turkey took up the S-400 issue with India which is also planning to get the same system from Russia, Takan wrote, claiming a deal could be reached if New Delhi would agree to pay Ankara the down payment given to Moscow for the missiles. The reports that Ankara may resell the missiles to a third country were denied by Cavusoglu at the end of last month.

“It’s only (Vladimir) Putin who can settle the S-400 issue for Turkey,” Ozcan said, maintaining that the Russian president could come up with a proposal for resolving the S-400 tangle at a time he deems appropriate.

Arguing Putin would know he cannot take Turkey away from the West, Ozcan said, “given the close ties Putin has with Erdogan, it is not in Russia’s interest to see Erdogan lose power because of U.S. economic pressure, but Turkey would feel indebted to him in case he shows Ankara the way out of this.”