Turkey signs deal to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems

Facing NATO opposition to purchase, Erdogan says defense decisions are a matter of national sovereignty

The Russian S-400 missile defense system during a Victory Day military parade in Moscow's Red Square, May 9, 2017. (AFP/Natalia Kolesnikova)
The Russian S-400 missile defense system during a Victory Day military parade in Moscow's Red Square, May 9, 2017. (AFP/Natalia Kolesnikova)

ISTANBUL (AFP) — Turkey has signed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 missile defense systems in its first major weapons purchase from Moscow, Turkish newspapers Tuesday quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying.

The accord for the surface-to-air missile defense batteries is also Ankara’s most significant deal with a non-NATO supplier.

“Signatures have been made for the purchase of S-400s from Russia. A deposit has also been paid as far as I know,” Erdogan said in comments published in the Hurriyet daily and other newspapers.

“(Russian President Vladimir Putin) and myself are determined on this issue,” he told journalists.

This file photo taken on May 3, 2017, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shaking hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a press conference following their meeting in Sochi. (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)

The purchase of the missile systems from a non-NATO supplier will raise concerns in the West over their technical compatibility with the alliance’s equipment.

The Pentagon has already sounded the alarm, saying bluntly that “generally it’s a good idea” for NATO allies to buy inter-operable equipment.

Erdogan said Turkey was free to make military acquisitions based on its defense needs.

“Nobody has the right to discuss the Turkish republic’s independence principles or independent decisions about its defense industry,” he said in the comments published Tuesday.

“We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves, we are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to defend our country.”

The Turkish leader said the process would continue with a transfer of Russian credit to Turkey.

‘Strategic interests’

Moscow also confirmed the accord, with Vladimir Kozhin, Putin’s adviser for military and technical cooperation, saying: “The contract has been signed and is being prepared for implementation.”

He said that the S-400 was one of the most complex systems, made up of a whole range of technical materials.

“I can only guarantee that all decisions taken on this contract strictly comply with our strategic interests,” he was quoted as saying by Russian state-owned TASS news agency.

“For this reason we fully understand the reactions of several Western countries which are trying to put pressure on Turkey.”

Russia’s relations with NATO have been in crisis over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and for backing pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has currently troubled ties with the United States over a number of issues including Washington’s support of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara considers a terror group.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shake hands as they attend a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting in Istanbul, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. (Kayhan Ozer, Presidential Press Service, Pool photo via AP)

The Turkish-Russian contract is a sign of better relations between Ankara and Moscow since a reconciliation deal was signed last year following the 2015 shooting down by the Turkish military of a Russian plane over the Syrian border.

Moscow has accepted Ankara’s expressions of regret over the incident and the two countries have revived the relationship since then.

Ankara was also gladdened by Moscow’s response to the July 15, 2016, failed coup in Turkey.

Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to phone Erdogan offering support and sharing none of the scruples of EU leaders about the ensuing crackdown.

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