ANKARA, Turkey — After the controversial multibillion-dollar purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system, the Turkish government appears to be taking advantage of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine to force a return to the Western supply system .
“Turkey is a NATO ally and will remain so. The war between our two partners, Russia and Ukraine, has created a new understanding for stronger supply ties with our NATO allies,” a presidential aide told Defense News, speaking on on condition of anonymity to discuss Ankara’s diplomatic tightrope walk.
The war has once again placed Turkey in a pivotal broker position within NATO. Ankara has cultivated ties with Russia and Ukraine which officials hope will pay dividends in future negotiations. Turkey’s approval is also needed to advance Sweden’s and Finland’s respective NATO membership bids, which arose out of their fears that Russia would seek to permanently isolate them from the EU. alliance.
But there is a story to overcome.
In 2020, Turkey paid $2.5 billion for the Russian S-400 air defense system. But fearing further isolation and sanctions from its allies, Turkey decided not to make the system operational. In response to the acquisition, the United States suspended Turkey’s membership in the multinational consortium building the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet. Turkey’s down payment of $1.5 billion for a first batch of stealth jets, which Ankara never received, remains to be repaid.
[Scroll down to the end of this article to see major Turkish weapons purchases from 2012-2021.]
In March this year, a senior Turkish diplomat who deals with NATO and security affairs told Defense News that the Russian-Ukrainian war had virtually killed all potential Turkish-Russian weapon system deals. strategic.
With Russia no longer on the table as a military supplier, Turkish leaders are once again probing the Western market.
A senior Turkish procurement official said earlier this spring that the Eurofighter Typhoon was an option, involving the sale of around 80 planes – a purchase that would give Turkish industry an edge as it builds the plane. native fighter of the country in the making, the TF-X.
The Typhoon was originally designed as an air superiority fighter. It is manufactured by a consortium made up of Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo, which leads the majority of the aircraft project through a joint holding company, Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH. The NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency, representing the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain, manages the project and is its main client.
Turkey has also decided to acquire 40 F-16 Block 70 aircraft and upgrade kits for its 80 older F-16s. The Turkish request went to Congress in April. Earlier in May, the Biden administration asked the House of Representatives to approve the upgrade of Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets. A potential deal could include high-tech missiles, radar systems and electronic warfare suites for aircraft.
In addition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed hope in March that trilateral talks between Turkey, France and Italy to co-produce the European air and missile defense system SAMP/T, built by Eurosam, would resume after the French elections in April. In the same optimism, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in late March that Italy and France were now considering “more seriously” to co-produce SAMP/T systems in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Britain has taken steps to ease Turkey’s return to the Western supply system. Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakcı said in February that Britain had lifted a ban on arms sales to Turkey, imposed after a unilateral Turkish offensive in northern Syria in 2019. The easing of trade restrictions has been kept secret from the public, and some observers say Canada may follow.
But most Western restrictions remain in place. For example, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden have imposed comprehensive arms embargoes on Turkey since 2019 due to its military interventions in Syria. France imposed restrictions on a range of defense and aviation subsystems, and Italy banned the sale of certain products. Germany has suspended plans to sell engines to power the Altay, Turkey’s first indigenous main battle tank being built.
“Turkey’s careful balance between its NATO allies and Russia has generally been recognized in the West, sometimes with much praise. How Turkey maneuvers between the opposing interests of the West and Russia in the near future will shape the West’s appetite for Turkey’s return to its supply system,” said analyst Ozgur Eksi. defense in Ankara.
Some Western diplomats believe Erdoğan could try to use Turkey’s NATO veto to reset supply relations with the West. He said on May 13 that his country was “not in favor” of Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, indicating that Turkey could use its membership to veto the admission of the two. country. The issue was not resolved at press time.
“The Turks seem to be preparing for a difficult negotiation process, which could include the transfer of certain weapon systems,” a US diplomat said in Ankara.
Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has prompted Finland and Sweden to reconsider their traditions of military non-alignment.
Eksi said that due to the war in Ukraine, Turkey is unlikely to consider touching a major arms deal with Russia that was previously on the table. “This includes any Turkish intention to purchase Russian-made Su-35 or Su-57 aircraft,” he said.
Erdoğan previously said Turkey was interested in buying the Russian-made fighter jets.
Burak Ege Bekdil is Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a member of the Middle East Forum and writes regularly for the Middle East Quarterly and the Gatestone Institute.