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Russia announces new sale of S-400 anti-missile system to Turkey

Ankara qualifies the acquisition of a second batch and claims that it is part of the first agreement
Putin Erdogan

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk in Moscow, 5 March 2020

In December 2017, Ankara agreed with Moscow to purchase a $2.5 billion batch of Russian-made S-400 anti-missile systems, which was delivered in July 2019. Three years later, the Kremlin-affiliated state news agency TASS has announced the sale of a second batch of this air defence system to the Eurasian nation. However, Turkey's Defence Industry Agency (SSB) has been quick to deny this.

According to TASS, the head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS), Dmitry Shugayev, said on Tuesday at the Army-2022 international forum, a military conference organised by the Russian defence ministry, that "a corresponding agreement has already been signed" with Turkey, which "allows localising the production of some components of the system" on Turkish soil. Ankara has flatly rejected the claims, telling Reuters that the terms of the agreement "already included two batches": "The purchase of a second batch was included in the original plan and in the corresponding contract".

Turkish official sources quoted by Reuters further maintain that "technical discussions on the delivery of the second batch are ongoing, and these issues include, among others, the involvement of Turkish engineering in the systems". "Therefore, we do not have any concrete developments that deserve to be reported. The process is ongoing and there are no new agreements," they say. The main new development would be that Turkey would take on a producer role.

The information has come out just two weeks after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan travelled to the resort city of Sochi for a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. At the meeting, the two men tried to bring their positions closer together and minimise their differences. It also coincides with the visit of a Turkish military delegation to the United States to negotiate the purchase of F-16 fighter jets, according to the Anadolu Agency.

A new arms deal between Ankara and Moscow would heighten tensions in a context of war in Ukraine. The Turkish administration is aware of this and has been quick to deny Shugayev's statements. Erdoğan's government has allowed the sale of Bayraktar T2 drones to the Ukrainian army, and has avoided selling them to Russian troops. It has also played a mediating role in unblocking Ukrainian ports, although it has not joined in sanctions against Russia.

The Islamist leader is moulding his image as a diplomatic pivot, but it would not be the first time he has made a challenge to his Western NATO allies. With the first purchase, officially executed two years after the announcement, the United States reacted by imposing sanctions on Turkey and expelling Ankara from Lockheed Martin's F-35 aircraft programme, a programme for which it was not only a buyer but also a manufacturer. Washington considered the mere possession of Russian weapons to be a threat to the Atlantic Alliance for intelligence purposes.