Turkey Again Courts Air Defense Controversy with Russian Offer
Turkey has reportedly invited Russia to bid on an air defense system that has become a sort of geopolitical bellwether, suggesting that Ankara may be using its rapprochement with Moscow to send a message to its Western partners.
On October 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first visit to Turkey since the two countries fell out over Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet on the Syrian border last year. And after Putin met with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia was "invited" to take part in the air defense tender, Defense News reported, citing Turkish diplomatic and procurement sources.
This would appear to revive the epic saga of Ankara's multibillion dollar T-LORAMIDS air defense program. In 2013, Turkey surprised everyone by choosing a Chinese system for the program, but after its NATO partners strongly objected, eventually abandoned the procurement and last year announced that it would instead work on building the system in Turkey.
Since then, though, Ankara has been quietly negotiating with the original American and European bidders, Defense News reported. And now Russia makes it a three-way competition.
Russia was one of the bidders in the original competition, with an export version of the S-300VM, but it was the least attractive of the four options: it shared the high price of the Western systems (reportedly double the price the Chinese offered) with the security risk of the Chinese. The crux of NATO's objection to the Chinese system was that it couldn't be securely intregrated with NATO's system; a Russian system would surely be just as dangerous from that perspective.
It's also curious in that most of Turkey's air threats have, of late, come from Russia. Even before Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 last November, Russia had repeatedly violated Turkish airspace. While Russia and Turkey have made up since then, at least superficially, there remains a deep mistrust of Russia in Turkey. So it's hard to imagine that this gesture toward Russia is much more than a tweak at Ankara's western partners, a tactic of which Erdogan is particularly fond.
Erdogan didn't formally comment on any sort of military sales cooperation during Putin's visit, but Putin spoke in generally favorable terms during his press conference with Erdogan. "As far as military-technical cooperation, we're ready for proposals on that cooperation and fulfilling serious projects of mutual interest," Putin said. "Proposals from both sides are being studied, and I'm certain that they have every basis to be realized."
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.