Reuters has reported that Russia and Turkey are close to signing a military contract to provide Turkey with S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. Turkey previously bought these weapons from Russia, moving President Biden to impose sanctions on Ankara under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which was originally passed under President Trump in 2017. The bill provides sanctions for nations that undergo transactions with the Russian defense or intelligence sector.
The missile contract has large implications in the world of international power politics. Turkey’s involvement in military negotiations has angered its NATO allies. The United States fears that the defense system could be used to collect intelligence on the stealth capabilities of the Lockheed-Martin-produced F-35 fighter jet and has since removed Turkey from its F-35 Lightning II jet program, per Bloomberg. Turkey has responded by arguing that the S-400 system would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the Turkey-NATO alliance.
Turkey received its first shipment of the S-400 system in 2019 and has continued to purchase the system from Russia despite sanctions instituted by the United States. Turkey’s purchase from Russia has previously put a strain on Washington and Ankara’s relationship, including on an attempted negotiation on the purchase of Patriot air defense batteries from Washington. These strains follow a pattern of NATO dissatisfaction with the increasingly friendly nature of Turkey and Russia’s relationship.
In addition to angering NATO nations with the purchase, Turkish stockpiling of weapons bodes poorly for peace in the Caucasus. The announcement comes in the wake of the Armenian Minister of Defence, Arshak Karapetyan, attending a military-industrial exhibition near Moscow last week amidst assurance from Russia that Armenia will continue to receive its military assistance. Karapetyan has also made assurances to boost the domestic production of arms to eliminate the need for middlemen in arms negotiations.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, largely aided by Turkey, have been embroiled in a war since late 2020 over land in the disputed Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh region. After Azeri forces captured the large city of Shushi in Artsakh, a ceasefire was called to end the fighting, with large swaths of land turned over to Azeri hands. While a ceasefire has been formally called, fighting has always threatened to break out again and the news of both Turkey and Armenia stockpiling weapons is foreboding for the maintenance of peace between the two Caucasus nations. With Russia supplying both Turkey and Armenia with weapons, this will no doubt cause the West to become embroiled in the conflict as well.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev complained in an interview with CNN Türk that the Russian supply of weapons to Armenia is “disruptive.” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke in Parliament, saying, “I must note that some forces are trying to present our army reform agenda as evidence of our plan or decision to adopt an aggressive policy and start a war… This is the farthest from the truth because Armenia, like any peace-loving state, will develop and upgrade its Armed Forces not to sow aggression and to protect its own sovereignty.”
Turkey’s deal with Russia is worrisome for both Turkey’s relationship with NATO and peace in Armenia. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, has made no indication that the sanctions from the United States will deter them from completing the deal. Closer to Turkish borders, Armenia’s escalation of weapon production in conjunction with Turkey’s increasing armament bode poorly for the continuation of the ceasefire reached by Azerbaijan and Armenia.
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