Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, revealed plans to deploy a Russian missile defence system by April 2020. In a speech given at an event on 15 July in Ankara, Erdoğan stated that Turkey will jointly produce S-400s with Russia. The announcement has caused tension between Turkey and the U.S., as well as many other Western nations, due to the S-400’s similarity to the F-35 fighter jets that Turkey also produces. As a result, the United States announced that it has cancelled its shipment of F-35s to Turkey in response to the weapons deal with Russia.
In his speech, Erdoğan stated: “we have begun to receive our S-400s. Some said ‘they cannot buy them,’ [but] they will have been installed in their sites by April 2020.” He also added that “the S-400s are the strongest defence system against those who want to attack our country. Now the aim is joint production with Russia. We will do that.” Despite the S-400’s reputation as a “magic bullet” by some defence experts, weapons analyst Michael Kofman described it as “terribly overhyped,” claiming that it will have difficulty accurately tracking and firing at other jets, such as the F-35s. In response to the United States’ cancellation of the F-35 program, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement calling “upon the United States to return from this mistake that will cause irreparable wounds in our strategic relations.”
These weapons are designed to be deadly and to have maximum impact when used in international warfare. Producing weapons this violent should not be necessary, as other diplomatic strategies should be used to resolve conflict. However, Turkey now finds itself caught in the middle of the United States and Russia over these fighter jet programs, which could have severe global consequences as tension between these the United States and Russia is consistently growing. Turkey has previously aligned itself with the U.S. but they now seem to be distancing themselves and siding with Russia for the S-400 weapons deal. Turkey is an important European strategic ally, due to its proximity to Asia and the Middle East, as well as its connections to Europe and NATO. Erdoğan holds a lot of power in his hands, and while he does not hold full responsibility for preventing conflict between Russia and the United States, he should be aware of the impact that his actions may have on the relationship between the two nations.
The S-400 jet can launch up to four missiles at once and can attack aircraft at a range of about 155 miles away from an altitude of about 82,000 feet. Erdoğan revealed that the first shipment of Russian S-400 parts has just been sent over and received by Turkey and the system is intended to be fully running by April of next year, so Turkey will likely be the first and only NATO member to operate the Russian weapon. This announcement has raised concerns from many of Turkey’s Western allies, who are all NATO members. The United States has been the most vocal in its opposition to Turkey’s S-400 program and has threatened sanctions, as they believe that the S-400s are in direct competition with their F-35 fighter jets. Turkey currently has about 100 F-35s of their own, but according to a report by Reuters, U.S. officials intend to take Turkey off the F-35 program, meaning that Turkey would no longer be allowed to produce F-35 parts or buy any more jets. Although they have already cancelled the F-35 program, Erdoğan does not believe that the U.S. will follow through with the proposed sanctions, according to the Reuters report. He referred to the two nations as “strategic allies” and believes that Trump will use his executive authority to waive sanctions and find a “middle ground.”
Turkey’s announcement to work together with Russia to produce S-400s has concerned much of the Western world and caused significant retaliation from the United States. Although it is unclear whether the United States will follow through on its intention to impose sanctions on Turkey for their purchase of the Russian S-400s, its cancellation of Turkey’s F-35 program sends a clear message that Turkey cannot work together with both of these weapons programs. Turkey’s decision adds another layer to the tension between the United States and Russia, and it is important to ensure that this tension does not lead to violence and global warfare. Both of these nations are very powerful and can use these dangerous fighter jets against each other to inflict lots of damage all over the world.
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