The visit of NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg coinciding with the emergence of footage showing the transit the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system through the Black Sea city of Samsun on Tuesday points to the tension between Turkey’s defense priorities and the security of the transatlantic alliance.
A notice was released the same day to close northern airspace for 10 days due to the S-400 and drone exercises in Sinop, the final destination of the Russian system, right across Russian territories.
The footage came a day after Stoltenberg warned that Ankara’s controversial purchase of the S-400 surface-to air-missile system posed a real risk to allied aircraft and can result in US sanctions.
The US has not yet commented on Turkey’s plan, but excluded it last year from its fifth generation F-35 joint strike fighter program after the country received the first batch of the Russian defense system.
“Turkey’s decision to test the S-400 missile system immediately after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s visit was, of course, very displeasing to its NATO allies,” Turkey expert Matthew Goldman, from the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, told Arab News.
“Stoltenberg was in Turkey to try to calm Turkish-Greek tensions, but also to urge Turkey to refrain from activating the S-400 system, warning that this could trigger American sanctions on Turkey. Proceeding with a test of the system today, when Stoltenberg was in Athens, sent a strong signal that Turkey is doubling down and in no mood to succumb to pressure from its NATO allies.”
According to a Bloomberg report, Turkey plans to test the S-400 next week at a site on the Black Sea coast. While the move does not mean that Turkey is immediately activating the Russian system, reports in Ankara suggest that the activation card may be used as leverage.
The exercises, where 10 British-made Banshee target drones will also be used to test the S-400s, are set to last until Oct. 16. The engagement capability of the S-400 weapons, as well as the detection and tracking ability of the system’s radars and communications system potential, will be tested.
“The timing of the testing simply pushes us to the conclusion that this may be an instrument of messaging toward Russia and Armenia,” Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News.
According to Wasilewski, Turkey may want to show its resolve on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and talk Russia into negotiations about the conflict.
“This is not the first test. The first one happened in November 2019. Turkey tried it once and endured no consequences, so I think now decision-makers are also sure there will be no consequences,” he said.