First choice of Allies for defense systems, Turkey must look elsewhere if necessary

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Turkey has always preferred to buy defense systems from its allies, including the United States, but its inability to do so has forced it to look elsewhere, its head of diplomacy said on Saturday.

Ankara has been saying for years that it was forced to opt for Russian-made air defense systems, which it says was not a choice but a necessity, because it was unable to procure them from a NATO ally, particularly the United States, satisfactorily. terms.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed that Turkey needed more air defense systems and would again choose to buy them from the United States or other allies, but did not rule out buying more from Russia.

“We prefer to buy them from the United States and our allies. And if we can’t buy from our allies, I have to find another source,” the foreign minister said in an interview with CNBC at the Doha Forum international conference.

Çavuşoğlu also expressed regret over the duration of the agreement between Turkey and its European neighbors.

Ankara buying S-400 aerial missile systems, the first delivery of which arrived in July 2019, is a long-standing point of contention between Turkey and the United States

The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry and removed the country from the F-35 fighter jet program, where it was a major manufacturer and buyer.

Washington argues that the S-400s could be used by Russia to secretly obtain classified details of F-35 jets and that they are incompatible with NATO systems.

Turkey, however, insists the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.

When asked if, after the initial purchase, Turkey might buy other such systems from Russia, Çavuşoğlu refused to rule out the option and stressed that the S-400s were a “bargain concluded”.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also stressed on Friday that Turkey’s position on its acquisition of the missile defense systems is unchanged and that the deal is a “done deal”.

“Our region is not a safe haven… so in this case, we are still working on other alternatives,” Çavuşoğlu said. “My country is a sovereign country and I have to protect my country and I have to buy my needs from any country possible,” he added.

SAMP/T missile defense systems

Çavuşoğlu also recalled President Erdoğan’s meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi last week on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels.

The main issue discussed at the meetings was the Eurosam SAMP/T missile defense systems and their joint production, the minister said.

Erdoğan said on Friday he discussed the possibility of buying SAMP/Ts from the Franco-Italian Eurosam consortium with Macron and Draghi.

The Italian Prime Minister also said that Italy, Turkey and France will relaunch a cooperation group between the three countries.

Eurosam “is a joint venture between France and Italy. And we signed an agreement, a letter of intent with Eurosam about eight years ago, (but) nothing happened until today,” Çavuşoğlu said.

“Now these two countries are very curious to have joint production in Turkey to export SAMP/T, the air defense system, to my country,” he explained.

The three-nation missile program aims to defend against threats from stealth aircraft, drones and missiles. The joint development activity was also expected to support Turkey’s air and missile development program, in addition to opening up prospects for export and longer-term cooperation between Turkey, Italy and Turkey. France.

The Eurosam consortium is made up of the European missile manufacturer MBDA, itself a joint venture between Airbus, the Italian Leonardo, the British BAE Systems, the French defense contractor Thales, whose main shareholders are the French State, and the fighter aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

Çavuşoğlu also highlighted how far Turkey has come in producing its own defense products.

He said that Turkey currently produces more than 70% of its defense needs. Explaining that they are also working on an air defense system, Çavuşoğlu said they are also trying to find alternatives to meet Turkey’s air defense system needs.

‘Out of the question’

Regarding reports and ideas suggesting that Turkey is sending its S-400 missile defense systems to Ukraine to help it fight the invading Russian forces, Çavuşoğlu said this “is out of the question”.

Reports over the past week have revealed that the United States has informally discussed with Turkey the unlikely possibility of transferring the S-400s to Ukraine as it attempts to repel the Russian invasion which began on 24 February. Ankara called these ideas “completely unrealistic”.

Erdoğan also dismissed the reports, saying “all they do is cause trouble” in reference to Washington.

Also responding to the claims, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun stressed that informal proposals would not restore relations, urging the West and the United States to deliver F-35 fighter jets and Patriot batteries to Ankara “without preconditions”.

Turkey, which has cultivated close ties with Russia and Ukraine, is trying to balance those relations and has positioned itself as a neutral party trying to mediate.

Ankara called Russia’s military actions in Ukraine “unacceptable”, but also said it would not give up on either side.

Russian oligarchies

Asked about the Russian oligarchs, who have been hit with harsh Western sanctions since the start of the war, Çavuşoğlu said they were welcome in Turkey but had to respect international law to do business.

“If Russian oligarchs … or Russian citizens want to visit Turkey, of course they can,” the minister said.

“If you want to say if these oligarchs can do business in Turkey, then of course if it’s legal and not against international law, I’ll think about it,” he said, adding: “If it’s contrary to international law, then that’s another story.” .”

Two superyachts linked to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich have docked at Turkish resorts.

Western governments have targeted Abramovich and several other Russian oligarchs with sanctions as they seek to isolate President Vladimir Putin and his allies.

Natural gas

Pointing out that Turkey’s natural gas dependence on Russia has fallen from 51 percent four years ago to less than 40 percent today, Çavuşoğlu said the country is diversifying its energy sources.

“We are diversifying and finding new sources of energy, and we are also investing a lot in renewable energy,” he noted.

The war is likely to harm Turkey’s economy, given its deep energy, defense and trade relations, while the two markets are its main sources of tourism.

The dispute has raised the prospect of even higher inflation in Turkey, an importer of oil, natural gas and grain, whose prices have surged around the world.

Russia supplied around 46% of Turkey’s gas last year and Ankara is seeking shorter gas deals with Moscow to ease import costs.

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