Turkey’s decision to buy an advanced missile defence system from Russia is not aimed at sending any political messages, a Turkish official has said, a day after Ankara announced the finalisation of a deal that might affect its relations with NATO.
Ahmet Berat Conkar, head of the Turkish delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said the purchase of the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles was solely based on technical and financial reasons.
“Turkey’s picked S-400 over other options because the missile system possesses more advanced technical features than its rivals, with a better price and shorter delivery time,” Conkar, who is a member of parliament for the ruling AK Party, told Al Jazeera.
His comments came after Nurettin Canikli, Turkey’s defence minister, said on Saturday that the S-400 deal with Russia was “done”.
“The S-400 missiles are purchased. Only small details are left to handle at this point,” Canikli told reporters in the northern city of Giresun.
Russia’s S-400 is an advanced anti-aircraft surface-to-air defence system that has been imported to various countries.
In the bidding process, before agreeing on buying the S-400, Turkey – which is a NATO member and hosts a base for the military alliance – had also considered US defence contractor Paytheon’s Patriot system.
Since its announcement last summer, the Turkish-Russian deal has been viewed with suspicion in NATO circles, as the Russian-made equipment is believed to be incompatible with the systems used by the alliance.
General Petr Pavel, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, had recently warned Turkey about the consequences of a possible S-400 purchase from Russia.
“The principal of sovereignty obviously exists in acquisition of defence equipment, but the same way that nations are sovereign in making their decision, they are also sovereign in facing the consequences of that decision,” Pavel told reporters in Washington, DC, on October 25.
Defence officials in the United States have also expressed concern over the purchase agreement multiple times.
According to NATO’s policy, “interoperability does not necessarily require common military equipment. What is important is that this equipment can share common facilities and is able to communicate with other equipment”.
But Conkar said he believed the purchase would not affect Turkey’s cooperation within NATO and its participation in the alliance’s activities.
“There are other countries who have bought weapon systems from third countries. NATO projects and actions are carried out through a planning process that would not interfere with Turkey’s other defence investments,” he told Al Jazeera.
The cost of the Russia-Turkey S-400 deal is worth more than $2bn, according to the CEO of the Russia’s state-run defence company Rostec, quoted by official TASS news agency.
Turkey, which has been relying on Patriot batteries from NATO allies for its air defence, has been seeking to have its own system for some years now.
In 2012, Ankara requested air defence support against threats posed by missiles from across its border with war-torn Syria.
Responding to the request, NATO allies Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the US in January 2013 contributed missile batteries to augment Turkey’s air defence, according to official NATO records.
But the vast majority of the air defence batteries were withdrawn in 2015, despite Ankara’s concerns over the security of its border.
Currently, Spain and Italy provide one Patriot missile battery and one ASTER SAMP/T battery each for Turkey’s air defence respectively.
In a separate development, Ankara last week signed a letter of intent with France and Italy to cooperate with these countries in order to develop a new missile defence system, according to Canikli, the defence minister.
“In addition to the S-400 deal, Turkey also made preliminary agreements with the Eurosam countries to develop, produce and use the air defense system in order to improve its long-term domestic national capacity,” said Canikli, adding that Ankara aims to have its own technology in this area.
Eurosam is a consortium of Italian and French companies set up to develop anti-aircraft defence systems.
Conkar said the Eurosam deal demonstrates that Turkey has no intention of antagonising its allies through the purchase of S-400 missile systems.
“This development openly reveals that Turkey will work with its allies to develop such systems in the middle and long term. However, it needs the S-400 system for its immediate defence,” he told Al Jazeera.
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