Ankara and Moscow have signed an agreement to buy the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, valued at $2.5 billion, to establish a strategic alliance. This landmark deal also serves as a prelude to Turkey’s withdrawal from NATO after 55 years of membership. The S-400 has a range of 400 km, and can shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously.
Vladimir Kozhin, a military adviser to Putin, said the S-400 contract with Turkey is “compatible with our strategic interests. On that score, one can quite understand the reaction of some Western countries that are trying to put pressure on Turkey.” Preparations are underway to receive the first batch of these missiles.
The deal has caused much concern in the West, especially when Erdogan said: “We’re the only ones responsible for taking security measures to defend our country.” Meanwhile, Iran has signed a deal to acquire the less sophisticated S-300 missile system.
Turkey has the second-largest army in NATO, and has been forging closer ties with Russia amid souring relations with the US and EU. The importance of the S-400 deal stems from two main elements. First, Russia refused to sell this system to Israel many times. Second, Israeli officials’ frequent visits failed to convince Moscow not to sell it to Turkey.
Moscow would not have decided to sell the S-400, the crown jewels of its military industry, were it not certain of the strength of its new strategic alliance with Turkey, and the latter’s desire to turn its back on the West and toward Russia and China, which are rising politically, militarily and economically.
Russia, Iran and Turkey have formed a new bloc at a time when the fate of many states in the region is at stake.
A proposed alliance between Russia, Iran and Turkey would help prevent the fall of Syria to US allies, and thwart the establishment of a Kurdish state. In this regard, it seems Erdogan shares the same vision as Putin.
The Astana process, launched at the start of 2017 and sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey, has played a major role in reaching a cease-fire in most of Syria. The US is not part of that process, signaling that Moscow, Tehran and Ankara have formed an alliance.
This alliance is likely to consider an attack on the Syrian province of Idlib soon to liberate it from Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham extremists once the Deir Ezzor battle is over. With this Russian-led alliance forming, MENA is fast changing at a time when the fate of many states in the region is at stake.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme