ANKARA: Russia’s announcement that it is ready to hold negotiations with Ankara on the delivery of Su-35 and Su-57 fighter aircraft if requested may cause further tensions between the US and Turkey, experts say.
Turkey hired a Washington-based law firm last month to lobby for its readmission to the US F-35 fighter jet program after it was suspended following its purchase of the Russian air defense system. Washington says the presence of the Russian S-400 system in Turkey would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35s to possible Russian ploys.
Turkey’s previous order for about 100 F-35s was also canceled by the US, pushing Ankara to search for alternatives from other procurers and to focus on building its own fighter jet.
On March 12, Valeria Reshetnikova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), said: “As for Ankara’s potential plans of purchasing Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters, the Turkish side has been informed about their technical specifications in full. If there is a request from Turkey for these planes, we are ready for negotiations on this issue.”
“The Turkish side has for quite long stated its intention to implement the project of developing its own TF-X fifth-generation fighter. Russia earlier indicated that it was ready to consider the possibility of cooperation under this program. However, we have not received the corresponding request from Ankara so far,” Reshetnikova said.
Russia’s call last week for Ankara to reconsider its previous decision on the Su-57s aims to draw Turkey further away from Washington and avoid a “reset” in the relationship, analysts say.
Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations, said the latest call by Russia to negotiate the purchase of Russian-made aircraft is a tactical move to keep Moscow-Ankara military cooperation on the Western agenda.
“The Kremlin knows very well that Turkey will not purchase a Russian jet,” Sezer told Arab News. “Even if it decides to buy it, it will receive it in 10 years’ time at the earliest. Russia wanted to remind Turkey of its unfulfilled commitments while trying to break ties between Turkey and the Biden administration from the very beginning,” he said.
Since February, the FSMTC has stepped up its calls for Ankara to continue negotiations over the Su-35 and Su-37.
Russia offers individual strategic partners the export version of the Su-57 fighter jet, which is considered the newest generation of Russian multi-role stealth combat aircraft.
Turkey became interested in buying Russian Su-35s or fifth-generation Su-57s after it was suspended from the US fighter jet program in 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reviewed the Su-57s with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in 2019 during an international aviation fair held in Moscow.
Turkey’s Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank recently said that Turkey would not hesitate to discuss with Russia the purchase of Su-35 and Su-57s.
“We are against the plane of country X, we are against the plane of country Y. If there is an airplane in Russia for our current needs and it will not be difficult to put it into our system and operate it, we can of course buy this plane from Russia or another country in Europe,” he told Sputnik News on March 11.
“This is the similar discourse Turkish officials used in late-2016 and early-2017 when the S-400 procurement issue began to arise,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.
“Although Varank has no official responsibility in procurement decisions, I think Turkey is again trying to leverage the Russian card against the US, while Russia could be looking for another sale,” he said. However, Kurc said that this time the US position was very clear.
“There are no mixed messages as during the Trump administration. Furthermore, the Biden administration already signaled that the Turkish-American relations would be more transactional, meaning that the US would not shy from increasing the pressure if Turkey continues to have significant military-industrial cooperation with Russia,” he said.
According to Sezer, Turkey’s recent foreign policy moves have disturbed Russian policymakers.
“Ankara pledged to buy the second batch of S-400s last year, but since two months there is no attempt from Ankara to negotiate it as if it suddenly forgot all its previous commitments,” he said.