Spotlight: Turkey's NATO membership to be questioned following S-400 delivery: analysts

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-20 22:54:22|Editor: Yamei
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ISTANBUL, July 20 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's purchase of the sophisticated Russian S-400 air defense system will inevitably raise questions about its reliability in NATO, while the move may represent a step toward a shift of axis in Ankara's security policy, analysts told Xinhua.

In response to the arrival of the first batch of the Russian missiles in Turkey last week, the United States said on Wednesday that Ankara would be kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program.

Washington has long opposed Ankara's bid to acquire the state-of-the-art missiles, arguing the S-400s on Turkish territory would pose a risk to NATO's security.

"Turkey's membership in NATO will now be questioned," said Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.

"Whether Turkey will leave NATO or not will inevitably be our new topic of discussion in the days to come," he added.

Amid U.S. threat of expulsion from the F-35 project as well as sanctions, the first parts of the Russian missile system arrived in the Turkish capital on July 12. The S-400 shipment continued all along over the past week.

The S-400s "will have detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the (NATO) Alliance," the White House said in a written statement on Wednesday.

The statement also noted that "accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems."

"It's certain the U.S. decision will negatively affect Turkey's position in NATO," said Yasar Yakis, a former foreign minister of Turkey.

As a production partner in the U.S.-made F-35, a brand new fighter jet, Turkey was scheduled to procure a total of 116 of them and has already paid 1.4 billion U.S. dollars for the deal.

However, Washington had already suspended the delivery of the jets to Turkey last year amid rising tension between the two countries over the S-400s.

"How negative an impact the U.S. decision will have on Turkey's position within NATO depends on how the sides will tackle the next stage of the crisis," Yakis said.

Amid Turkey's rapprochement with Russia and strained ties with its Western allies in recent years, there has been much talk of Ankara's shift of axis in Western media.

"Given that the S-400s started to arrive in Turkey, the so-called process of shift of axis has began in some way," argued Yakis.

In case the confrontation with the Unite States continues, Turkey may possibly increase its military and security ties with Russia and China, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that Ankara is also interested in acquiring additional batteries of the S-400s and joint production with Russia of the more advanced version of the S-400s, the S-500 system, which is ready for mass production as announced by Moscow last month.

It would be highly optimistic to assume that Moscow would share a state-of-the-art military technology with a NATO member, Yakis said, without ruling out the possibility that Moscow may encourage Ankara's production of some parts of the missile system.

Following Turkey's suspension from the F-35 project, Moscow said it is ready to offer its advanced SU-35 fighter jets to Ankara.

Any further involvement by Ankara in Russian hi-tech military technology would boost doubts within NATO that Ankara is drifting away from the West.

Turkey's removal from the F-35 project has the backing of other partners, most of which are NATO members, a Washington statement revealed.

"The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program," said Ellen Lord, the U.S. undersecretary of defense.

Following the delivery of the S-400s, Turkey risks being isolated in NATO.

It is hard to say whether Turkey would be excluded from some crucial NATO meetings, remarked Yakis.

"It is most probable that Turkey's position within the alliance will no longer be the same after the S-400s," he said.

"Turkey may turn into a NATO member on paper only," maintained Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military.

There may well be a marked decrease in invitations by NATO for Turkish participation in joint operations and drills, as the other members of the alliance would avoid getting their own military platforms connected to those of the Turkish military, argued Dilek.

Ankara concluded the S-400 deal with Moscow at the end of 2017 and will get a total of two batteries of the air defense system for 2.5 billion dollars.

Turkey is the first NATO country to have acquired the Russian system which can track stealth aircraft and engage 36 targets at a time at a range of up to 400 kilometers.

The S-400 version Turkey received has, however, an engagement range of 250 km only, according to some pundits.

"The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities," the White House said.

The reference to detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability and to S-400s as intelligence platforms in Washington's statements is a clear indication of the negative effect the S-400s will have on Ankara's place in the NATO alliance, remarked Dilek.

The U.S. fears the S-400s stationed on Turkish territory could gather valuable information about the stealth features of the fifth-generation F-35s.

Washington did not immediately remove Ankara from the F-35 program, but said the process to that end was already initiated.

The removal process is scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2020, when Lockheed Martin, the U.S. manufacturer of the state-of-the-art aircraft, will replace Turkish firms in the F-35 production program with contractors from other countries.

Time allowed for Turkey's official expulsion is widely seen as the door being left open to a potential reconciliation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said some portion of the S-400 system would be ready by the year end, while the system in its entirety would be fully operational by April next year.

The statements from both sides regarding the final dates should be read as a sign that negotiations will continue between Ankara and Washington, remarked Dilek.

The White House statement also revealed that Washington does not want to lose a key NATO ally. The "strategic relationship with Turkey" is "still greatly valued" by the U.S., it said.

"As NATO allies, our relationship is multi-layered, and not solely focused on the F-35," the statement further said.

If the two NATO allies fail to settle their differences over the S-400s in the days ahead, the U.S. is also expected to impose sanctions on Turkey, while Ankara has warned of countermeasures.

"Turkey and the U.S. should first de-emotionalize and cool down the crisis and then work toward establishing bilateral ties on a reasonable and solid basis with a long-term perspective," stated Yakis.

Ankara's withdrawal from NATO in favor of another bloc would lead to "a tectonic movement" and drastically change the balance of power in the region with huge risks, he said.