Turkey’s Quest for Air Defense: Is the S-400 Deal a Pivot to Russia?


In an attempt to build up its air defense systems, Turkey is finalizing a deal to purchase the Russian S-400 weapons system. Ankara’s decision is in part a response to the threat posed by Russian involvement in Syria. Turkey is hoping that cultivating closer ties with Moscow might remove Russia as a threat. But, as this paper illustrates, the deal fails to address Turkey’s security concerns, further alienates its NATO allies, while providing Moscow more leverage over Ankara.

Key Points 

  • As Russia takes an aggressive stance in Syria, Turkey is frustrated with NATO for dragging its feet on security assistance and differences in threat perceptions.
  • Turkey wants to become more independent in its defense technology, but remains reliant on other states for air and missile defense systems.
  • The deal is hardly a sign of a strong Turkey-Russia strategic partnership. On the contrary, Turkey still views Russia as one of the biggest threats to its national security.
  • Russia has used trade as a point of strategic leverage against Turkey in the past. This latest deal only deepens Turkey’s vulnerability to Russian policies.
  • Turkey’s zigzagging on issues with Russia, such as Crimea’s annexation, demonstrates Ankara’s increasingly weak hand in relation to Moscow.

Read the full Policy Focus here. 

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