ANKARA, Turkey — What Turkey’s security establishment views as an “emerging Russian threat” is forcing military and procurement planners to amend their short-term shopping list in favor of defensive gear.
Officials say the confrontation with Russia over Syria since last November has created a “de facto situation” that modifies priority purchase plans.
“This is a new situation and has to be addressed immediately,” a top security official said. “Apart from its NATO and diplomacy dimensions there is a procurement angle, too.”
“It is totally understandable that Turkey feels threatened. NATO will stand by its ally against any potential aggression from any source. But our Turkish allies also should feel free to act alone to buy any system in order to counter any threat,” said one NATO ambassador in Ankara.
Turkey on Jan. 30 claimed that a Russian military aircraft violated its airspace, slightly more than two months after it shot down a Russian Su-24 based on the same claim.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that a Russian Su-34 violated Turkish airspace on Jan. 29 although it was warned repeatedly by Turkish radar units in Turkish and Russian. A ministry statement said that Russia’s ambassador to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, was summoned over the incident.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Jan. 30 denied any violation of Turkish airspace.
“There were no violations of Turkish airspace by aircraft of the Russian air group in the Syrian Arab Republic. Turkish authorities' statements of an alleged violation of Turkish airspace by a Russian Su-34 jet are naked propaganda," spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying by Russia's Sputnik news agency.
Two Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su-24 on Nov. 24 after it briefly violated Turkish airspace along Turkey’s border with Syria. Turkish-Russian relations were badly strained after the incident. Moscow announced a slew of commercial sanctions on Turkey, which Ankara calculated could cost the country up to $9 billion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened that Russia’s retaliation would not be “limited to commercial sanctions only.”
After the shootdown of the Su-24, Russia reinforced its military deployments in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean, including installation of S-400 air and anti-missile defense systems. Fearing a clash with Russia, Turkey has since halted its airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds in Syria.
Analysts say the confrontation is the natural outcome of a proxy war in the Syrian theater. Turkey supports Sunni rebels who have been fighting to overthrow Syria’s non-Sunni president, Bashar al-Assad, while Shiite Iran and its ally, Russia, support him.
One senior Turkish procurement official said the new “Russian-related” acquisition plan would involve new purchases as well as “a political push to give pace to ongoing programs.”
He said that the new priorities include stand-off jammers; a potential plan to buy two more [in addition to the four already delivered] aerial early warning and control aircraft; medium- and long-range air defense systems; intelligence-based systems designed for better border security, including the Gokturk 3 and Gokturk 4 satellites; 3D radar modernization; purchase of light, armed aircraft of the "air tractor" type; reconnaissance aircraft and surveillance balloons; and smart munition.
A London-based defense analyst said: “Some of those items may not come into the Turkish inventory as quickly as to counter any short-term Russian threat, some may never materialize and some may not be too useful in the unlikely event of a clash … but it’s reasonable that the Turks are in a buying rush.”