Fences Mended: Russia Interested in Placing Missile System in Turkey

Russian air defense systems the Pantsyr-S1 drive during the Victory Day Parade on the Red Square, which commemorates the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

The Turkish pro-Erdogan publication Daily Sabah claims Russian officials are seeking meetings with their Turkish counterparts to discuss the placement of an air defense system in Turkey.

Sabah cites the Russian outlet Interfax, which quotes Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Alexandr Fomin as stating that Russian officials are interested in discussing placing such a system in Turkey.

Fomin told Interfax the main issue raised in a meeting between Russian and Turkish military officials would be “the deployment of an air defense system to Turkey.”

“In October, Turkish foreign ministry sources said that Ankara was ready to accept an offer from Russia for a Turkish tender to build long-range air defense systems,” Sabah adds.

Turkish officials have not been as forward in discussing the air defense system. Reuters reports that Turkish officials have made clear they are interested in developing their own missile system and are open to cooperating with Russia. Undersecretary for Defense Industries Ismail Demir said this week that Turkey will move forward with the plans for a “long-range missile defence system,” and Russia is among the top bidders. He did not confirm Russian cooperation on this project, however, and it appears this air defense system will be a different project than a Russian air defense system deployed by Russia to a Turkish base.

Russia and Turkey are currently enjoying renewed diplomatic warmth following a period of extreme anxiety earlier this year. In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet after repeated violations of its sovereignty, triggering a near complete cessation of diplomacy.

By August, Russian officials were discussing the possibility of renting out space in Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. “It is not guaranteed that Russia needs to use Incirlik, but such a decision can be regarded as Turkey’s real readiness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and not just pay lip service,” Russian legislator Igor Morozov said. At the time, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim dismissed the idea because “Russia doesn’t need to use the base.”

The U.S. Air Force is Incirlik’s most prominent tenant, raising national security concerns if Russia also deployed some forces there.

The Incirlik issue followed the official re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations. The main catalyst for the newfound proximity was the failed coup on July 15; after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed to the globe that he had suppressed the coup and remained in power, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sent a friendly note to Ankara congratulating him on stopping the coup and lending his political support. Erdogan protested that the United States had not sufficiently expressed a similar sentiment, and the world leaders met. The two have met three times since the fighter jet incident.

Turkey sent Army General Hulusi Akar to Moscow last week, seeking further cooperation in the Syrian civil war. Russia and Turkey have taken opposite sides in the civil war — Russia supports dictator Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports the Syrian opposition — though both claim to be working to curb the influence of the Islamic State. Turkey has insisted on having a role in the liberation of Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State.

“The talks were held in a productive manner,” a joint statement from both sides read. “The sides discussed the issues of coordinating efforts between the two countries for the earliest neutralization of the threat emanating from the Islamic State grouping [outlawed in Russia] in the region.”