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Alarming West, Turkey nudges closer to Russia arms deal

Istanbul, Turkey | AFP | Turkey and Russia are inching towards an accord for the first major Turkish weapons purchase from Moscow, troubling Ankara’s allies in NATO even though the deal may not ultimately materialise.

According to Turkish and Russian officials, all preparations have been made for the purchase of a sophisticated S-400 missile defence system, Ankara’s most significant accord with a non-NATO supplier.

But despite confident proclamations, the deal has yet to be officially inked.

Analysts remain sceptical over whether Turkey will ever take delivery of the surface-to-air missile defence batteries. Some argue the message sent to the West matters more than the actual acquisition.

The Pentagon has already sounded alarm, saying bluntly that “generally it’s a good idea” for NATO allies to buy inter-operable equipment.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan boasted that “God willing we will see the S-400s in our country”.

Erdogan has argued that Turkey’s fellow NATO member and occasional regional foe Greece has Russian-made S-300 batteries on its southern island of Crete, originally bought by Cyprus in the late 1990s but passed on to Greece to prevent escalation on the divided island.

– ‘Show dissatisfaction’ –

Dmitry Shugaev, the head of Russia’s military-technical cooperation agency, told the Kommersant daily that the deal was “almost done” with just some “subtleties” to solve.

The United States “may be indignant but Turkey is an independent state and can decide itself,” he said.

However Igor Delanoe, Deputy Director of the French-Russian Analytical Centre in Moscow, said he was “very sceptical” that the deal would come to fruition.

Russia was uncomfortable with the transfer of technology and production localisation demanded by Turkey, he said. Moscow also had a demand backlog to its own forces but also to key client China.

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