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30th Mar 2023

Turkey and Russia confirm arms deal, in Nato headache

  • Turkey had wanted to buy US 'Patriot' air-defence technology prior to its S-400 deal (Photo: nato.int)

Turkey and Russia have pledged to go further on military cooperation despite US sanctions, in a move that risks destabilising Nato.

"We prefer to solve all issues, including that of the S-400, through negotiations," Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday (29 December), referring to a Russian-made air-defence system bought by Turkey.

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But recent US sanctions over the purchase were "an act of aggression against our country's sovereign rights", the Turkish minister said.

"We will not give up on our intentions," Çavuşoğlu said, after meeting Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi, Russia.

The US blacklisted four Turkish officials in December over the S-400 and previously excluded Turkey from a fighter-jet development programme, amid concern Russian-made radars could jeopardise Nato assets in the region.

But for Russia's Lavrov, the West was trying to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia because they had defied its claim to monopoly on power.

"We appreciate ... the principled disposition of our Turkish colleagues to continue cooperation in this area, despite the continuing illegitimate pressure from Washington," Lavrov said in Sochi.

"Our relations acquired strategic importance long before the West began to threaten and impose its illegitimate, unilateral sanctions," Lavrov said.

Çavuşoğlu repeated the official line that Turkey did not see closer ties with Russia as an alternative to its Nato and EU alignment.

And there was still hope in Nato circles the US and Turkey could do a deal to mothball the S-400 deal.

But Turkey has also picked a fight with the EU over Cypriot and Greek maritime zones, deepening its rift with Western allies.

And Russia and Turkey's willingness to use force has seen them sideline Nato and EU powers in some of the principal conflicts shaping the Mediterranean.

Russia and Turkey have fought on opposite sides in Libya and Syria's civil wars.

Turkey also defied Russia by using drones and mercenaries to recently help Azerbaijan reconquer the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia.

But Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov promised to back Libya peace talks, create a de-escalation zone in Syria, and monitor a Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire.

Turkey in Azerbaijan

Turkey's defence ministry, also on Tuesday, said it would send a general and 35 officers to a new Russian military centre being built in the town of Aghdam in Azerbaijan.

It said 135 Turkish mine-clearing soldiers and a number of military trainers were also in Azerbaijan.

And it used language that risked inflaming ethnic tensions.

Turkey's defence chief praised his "Azerbaijani brothers and sisters" for having "liberated its lands from Armenia's occupation".

And Turkey's foreign ministry, the same day, accused "Armenian elements" of killing Azerbaijani civilians in violation of the truce, in an uncorroborated claim.

"We wish Allah's mercy upon our Azerbaijani brothers who lost their lives," the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov also promised to complete construction of the 'TurkStream' gas pipeline to the EU, despite pandemic-linked delays.

And Russia gave Turkey the right to manufacture its 'Sputnik V' coronavirus vaccine, in a symbolic gesture.

"The aim of this cooperation is not only for vaccine supply but ... for this vaccine to be produced in Turkey as well," Çavuşoğlu said.

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