Russia / Mideast

Intel: How Russia, Turkey are expanding their military cooperation to America’s detriment

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Following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Moscow on Tuesday, Russia and Turkey are discussing prospects for further military-technical cooperation.

On the way back to Ankara, Erdogan was asked if Turkey was interested in the Russian planes. “Why not? We didn’t come here for nothing,” he replied.

Erdogan added that a respective decision would be made after a “final word” from the United States over Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, however, made that stance pretty clear on Wednesday when he said the only way Turkey was getting F-35s is if it returns its S-400 missile defense system to Russia.

Earlier, at the MAKS-2019 air show in Moscow, Erdogan was caught on camera asking Russian President Vladimir Putin whether Ankara could purchase Russia’s Su-57 fifth-generation jet fighter.

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“Yes, you can,” Putin replied after a pause.

Why it matters: Moscow and Ankara have long been in talks over the purchase of Russian military jets. Those talks have intensified following Turkey’s suspension from the US F-35 program and the Russian sale of S-400 missile systems to Turkey. Shortly after the meeting between Putin and Erdogan, the director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugaev, told reporters at the MAKS air show that the two countries have been discussing the sales of the Su-35 — a competitor of the F-35 — and the Su-57 as well as Russian electronic warfare systems. Russia's Vedomosti newspaper reported that the air show program at MAKS was “adjusted to the specifics of the Russian-Turkish consultations on aviation issues.” A top manager of one of the defense plants who spoke with the media on condition of anonymity said that the exhibition flight of the Su-35 in front of the two leaders was meant to make a “quality leap” in talks between Turkey’s military and Rosoboronexport, the state agency that handles Russia’s exports and imports of defense products.

“We all see the unprecedented pressure put on Turkey, but as far as I know Ankara adopted a direct and consistent position” on the purchase of the S-400, the head of Russia’s military-industrial giant Rostec, Sergey Chemezov, said in July when first discussing the option of selling Russian warplanes to Turkey. “The fact that Turkey doesn’t bow under the pressure of its NATO allies demonstrates the independent foreign policy course of the Turkish government and the president.”

Much ado about nothing? Speaking to Al-Monitor, Andrei Frolov, a military analyst and editor-in-chief of the Russian journal Eksport Vooruzheny (Arms Export), said Erdogan’s visit didn’t change much in terms of facilitating the military-technical cooperation between the two countries.

“The visit was meant to coincide with the delivery of the second batch of S-400,” he noted.

Speaking of further potential contracts, Frolov mentioned a possible purchase of Su-35 as well as “Vityaz” and “Pantsyr” air-defense systems and transport helicopters.

“Some co-developing projects are also possible. Russia could help them with the TF-X [Turkey’s experimental fifth-generation fighter] and, in turn, borrow drone production technologies as well as things like electronics,” he explained.

What’s next: Shugaev will soon meet with the head of Turkey's Defense Industry Directorate, Ismail Demir, to discuss further prospects of the military-technical cooperation.

“It’s too early to speak about concrete contract talks, the usual practice is we first need to have some consultations,” Shugaev said. He also noted that Moscow may assist Ankara in creating its TF-X.

Head of Russian aircraft maker MiG Ilya Tarasenko wrote on Facebook that Erdogan also showed interest in the MiG-35 multi-role fighter while at the air show.

Know more: Read Maxim Suchkov’s story on Putin’s ice cream diplomacy with Erdogan and Kirill Semenov’s take on how Moscow and Ankara can settle the battle for Syria’s Idlib.

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Alexandra Dzhordzhevich is a special correspondent for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Previously, she covered the Russian military-industrial complex for the Kommersant Publishing House from 2017 to 2019. She is a graduate of the Moscow State University School of Journalism. On Twitter: @a_dzhordzhevich

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