Despite fierce criticism from Russia, Ankara will not reverse its decision to officially ask NATO to deploy Patriot missiles along the Syrian border.
A senior Turkish official responding to a Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman’s remarks said, “We want a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis and have tried hard for this. Don’t forget the artillery shells that fell on Akcakale are not falling on Russian border. The Phantom plane was not shot down over the Russian border. They have no artillery rounds falling on their heads in Russia.”
Ankara was not surprised by the Russian reaction to Turkey’s request for Patriot missiles from NATO. This explains why the Turkish Foreign Ministry, instead of responding directly to Russia and entering into a verbal duel, simply said that the Patriots were for defensive purposes.
Ankara, which had emphasized the defensive nature of the Patriot missiles in its request to NATO, thinks Russia’s reaction is similar to its reaction to the NATO missile shield radar at Kurecik. But neither the foreign minister nor government sources want tension with Moscow over Syria on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s early December visit to Turkey.
Ankara, keen to build on the economic and strategic dimensions of its relations with Russia, still thinks that Russia can be persuaded to agree to a transition process after Bashar al-Assad goes. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to raise the issue of an “orderly change in Syria without Assad” with Putin and also with US President Barack Obama if a White House appointment can be made for the beginning of 2013.
A senior official noted that the Patriots will boost Turkey’s deterrence against Syrian harassment.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal said, “We asked for the Patriots to avoid further escalation of the Syrian crisis and to prevent that crisis from becoming a threat against us. They are for defensive purposes.”
Senior sources said two Patriot batteries are likely to be supplied by Germany. Turkey will also work on setting up its own missile defense system. Turkey is not going to purchase Patriots, but intends to buy its own defense systems against medium-range missiles as soon as possible.
At the moment, using the Patriot missiles in an offensive capacity to enforce a no-fly zone between Kilis and Aleppo, in combination with another defensive system, is not on Ankara’s agenda. The senior official said Washington has not yet decided on such a formula and has not been in official contact with Turkey about it.