Turkey is considering deploying Russian S-400 missile defence systems on its southern coast in an effort to boost its military capability in the Eastern Mediterranean amid heightened tensions over natural gas resources, Selcan Hacoğlu reported in Bloomberg on Thursday.
While Washington has increased pressure on Ankara over Turkey’s plans to acquire Russian systems, Turkey is also at odds with Cyprus and Greece over gas exploration and drilling efforts in the eastern Mediterranean.
The long-range S-400 batteries, which are scheduled to be delivered in July, could dramatically enhance Turkey’s military capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean, where it is embroiled in a spat with European Union member Cyprus over offshore gas exploration, Bloomberg quoted sources as saying on condition of anonymity.
Turkish has sent naval vessels to accompany its drilling vessels as they search for hydrocarbons off Turkey’s southern coast. Meanwhile, Cyprus plans to conduct eight drilling operations for hydrocarbons in its exclusive economic zone over the next 24 months.
According to Bloomberg’s sources, Turkey has also been considering other locations to deploy S-400 missiles, but, if approved, a southern deployment would send a strong message to Turkey’s rivals and allies in the region. Spokesmen for the Turkish government did not respond to calls for comment, Bloomberg said.
In the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey rejects the Greek Cypriot administration’s exploitation of the hydrocarbon wealth around the island on the basis that this infringes on Turkish Cypriots’ rights to the island’s resources. Turkey also has territorial claims that overlap with Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Three U.S. congressmen last week introduced a new bipartisan bill that supports the growing partnership in the eastern Mediterranean between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus and calls for an end to the arms embargo on Cyprus.
It followed a bill introduced by Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez in April signalling a change in the United States’ eastern Mediterranean policy. That bill also included increased defence support for Turkey’s neighbours and halting the delivery of 100 U.S. F-35 fighter jets ordered by Turkey if it completes its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system.
“Turkey regards the S-400s as a deterrent to defend its energy interests in the East Med where brewing tensions may threaten to bring Turkey’s relations with the U.S. to a breaking point,” Bloomberg quoted Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of Ankara-based research institute ANKASAM, as saying. According to Erol, Turkey feels increasingly threatened by Washington and Tel Aviv’s support to Nicosia.
Igor Korotchenko, head of the Moscow-based Centre for the Analysis of World Arms Trade, said that Moscow had not attached any conditions to where Turkey should deploy the missiles.
With Ankara determined to go through with its purchase of the Russian-built systems, the deployment of S-400s on the Mediterranean could alarm other countries operating F-35s in the region, including the U.K. and Israel, Bloomberg said. Turkey’s NATO allies are concerned that the Russian system would have implications for NATO interoperability and expose the F-35 fighter jets to possible Russian subterfuge.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone conversation on Wednesday discussed Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 missile defence system, and are likely to continue the discussion during the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, next month.