(Tactical Talk) – ISTANBUL — In the clearest sign of his pivot toward Russia and away from NATO and the West, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that Turkey had signed a deal to purchase a Russian surface-to-air missile system.
The deal cements a recent rapprochement with Russia, despite differences over the war in Syria, and comes as Turkey’s ties with the United States and the European Union have become strained.
It is certain to stir unease in Washington and Brussels, where officials are trying to keep Turkey — a longtime NATO member, and an increasingly unlikely candidate for European Union membership — from entering Russia’s sphere of influence.
The deal comes as relations between Russia and the West are at a particularly low point. Tensions escalated in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and then began fomenting armed revolt in eastern Ukraine.
Although a prospective missile purchase from Russia was made public several months ago, Mr. Erdogan’s announcement was the first confirmation that Turkey had transferred money to pay for the missile system, known as the S-400.
“Signatures have been made for the purchase of S-400s from Russia,” Mr. Erdogan said in comments published in several newspapers on Tuesday. “A deposit has also been paid as far as I know.”
The purchase of the missile system flies in the face of cooperation within the NATO alliance, which Turkey has belonged to since the early 1950s. NATO does not ban purchases of military hardware from manufacturers outside the American-led alliance, but it does discourage members from buying equipment not compatible with that used by other members.
A NATO official in Brussels, the headquarters of the alliance, said that no NATO member currently operates the Russian missile system and that the alliance had not been informed about the details of the purchase by Turkey.
“What matters for NATO is that the equipment allies acquire is able to operate together,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity as required by alliance procedures. “Interoperability of allied armed forces is essential to NATO for the conduct of our operations.”
Turkey had earlier planned to buy missiles from China, but that deal fell through under pressure from the United States.
Western arms makers lobbied hard for the expansion of NATO into former Soviet satellite countries after the collapse of Communism. They have since lobbied both new and old NATO member states not to stray outside the alliance for weapons purchases that would cut into their business.
Mr. Erdogan dismissed issues of interoperability, brand loyalties or the geopolitical optics of such a sale. “Nobody has the right to discuss the Turkish republic’s independence principles or independent decisions about its defense industry,” the daily newspaper Hurriyet reported him as saying.
“We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves,” he said. “We are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to defend our country.”