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​Can the Transfer of Turkish S-400s to Ukraine Be a Realistic Scenario?

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​Can the Transfer of Turkish S-400s to Ukraine Be a Realistic Scenario?

In the public media, the issue of transferring the russian S-400 SAMs purchased by Turkey to Ukraine appeared as early as 2023, when Ankara officially refused the Pentagon proposal to transfer the systems to Ukraine

Victoria Nuland gave a new impetus to the discussion of this topic in her interview with CNN Turk at the end of January. There, the US Deputy Secretary of State noted that the United States would agree to Turkey's return to the F-35 fighter program (4 of which were already built for Turkey on the eve of the country's exclusion from the program) on the condition that it abandons the S-400. It is likely that refusal will mean their transfer to Ukraine, as the Americans proposed back in 2023.

Can the Transfer of Turkish S-400s to Ukraine Be a Realistic Scenario, U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland stated that Turkiye could be an F-35 customer once the S-400 problem is solved, Defense Express
U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland stated that Turkiye could be an F-35 customer once the S-400 problem is solved

However, the issue of the transfer of Turkish S-400s to Ukraine is not so much in the realm of Turkish-US relations as in Turkish-russian ones. Refusal of weapons purchased from russia will be a significant blow to russian-Turkish relations, will undermine the image of Turkey as a negotiable and reliable partner. The ability to negotiate with East and West and willingness to do so is the hallmark of Erdogan's foreign policy. The interaction between Turkey and russia covers a wide range of issues in various spheres of activity (export of grain and energy resources, nuclear energy, tourism, evasion of sanctions) and various geopolitical points of confrontation (Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Caucasus, Central Asia, Sahel). Theoretically, Erdogan could discuss this issue with the russians in such a way and with such proposals that could interest the russians.

Read more: S-400 in Crimea Destroyed: Even Recon UAV Approached the russian Air Defense System Unnoticed (Video)

However, it is difficult to imagine the conditions under which Putin would voluntarily agree to another yatagan in the back from Erdogan, especially before the elections in russia. Bilateral interaction between Erdogan and Putin is always about the discussion of complex issues and long hours of negotiations, which often have a negative impact on Putin's image and positioning. In this context, may come to mind the downing of the Russian Su-24, the killing of the russian ambassador in Ankara, or Putin's constant waiting for Erdogan before joint photos. The transfer of russian weapons to Ukraine by the Turkish leader would be an incredible blow to the international and domestic image of the Kremlin and Putin personally. But the discussions on the transfer of the S-400 and the offer of the Americans are an interesting trump card for the game between the Turks and the russians, which was aptly thrown up by Nuland on the eve of Putin's visit to Turkey, which will probably take place on February 12 (the date is not final).

Can the Transfer of Turkish S-400s to Ukraine Be a Realistic Scenario, The S-400 SAM in Turkey, 2019, Defense Express
The S-400 SAM in Turkey, 2019 / Illustrative photo

The transfer of the S-400 to Ukraine in exchange for the previously ordered F-35, from the point of view of the russians, is not an unrealistic scenario, but a potential and quite significant threat to the russian federation in the war against Ukraine. Moreover, there are several new arguments at this stage. First of all, these are Turkey's successes in developing its own medium- and long-range Hisar and SİPER air defense systems. The purchase of 4 S-400 divisions in the russian federation was an interim decision aimed at closing the shortage of such air defense systems in Turkey.

In December 2023, Turkey launched long-range SİPER air defense systems into serial production. Rumor has it that Turkey's progress in the development of these air defense systems was achieved by borrowing the technologies of the russian S-400, which is quite likely. In addition, the US agreed to the purchase of 49 F-35 fighters from Greece in exchange for the start of the transfer of Soviet air defense systems to Ukraine. The West is interested in maintaining balance between Greece and Turkey, and allowing the sale of F-35s to Turkey along with the weakening of Turkish air defense is such a direction of bilateral cooperation that the United States or United Kingdom will be ready to continue discussing in the future. This is a logical and predictable direction of their diplomacy, which the Russian Federation is aware of.

If we assume that Turkey did agree to the American proposal and ignored the concerns of the russians, then this would be a pretty good increase in the capabilities of Ukrainian air defense. Arguments about the impossibility of maintenance and lack of ammunition are not relevant. The retraining of S-300 crews to S-400 can be done relatively quickly.

Can the Transfer of Turkish S-400s to Ukraine Be a Realistic Scenario, Essentially, S-400 Triumf is a modernization of S-300 anti-aircraft system, Defense Express
Essentially, S-400 Triumf is a modernization of S-300 anti-aircraft system / Illustrative photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the Armed Forces have positive experience in using captured russian air defense systems, the same Pantsir-S1. Regarding the issue of maintenance and ammunition - the important thing is that these are additional systems, they will be transferred with a certain amount of ammunition and they will be able to make a positive contribution with the number of missiles with which it will be transferred (if transferred). This is a potential resource that can strengthen our capabilities even with a limited number of missiles and spare parts. It is better to have an air defense system with limited ammunition than not to have one at all, especially for a country that is under constant missile and UAV attacks on military and civilian infrastructure every day.

Defense Express reported earlier on How Ukraine Destroyed russia's "Bestselling" S-400 Triumf in More Ways Than One.

Read more: ​Erdogan Once Again "Stuck a Knife in the Back" of Putin, NATO Could Scan 91N6 Radar of S-400 SAM System