Kremlin Hints Putin, Erdogan May Discuss New Arms Deals at Talks

Kremlin Hints Putin, Erdogan May Discuss New Arms Deals at Talks
Source: Bloomberg

The Kremlin hinted at possible talks over new arms deals between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan when the two leaders meet at an international air show near Moscow.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to say whether the two sides plan to discuss sales of Russian Su-35 fighter jets during Tuesday’s visit to the MAKS aviation and space salon, a showcase for Russian military technology. The talks follow the U.S. decision last month to suspendTurkey’s ability to buy and help build the advanced F-35 stealth warplane in retaliation for taking delivery of a Russian S-400 air-defense system.

“Turkey is our very close partner, it’s our ally,” Peskov said of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member. While the talks will focus primarily on tensions in Syria’s Idlib region, Putin and Erdogan will be at the MAKS air show and “everything is really concentrated right there,” Peskov said.

The U.S. ousted Turkey from the F-35 program after Erdogan defied President Donald Trump’s calls not to go through with buying the advanced S-400 system. It argues the purchase is incompatible with Turkey’s role in both NATO and the F-35 program because it may provide Russia with information about the fighter’s advanced technology. Turkey had planned to purchase about 100 F-35 jets and will have to seek alternatives if the U.S. mantains the ban.

‘Everything is Possible’

“After the S-400 deal, everything is possible between Russia and Turkey,” said Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a defense-industry consultant in Moscow. “If Erdogan really wants powerful combat aircraft, he should ask for nothing less than the best Russian aircraft offered for export -- the Su-35.”

Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, plans to show off export versions of its latest so-called “fifth generation” stealth fighters, the Su-57E, at MAKS, the Tass news service reported earlier this month.

Turkey insists it needed the advanced air-defense system and was forced to buy from Russia because NATO allies, including the U.S., wouldn’t meet its defensive needs on Turkish terms. The U.S. has repeatedly offered to sell Patriot air-defense missiles to Turkey, but without the technology sharing that the Turkish government says it needs to develop its domestic production capabilities.

While Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the Syrian war, they have cooperated in recent years in trying to enforce a halt to the fighting. Erdogan told Putin during a phone call Friday that a Syrian army offensive in the northwestern Idlib region represents a “very serious threat to the national security of Turkey,” according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Monday that Syrian army operations in Idlib don’t violate any agreements with Turkey.

Ilya Arkhipov