Gulnur Aybet, a senior adviser to Turkey’s president, defended the country’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air-defence system and accused NATO allies of not understanding the threats facing Turkey at an event marking the 70th anniversary of NATO.

Speaking at the NATO Engages event as part of a panel on NATO’s role in an insecure world in London, Aybet said that Turkey had a “pragmatic” relationship with Russia and that the controversial decision to purchase the missile system was necessary for the Turkey’s defence.

Aybet went on to describe Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 as a separate issue to the country’s relationship with Russia, saying that Turkey viewed the air-defence system as a “military requirement” for air and missile defence. Aybet said Turkey had made attempts to buy other air-defence equipment, including the US Patriot system, but “settled for the S-400.”

RUSI research fellow and editor of RUSI Defence Systems Justin Bronk challenged this narrative, telling Air Force Technology: “Essentially, the Turkish defence of their S-400 purchase on the grounds that Patriot was denied to them, and there is a pressing military need for an alternate system as a result, simply doesn’t add up.

“Leaving aside the fact that various versions of Patriot were offered to Turkey, just not full technology transfer – which is fair enough – the S-400 system is incompatible with a national air and missile defence requirement because it cannot be connected to NATO systems.”

However, Aybet kept the door open for a change of tactic saying: “It fulfils this gap in our defence systems for the time being but it’s not the end of the road,” adding that Turkey eventually wants to develop a home-grown air and missile defence system.

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Bronk explained that Turkey would face numerous stumbling blocks in attempts to integrate the S-400 system into its wider air-defence network because of the security risk its use poses to the wider NATO network.

As the S-400 is intended to be operated with the help of Russian specialists, Bronk said: “NATO, and the US more specifically, simply will not allow Turkey to integrate the S-400 into the broader shared NATO and Turkish Air Force situational awareness architecture in the region.”

This is something that would not have been an issue if Turkey opted for a NATO compatible system.

Bronk continued: “Air and missile defence is all about situational awareness in real-time, and a system with long-range like the S-400 is especially dangerous to fire without full situational awareness in crowded airspace full of friendly, neutral and civilian traffic of all kinds.”

Erdogn Adviser S-400 NATOAybet made the comments during a panel discussion on the role of NATO in an insecure world at NATO Engages in London. Credits: Atlantic Council/ NATO Engages.

Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 caused an international spat between Ankara and the US, which says the missile system is incompatible with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Turkey’s decision to purchase the system lead to the country being ejected from the programme, but Turkey has so far been spared from sanctions. However, the possibility of economic punishment is still on the cards, according to the US President Donald Trump.

Turkey has, according to Aybet, established a technical committee to assess the concerns in response to the US concerns about the F-35s compatibility with the S-400.

The argument over the acquisition led to a wider debate within NATO about Turkey’s closeness with Russia. However, Aybet said the S-400 purchase was a “bilateral” issue between the US and Turkey, rather than an alliance-wide issue.

In her remarks, Aybet also criticised NATO for what she called a “failure” to understand the threats facing Turkey, and described Turkey’s border as NATO’s border.

She said: “NATO allies, unfortunately, failed to understand this existential threat of the YPG to Turkey.”

Responding to a question about the country’s relationship with Russia, Aybet described the country’s dealings as a “pragmatic, compartmentalised relationship.” She continued: “Areas where we do agree on, where we can cooperate, we do. Things we disagree on we leave them outside the door.”

Aybet added that this relationship was necessary as Russia and Turkey rely on each other in several fields, including the energy sector.