Putin says he’s ready to sell S-400 anti-aircraft system to Turkey

Russian President Vladmir Putin said he was ready to sell the advanced S-400 missiles defense system to Turkey on Thursday, according to a Russia Today report.

Moscow and Ankara have discussed the sale of the anti-aircraft system for months, culminating in meetings last month when Putin hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi.

Speaking to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin told a Turkish reporter that he and Erdogan “discussed the possibility of selling S-400s” and that Russia was “ready for this.”

“We are ready to deliver these newest and most efficient systems. President Erdogan and our countries’ militaries are aware of it,” Putin said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with heads of international news agencies at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, June 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool)

However, it is far from a done deal. No agreement has been signed and even if one were, filling that order would not be simple, Putin noted, as “at the moment, [Russia doesn’t] produce those systems abroad.”

These types of deals can also take years to fill. For instance, it took nearly a decade for a Russian sale of the S-300 missile defense battery — an older version of the S-400 — to go through with Iran, owing to both international sanctions freezing the deal in 2010 and payment issues once the transaction was finally cleared.

The S-400 missile defense system is made up of an interceptor missile launcher and a high-powered radar array. Together they can track and shoot down targets some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away.

When Russia installed an S-400 system in Syria in 2015, a member of the IDF General Staff told reporters that “in our worst nightmares, we never dreamed we would have the S-400 system in our backyard with Syria.”

Though, he qualified, the IDF “does not currently view the S-400 as a threat to Israel.”

The S-400 anti-aircraft missile system on display in Russia. (CC BY-SA Соколрус/Wikimedia)

The Russian missile defense system was deployed in the Syrian city of Latakia, giving it coverage over about half of Israel’s air space.

The same would not likely be true for Turkey, which is 500 kilometers (300 miles) further from Israel, putting it on the outskirts of the S-400’s operational range.

In December 2016, Israel received two F-35 stealth fighter jets — the first of 50 — which are seen by many as a response to Russia’s S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems, which are used by many of Israel’s enemies, notably Iran.

Israel's first two F-35 stealth fighter jets on their maiden flight as part of the Israeli Air Force on December 13, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

According to a senior Israeli Air Force official, the F-35 should be able to evade the S-400, though he noted that this is only in theory as the F-35 has not yet gone up against the system itself. However, Israel’s current crop of fighter jets have trained against its predecessor during exercises in Greece, as the country operates an S-300 battery.

“We believe that the same advantage it brings to the S-300, it will bring to other systems,” the official said last year, in reference to a question specifically about the S-400.

Ankara is not the only world government interested in purchasing the S-400 system. China and India have already signed their own deals with Moscow to acquire the anti-aircraft battery, and many others have also indicated they would like to do so as well.

Iran is one of the countries that expressed an interest in the S-400 system, though this has not gone further than preliminary conversations, according to Russian media.

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