This year, Father Christmas is arriving quite early for some. Syria, India, and Turkey will all be receiving ‘boxes’ full of Russian goodies. The first has received the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. India and Turkey, on the other hand, have signed agreements for the more advanced S-400 anti-air missile system. But the background behind each of the aforementioned three cases is different.
For one, it will be a godsend gift. For another, it will be a statement of neutrality and independence. And for the other one, it will be a growl of defiance—and hubris. Can you figure which country fits into which category?
First, Syria. A staunch Russian ally, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has been on the receiving end of Russian military assistance for years. Even before the Syrian Civil War exploded in 2011, Russia had large stakes in the Middle-Eastern country, as it provided the Russian Navy with a crucial deep-water port.
The shootdown of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft in September triggered the shipment of four S-300 launchers to Syria. Although the after-action reports revealed that the Russian aircraft was downed by Syrian air-defences, Moscow blamed Israel because of the frequent Israeli air forays into Syrian airspace. A previous attempt to ship the S-300 to Syria had failed due to Israeli protestations. Now, however, Syrian defences will reach another level, making both coalition and Israeli air missions riskier. The former have been targeting ISIS, and occasionally regime targets after chemical attacks against civilians; the latter have also been striking Islamist and government targets. Thus, Syria has received an unexpected gift.
Second, India. Emerging regional power or glass giant? A country with a huge population and potential. A country, however, with grievous social and infrastructural issues. Since the Cold War, New Delhi has struck a precarious non-alignment course. India sided neither with the West nor with the Soviet Union. And it appears to persist on the same path that has enabled the country to slowly deal both with its domestic issues — and Pakistan. With neighbours like China and Pakistan, India can surely use every opportunity to increase its military power. The announced purchase of the more advanced S-400 should be seen as what it is: an attempt to bolster India’s defences, while not picking sides. Is it so unreasonable that neutral countries would prefer foreign military systems over American ones? Blame shouldn’t fall on the Indian government for wanting to upgrade its military, but rather on those who didn’t ensure that similar U.S. systems weren’t as competitive.
And last, Turkey. A NATO member purchasing a Russian anti-aircraft system? Absurd but true. Turkey is also scheduled to receive the F-35, America’s latest and most technologically advanced aircraft, and thus become privy to its classified components. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s decision ought to be seen as a statement of defiance against the West, and particularly the U.S. Why? Kurdistan, Gülen, and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Erdogan craves for Turkey to become a regional superpower. The apparent U.S. preference for a Kurdish nation is contradictory to Turkey’s wishes — there has been a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey for decades. Then there is the exiled preacher Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdogan perceives as a serious threat to his ever-increasing authoritarian power. And last but not least is the Eastern Mediterranean and its humongous energy resources. In its bid for a piece of the pie, Ankara is facing Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece, which all have far more legitimate arguments. The purchase of the S-400, therefore, seems to be a growl of defiance by the Turkish government. But would it also prove an act of hubris?