Victoria Nuland (U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs) looked at Turkey’s influence Decisions indicating participation in the F-35 program On Russian-Turkish bilateral relations, in response to Mitt Romney (R-UT) Questions to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Turkey is – at the moment – a member of NATO. Ankara ordered more than 100 F-35s and was making parts for this aircraft, but they were removed from the program in 2019. Turkey’s takeback was necessary through its acquisition of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
The reasons are clear: Russia wants to be able to train its surface-to-air missile systems, such as the S-400, to track the F-35. The US wants to ensure that Russian surface-to-air missile systems (including the S-400) cannot track the F-35 or any other US aircraft.
But if Turkey had both, it could hand Russia the data it would need to be able to train the S-400 (and other surface-to-air missile systems) to track the F-35 — as that might be the point. Russia “sells” surface-to-air missile systems to Turkey.
Erdogan rejects this concern. However, last December, the United States imposed sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 systems, targeting the defense industry and senior sector officials.
So what’s next for Turkey and Russia? Hard to say, other than the lack of F-35 tracking data for Russia. Turkey’s relationship with Russia has not been as good as Erdogan had hoped. Nuland suggests that the culmination of these and other factors may have played a role in the disastrous Nagorno-Karabakh incident that we witnessed last summer.