Turkish officials are being frozen out of crucial NATO military meetings and committees over increasing concerns about information security in the lead-up to Ankara’s planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.
Earlier this month, General Tod Wolters became NATO’s new supreme allied commander for Europe, relieving General Curtis Scaparroti in a change of command ceremony at NATO headquarters in Belgium. Turkish officials walked out of the ceremony in protest before it began because a delegation from Cyprus — which is a member of the EU but not of NATO — had been included on the guest list.
NATO officials called the incident an “error of protocol,” but Turkish diplomatic sources told columnist and military analyst Metin Gurcan that NATO’s military command center was unlikely to have made such a mistake.
More likely, it was a sign of deteriorating relations between NATO and Turkey in response to Ankara’s planned purchase of the Russian missile defence system, which NATO and U.S. officials have said is incompatible with NATO systems.
In March, Scaparrotti advised the United States that as long as Turkey insists on acquiring the S-400s, Ankara should not be allowed to purchase American F-35 fighter jets. Meanwhile, more than 100 Turkish military and civilian personnel at NATO’s military headquarters have in recent weeks been kept out of critical meetings on air defense, reconnaissance and intelligence, according to the Turkish diplomats.
Delivery of the S-400 systems to Turkey is expected in July, though on Monday several sources reported that Turkey is considering a request from the United States to delay the purchase indefinitely.
Days after the Belgium incident, Stoltenburg met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an effort to persuade Ankara to ensure the alliance.
Assuming the deal goes forward, some 100 Turkish troops will start S-400 operations training later this month at a military center in Russia, according to Russian news agency TASS. From there, the Russian-Turkish military cooperation would only increase, further undermining the NATO alliance.
This will likely lead to Turkey being “excluded from some critical NATO units — particularly from the military headquarters’ intelligence, air and missile-defense meetings — with the reason given as “information security’,” wrote Gurcan. “NATO would likely also cancel the security clearances of Turkish military personnel who work with S-400 systems.”