Covid-19 delays crunch time for Turkey-US relationship

7 May 2020 (Last Updated May 7th, 2020 16:23)

Covid-19 delays crunch time for Turkey-US relationship

With the Covid-19 crisis impacting all industries and sectors to varying degrees, the fallout from the crisis is providing a scapegoat for a number of issues in the defence industry.

Turkish procurement of S-400 systems from Russia put Turkey in the firing line for US CAATSA sanctions. The procurement timeline called for April 2020 activation of the systems, with all other milestones achieved, including training and testing. The announced delay of activation of the systems due to the Covid-19 crisis is notable, given all the systems are in place, testing and training have been completed, and changing the status of the units to active is essentially only a declaration.

Operating the S-400 without an official status change would allow for use without antagonising the US, and thus avoiding further sanctions and relationship strain. Turkey also announced in May that it was still supplying F-35 parts, despite the US saying Turkish participation would be wound down by March 2020.

The removal of this deadline, and the attribution of the decision to Covid-19, suggests the crisis is providing breathing room, though this appears to be delaying the inevitable point where one party has to back down or the consequences of the S-400 saga are implemented in earnest.

With Turkish removal from the F-35 program expected to cost partners up to $600 million, the financial collapse during the Covid-19 crisis is becoming a significant factor in internal Nato relationships and may well present Turkey with a silver lining.