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Blinken Dismisses “Crete Model” for Turkey’s Russian Missiles

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Turkey against future military purchases from Russia on Wednesday. Credit: U.S Department of State

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Turkey on Wednesday against any future purchases of military hardware from Russia and dismissed the idea proposed by Ankara of the so-called Crete model for the S-400 missile system. 

Speaking at a virtual Foreign Press Center event, Blinken was asked whether a compromise was possible if Turkey moved the S-400 out of its territory. A Turkish journalist, specifically used the example of Greece stationing the Russian S-300 system on Crete as a model. 

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Blinken quickly dismissed the feasibility of imitating that scenario. 

“They’re very distinct situations, very distinct examples. In some instances where people have bought equipment that long predates the sanctions legislation, for example, there – these are very distinct,” he responded, adding that Congress was clear in wanting to see the S-400 abandoned by Turkey.

In 1997, Cyprus had bought the S-400’s predecessor system, the S-300, as a means of deterring a Turkish attack. In response, Turkey threatened to preemptively destroy the missiles if they were to be delivered as planned. In a US brokered compromise, the S-300 was eventually stationed in Crete. 

The so called “Crete model” has been frequently invoked by Turkish officials as a solution that lets them keep the S-400 and get rid of US sanctions. This position is put forth despite their own disagreement with the proposal in the 1990s. 

Turkey should decrease arms imports from Russia

Blinken repeated US warnings that buying this type of equipment from Russia would risk sanctions under US law. Turkey first bought the S-400 missile defense system from Russia and received its first battalion in 2019. 

“The acquisition of the S-400 – I’ve said this for a long time – runs directly counter to commitments all allies made at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw to reduce, not increase, dependencies on Russian equipment,” Blinken said in response to a question from Turkish journalist Razi Canikligil. 

He stressed that the United States has been “very clear, very direct and very consistent” in calling on Turkey to abandon the S-400. The secretary of state said that the S-400 was a danger to NATO troops and technology, and undermined any interoperability of the alliance’s forces.

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The S-400 missile system in a Russian military parade. Credit: Aleksey ToritsynVictory_Day_09_05_2010_Tech/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Blinken warns Turkey, others against future S-400 purchases

In his remarks at Wednesday’s event, Blinken’s warning was not a new one aimed at Turkey. He extended his cautions against other US allies who show interest in the S-400 system.

Blinken did not name any specific countries beyond Turkey, but Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin has already warned India against following through on plans to acquire the same system from Russia. Others including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Qatar, all US partners, have also reportedly expressed interest in the S-400. 

Turkey is slated to acquire a second battalion from Russia which could trigger new US sanctions if it goes through. Blinken specifically warned against future purchases or risked further sanctions.

The head of Russia’s arms export agency said the contract was already signed last year. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed in January that talks were ongoing for the second batch.

Turkey, the United States, and the S-400 saga

Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the US president is required to sanction those who buy transactions with the Russian military hardware. 

Initially, the administration immediately expelled Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program in July 2019, but was more divided on issuing sanctions against a major NATO ally. 

Former President Donald Trump personally was loath to apply sanctions, owing to his good relationship with Erdogan. The US was content to allow Turkey to keep the S-400 deactivated at the Murdet air base, but the calculus changed when the system was tested in October 2020. 

Two months later, Last December, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Turkey under CAATSA. The administration almost prevented more sanctions on Turkey as mandated by Congress when Trump threatened to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over his objection to an amendment calling for the renaming of US military bases. Congress however overrode his veto in a bipartisan rebuke. 

Blinken and the Biden administration came to office with a singular demand of Turkey; remove the S-400.   

However, the Secretary of State insisted that the administration was still looking to both cooperate at the same time as manage disagreements.

“Turkey is a critical ally to the United States and NATO…And we continue to seek a strong bilateral relationship,” Blinken stated.

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