06.07.2018 Author: Martin Berger

When did Russia’s S-400 become the New Black


The plans for the mass acquisition of Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft defensive systems, S-400 and S-500, being made in the East have caused widespread panic in the West. As a matter of fact, the list of Middle Eastern and Asian states standing in line for these systems is exceeding long and growing.

This may serve as an indicator of the fact that for far too long, Washington has been making all sorts of preconditions before allowing states across the globe to buy its weapon systems, and with a lot of additional string attached. This system was put in place to assist the US in its quest of re-shaping the global stage in accordance to its own interests. This effectively forced all sorts of international players to begin searching for an alternative to arms Washington may or may not be willing to sell to them. To make matters worse, Uncle Sam hasn’t had any of its new toys working the way they should have, in spite of Washington’s unprecedented spending rates, that’s why the US has been mostly producing obsolete weapon systems that cannot in all honesty be compared to Russia’s state of the art weapons. This was vividly illustrated by the latest failure of the Pentagon’s Tomahawk cruise missile barrage occurred in mid-April, when the White House decided to fire some in the direction of the Syrian Arab Republic.

It was fortunate that the Guardian was objective enough to report the disheartening results of this provocation, stating that during the above mentioned attack on Syria in the space of 45 minutes some 50 million dollars worth of weapons were fired. However, the effectiveness of the strikes was doubtful at best, as Syria took down 71 of a little over 100 missiles launched. The missiles used during this attack were among some of the best the US and its allies have in store, including the latest JASSM cruise missile, which was used in combat for the first time.

The low success rate of the barrage resulted in the Pentagon’s military brass despising the idea of firing any more Tomahawk cruise missiles in the future, as those systems, designed as far back as in the 1980s, cannot be described in today’s day and age as anything but obsolete. Therefore, the US chose to turn its back on upgrading these systems any further, as reported by Defense One.

Now reports of unhappy customers complaining about the massively hyped Patriot anti-aircraft system are mounting. Thus, experts from the independent Middlebury Institute of International Studies examined the performance of this American missile defense system in Saudi Arabia to come to the conclusion that the infamous MIM-104 that Washington advertises to all of its allies as the ultimate weapon are of little assistance in air defense. The study was released under the self-explanatory title: Patriot Missiles Are Made in America and Fail Everywhere. Riyadh seems to have a hard time forgetting how the Patriot missiles that were supposed to intercept antiquated rockets fired by the Houthis, hit Saudi residential areas instead.

The announcement that Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, John Rood made last March about the American anti-aircraft missile defense system not being designated for a possible all-out confrontation with Russia and China, left traditional customers of Washington in a state of shock. It turns out that those missile systems are being sold as a part of a global missile defense system, but now that Russia has unveiled its next-gen nuclear capabilities, that system’s effectiveness can be simply shrugged off.

Therefore, virtually nobody was surprised when Saudi Arabia, without going so far as to ask Washington’s opinion, negotiated with Russia about the rapid delivery of its S-400 to Riyadh. Saudi Ambassador to Moscow, Raed bin Khaled Qarmali revealed this fact last May, adding that the deal was struck a year ago, during the visit of King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Moscow.

Further still, Qatar carries on its attempts to strike a similar deal, as Qatari elites are greatly interested in the Russian S-400 Triumph system. However, Saudi Arabia voiced a loud protest against this deal, threatening Doha to destroy all the systems delivered to Qatar with the use military force. It came to the point of King Salman writing a letter to the French president, urging the latter to apply pressure on Doha in order for it to turn down the deal. There’s little doubt that Riyadh’s position on disrupting the deal was coordinated with the US, as Washington does not want to lose one of the most profitable arms markets in the world, namely the Persian Gulf, overnight.

However, Arabian monarchies are hardly the ones who want to see their airspace truly secured against undesirable intruders. In addition to Iraq, Algeria and a number of other countries in the Middle East and Asia, it turns out that India and Turkey want to buy Russian systems too.

One of the reasons why New Delhi decided to acquire as many S-400 systems as possible is owed to China, which has already successfully negotiated a deal with Moscow. And since India perceives Beijing as its primary competitor in the region, it will do virtually anything not to fall behind its neighbor in any domain. And since the first regiment of S-400s arrived in China last April, one can bet that India won’t wait for long in order to catch up.

The Russian-Indian deal on the S-400 turned out to be an extremely sensitive issue for the United States. It is a given that Washington has been hard at work trying to “persuade India” to walk away from the deal it took a lot of time negotiating to acquire the above mentioned Patriot. According to the Economic Times, the White House can bring this issue up during the Indian-American talks in the “2 + 2″ format, which are being held on July 6 in Washington. The parties are reported to devise a way to go around the sanctions that Washington may introduce against New Delhi (sic). Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Washington can impose restrictive measures against third countries and companies that are cooperating with the defense and intelligence bodies of the Russian Federation. However, in India’s case, no one really knows who needs whom more. Let’s recall that the United States tried to introduce sanctions against New Delhi once, but then for years afterwards, American products failed to reach Indian markets. And although it took a lot of time, Washington eventually recognized that the Indian market is of paramount importance for America. That is why the Trump administration opposed the idea of new sanctions against India, while still demanding the latter to reduce its military dependence on Russia.

However, the most heated diplomatic battle has been going on between Turkey and the US and for quite some time over the same Russian anti-aircraft systems, since Turkey announced its intention to acquire 2.5 billion dollars worth of S-400s. It’s been announced that first shipments of those systems are scheduled for next July. Earlier, the Pentagon threatened Turkey with sanctions, should the deal actually go through. Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs Heidi Grant would even announce that Turkey would be cut off from NATO’s common defense network. On June 18, the US Senate adopted the defense budget draft for 2019, which stipulates that Ankara’s participation in the production of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter is going to be suspended due to its plans to purchase Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft defense systems. According to the Senate, no later than 60 days after the budget enters into force, the head of the Pentagon, in consultation with the US Secretary of State, should submit a report on the state of relations between the United States and Turkey to the relevant congressional committees, the content of which will be determined by Turkey’s determination to still get (or not get) the defense system everybody wants. Washington went as far as to transform the issue in the bargaining chip during a recent round of Syrian peace negotiations, demanding Ankara to guarantee that these missile systems would not be used against NATO members. Turkey would guarantee it wouldn’t.

However, despite massive opposition in Congress, the Pentagon has already shipped the first two F-35s to its Turkish partners. At the same time, Erdogan has no intention of turning his back on Russia. Now Ankara gets the best of both worlds, which rendered a lot of seasoned political figures in the US speechless, as it has not just acquired both the F-35 and S-400 by playing global centers of power against each other, in spite of them balancing on the verge of actual confrontation, but it is going to remain a NATO member all the same as well. That’s what one could describe as diplomatic efforts.

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”