In recent years, the United States has increasingly more often impinged on sovereignty of other nations, thus flagrantly flaunting just how uncivilized its policies are. Such behavior is exemplified in various ways: diplomatic pressure exerted on policies of other nations; involvement in color revolutions; imposition of unlawful sanctions, and bans on trading with clear rivals to the US (an act that does not comply with existing international laws and the principle of free trade).
All of this is particularly noticeable when it comes to the ever increasing attempts by Washington to stop other nations from purchasing Russian weaponry. The United States must be aware of the fact that Russia’s high quality and fairly inexpensive military equipment is deservedly popular throughout the world. In addition, its export generates considerable revenues for the Russian Federation, and serves as an effective foreign policy tool for the nation, which helps Moscow build and adjust relations with other countries.
It is therefore not surprising that once tensions between Russia and the US arose, Washington began imposing anti-Moscow sanctions, focusing on the Russian Federation’s weapons trade in particular. In fact, a key aim of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was signed into law in August 2017, was to counter “Russian influence in Europe and Eurasia”. In September 2018, the “US government imposed secondary sanctions under CAATSA” for the first time by punishing Russia’s partners for “engaging in significant transactions with” individuals on the List of Specified Persons. According to a note issued by the US Department of State that month, the aforementioned actions were “not intended to undermine the military capabilities or combat readiness of any country”. Overall, the wording of the Act gives Washington a lot of room for maneuver.
There have been several widely publicized stories in connection with the CAATSA and the sale of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems, which are viewed as some of the more sought after items produced by the Russian Federation’s military industrial complex.
The S-400 Triumf is designed to destroy aircraft (including stealth targets), cruise and ballistic missiles (travelling at a speed of 4.8 km/s). The system’s radars can detect dozens of aerial targets at the same time and subsequently intercept them in various weather conditions. S-400 missile systems have been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 2007. In fact, they are an essential part of the Russian Federation’s integrated air defense system.
China became the first nation to express interest in purchasing S-400 systems. Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the sale of S-400 Triumf to China in 2014, i.e. long before the CAATSA was passed.
But once the Act was signed into law, the threat of US sanctions against China for its purchase of the missile systems loomed large. In September 2018, despite the fact that the S-400 agreement between the Russian Federation and the PRC had been reached before-hand, the US decided to impose sanctions against China’s Equipment Development Department of the Central Military Commission and its director, Li Shangfu. In spite of these troubles, “the first regimental set of S-400” had reached China in the spring of 2018. Apart from launchers, the delivery included command and control systems, radiolocation stations and other parts essential for such pieces of equipment. At the end of 2018, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force tested the S-400 Triumf air defense system by “successfully shooting down a simulated ballistic target almost 250 km away and moving at the supersonic speed of 3 km/s”. Such news was quite impressive and helped promote Russia’s missile system to the world. In January 2020, the Russian Federation “concluded delivery of a second S-400 Triumf missile system regimental set to China”. China also received “more than 120 advanced anti-aircraft guided missiles” at the time.
The next country that decided to purchase the S-400 system was Turkey. After Turkey signed the relevant agreement with Russia in September 2017, Washington and other NATO members began criticizing Ankara’s decision. Since that time, the United States has been trying to convince and force Turkey to drop the deal.
In July 2019, the United States removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program, which meant that Ankara would “lose its production work on the jet by March 2020”. In addition, six F-35s meant for Turkey were never delivered by the United States.
After Ankara received the air defense systems from Russia, Turkey conducted its first test at the end of November 2019. Various aircraft, including US-made F-16 fighter jets, were scrambled near Ankara to test the ability of the Russian-made air-defense system to track and intercept such fighters. USA’s F-16s are quite popular in the Middle East and Europe. In fact, the air forces of Israel and Greece (Turkey’s potential enemies) are equipped with such fighter aircraft.
Despite all of its threats, the US is in no hurry to impose more painful sanctions against Turkey in addition to removing it from the F-35 program because the United States does not wish to spoil its relationship with an important partner, such as Ankara. After all, Turkey is an influential nation among the Muslim-majority countries as well as a NATO member. In fact, the nation has allowed the US military to conduct operations in the Middle East from its territories. In turn, Ankara, with its ambitions to become a leader in the region, is trying to show, in every possible way, its independence from Washington. It is worth reminding our readers that, in recent years, the Turkey–United States relations have soured because of the ongoing conflict in Syria. For instance, Washington supports Syrian Kurds fighting for their independence, while Ankara views them as its enemies.
At the beginning of July 2020, Turkey conducted more tests of its S-400 Triumf systems despite the possibility of the US imposing additional sanctions against Ankara. Yet again, Turkey used the good-old F-16 as training target.
Yet, it was reported that during the exercise, as reported by the local media, S-400 managed to track F-35 Stealth that were flying over the Black Sea at a distance of some 200 kilometers from the radar station. These were the very fighters that Turkey wasn’t able to purchase because of the S-400. As mentioned above, these aircraft are made with the use of advanced stealth technology, which makes its stealthy capabilities the main selling point. Thus, in addition to the reputational blow that Turkey’s purchase of Triumphs inflicted on America, the S-400 damaged the reputation of American military technology.
In July 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was urged by US Senators to impose sanctions on Turkey over its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
It would seem that Turkey has no intention of ridding itself of the Russian missile systems for now. And hopefully, the S-400 Triumf will continue to reach new markets.
After Turkey, India (USA’s strategic partner in South Asia) decided to purchase Russia’s air defense systems. Since the alliance with New Delhi is extremely important for Washington, the latter expressed its opposition to the aforementioned deal but did not take any measures to punish India.
There have been reports that Iran is interested in buying S-400 Triumf from Russia too. The country has managed to survive sanctions imposed against it by the US and other nations over its nuclear program for quite some time. In fact, Iran is a key rival of the United States, which is why Washington would not be happy if Iran were to purchase such effective air defense systems.
In fact, there is more bad news for the United States with regards to S-400 systems in other parts of the world. The fact that F-35 fighters were detected by Turkey’s Triumf missile defense systems during recent tests could be viewed as a blow to the US designers of these aircraft. In addition, the US may face more serious troubles in the future. Some believe that Turkish servicemen were, in fact, able to obtain important information about the US fighter jets and their movements during the tests.
China’s purchase of S-400 Triumf could have especially negative consequences for the United States. In fact, China’s air defense capabilities have improved on account of the new system. Its range now covers the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (claimed by both China and Japan) and parts of Taiwan, viewed as either a separate country or a part of China. Hence, Russia’s missile systems could strengthen Beijing’s positions in the region, as a whole, as well as in its territorial disputes.
The author could, therefore, conclude that USA’s concerns about Russian-made Triumf systems are indeed justified. As S-400s gradually become common place throughout Asia, they not only help strengthen air defenses of certain nations and generate earning for the Russian government, but they could also facilitate global political changes.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.