Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 94

General Ismail Karaday–chief of the Turkish General Staff–will visit Moscow next week to confer with Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev, his Russian counterpart General Anatoly Kvashnin and Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin. Karaday is sure to bring up the controversial sale of Russian S-300 air defense missiles to the Cyprus Greek-Cypriot government. The 1997 deal–thought to be worth between $420 and $600 million–has thrown the Russians into the middle of the long-standing quarrel between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. It has also provoked condemnations from the United States, the UN and most NATO countries save Greece. Russia, which has insisted that the Cypriot deal is a purely commercial one, has been adamant that it will make the deliveries on time later this summer.

Karaday will undoubtedly remind his Russian hosts that they stand to make considerably more money should they back out of the deal with Cyprus. Turkey was the first NATO country to buy arms from Russia and has already purchased some $250 million worth of military helicopters, armored vehicles and small arms. Russian firms are in the running for two very lucrative contracts to supply the Turkish army with new attack helicopters and main battle tanks. While Greece has also expressed an interest in Russian arms, it cannot begin to match the Turkish procurement funds.

If Karaday will emphasize the positive aspects of cooperating with Turkey next week, yesterday his boss–Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin–was more threatening. Cypriot deployment of the Russian missiles, Sezgin said, would be “madness.” Should the missiles be delivered, he added, Turkey would take all “necessary precautions.” Turkish authorities have already boarded ships passing through the Bosphorus which they suspected might be carrying missile components. Many analysts are convinced that Turkey would take military action to destroy the missiles, were they to reach Cyprus. Sezgin also hinted that, should the Cypriot deal go through, Turkey would blacklist Russia from any future arms contracts. (Russian and western media, May 14)

In this instance, Rosvooruzhenie’s zeal to sell Russian arms abroad with little concern for the political consequences has put the Russians in a decidedly awkward position. It would be very embarrassing to back out of the Cypriot deal at this late stage. In going through with it, however, they would likely provoke an ugly military confrontation in the Aegean, antagonize a powerful and important neighbor who could stir up considerable trouble for them in the Caucasus and Central Asia and place themselves out of the running for some lucrative arms deals. Six hundred million U.S. dollars seems hardly enough to offset all these troubles.