Ilker Basbug, Turkey’s ex-Army Chief recently held an interview with HaberTurk TV. In the interview, Mr. Basbug spoke about his views on the Russian S-400 defense missiles saying they were much better than the Patriot system. He said the S-400 can reach higher altitudes and has a longer range.

Here is a text of topics and Mr. Basbug’s views on them from the interview:

S-400

Every country bears the responsibility to control their air space and halt any attempts by foreign forces to occupy it. We have a land area of over 776 thousand kms. The airspace immediately above these lands are considered to be ours. There are myriads of threats towards a country’s airspace: drones, military drones, aircraft, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles. You have to take precautions by employing short, medium and long-range defense systems. We already have our own short-range system, we use an American system for our mid-range air defenses, but we do not have anything in the long-range category. And this is a problem. There is no question that the S-400 system is superior to the Patriot system. It is capable of recognizing aircraft from 600 kilometers away. It can target airplanes, ballistic missiles or cruise missiles. It shoots down its target when it is 400 km away. There is virtually no target that the S-400 cannot shoot down. They may be aimed as high as 30 km. Its compact system can locate the target, lock on it and destroy it on its own. Nothing can escape it.

F-35

If S-400 is one end of the issue, on the other end lies the F-35 debacle. F-35s are 5th generation war planes that are more advanced than the F-16s. They can virtually escape radar stations. Can the S-400 shoot down an F-35? That’s the crux of the issue right there. The project started in 2001, and Turkey became part of it in 2002. Turkey intends to buy 3,370 of them which will cost us 1.5 trillion dollars. Because Turkey is also one of the partners in the project and manufactures certain part of the plane, we will save about 6 to 12 billion dollars there. It is not certain yet whether the F-35s can really elude radars. In any case, this is a big budget project, and 1.5 trillion dollars is a big number even for the United States.

Now, Turkey has ordered the S-400 from Russia and they are expected to arrive very soon. We cannot even think of backing down on this. Such a move would be devastating to Turkey’s standing and respect. It is done. The S-400s will arrive. Let’s look the American perspective here. If they give us the F-35s, we will have to enter all their electronic information to the S-400 system. When you input the F-35 info on to the S-400, you are, in a way, testing whether the planes will be identified by the S-400 or not. That’s what the Americans don’t want to happen. I believe there are problems in the F-35 project. S-400 will be the ultimate test for the plane’s ability to dodge radar systems. And if it fails, the F-35 project wil fail as well. II don’t think Turkey should buy F-35s. But we have to develop alternative plans to acquire 5th generation war planes elsewhere. We are currently pretty forceful with out F-16’s. But these planes have a body-life span of 8 thousand hours. We have some of our F-16s fulfill their span in 4 to 5 years. We have to take care of how we are going to deal with this now through other means, perhaps purchases from other countries.

The S-400 will provide with a huge advantage over our airspace. When we place them in the south, we will cover Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and Cyprus in one move. Place it in the West and you cover both the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Where will we situate them, though? I don’t know, and I am not in a position to decide that. There were talks that the S-400s would arrive but they would be held in storage. Senator S. Abraham stated something similar the other day saying that Turkey may purchase the S-400 but that we should not activate them. If we activate it, will they know? Sure, satellite systems will alert them immediately. The Americans had a tougher stance before, saying that they would go ahead and implement sanctions as soon as the system arrives in Turkey. Now they are softening up a bit.

There are other suggestions as well. Some say we should situate them in a friendly neighboring country like Azerbaijan and send our personnel over there for the training. But this beat the purpose of an air-defense system which is to be able to react immediately should the situation occur.

I think the current government’s policy regarding this issue is the right one. We must act in our own self interest without breaking up our ties to the US. That’s why we must listen to NATO’s and the USA’s reservations. If the S-400s are activated, they cannot co-exist with the F-35s. The location of the system is another problem. If you ask me, I say place them in the south or the west. I think that Russia may have issues if we place them in the south.

Syria

The most urgent problem in Syria is the structuring going on in the East of Euphrates. It is a vital issue for us. What lies to the east of Euphrates is the YPD/YPG which means the PKK. They want to become a state. They have their armies and soldiers. The US supplied them with tons of material.

Can you accept the PKK becoming our next-door neighbor? There was a referendum done in Iraq in September of 2017. IT was a success, but they weren’t able to enforce its results. That was because of Turkey and Iran’s objections. We should not let the same thing happen in northern Syria. The construct in northern Iraq was realized with the help of Iraqi constitution and Iraqi Kurds. There is nothing illegal about it. It runs contrary to Turkey’s interests, but we were powerless to stop it. But now, you see the PKK getting bigger and bigger in Syria. It is starting to become a question of survival for us. Syria and Iraq are not cut from the same cloth. I am against the security zones, because we have seen the same thing happen in Iraq in the no-fly zone and the 36th parallel before. WE should be careful about the US intentions here. Are they trying to separate PYD/YPG from the PKK? They say it will be covered by Syrian Defense Forces. And who heads the SDF? The SPG, which is associated with YPG/PYD. That casts a doubt over whether the US is really sincere when they say they have separated the two forces.

Relations with the US

16 years ago, today, we had a special forces unit inside northern Iraq. One of these teams were situated in Suleymaniye. The Americans raided the building that was housing our military personnel, they kidnapped them wrapped under sacks. IT was a traumatic incident in Turkey-US relations. It is not forgettable. And we were weak in our response. I was the commander of Turkish Land Forces back then. These teams we had in Iraq were under the direct directorate of our general staff. Apparently when our command called Americans, they could not reach anyone to talk to. This caused problems between TAF and the Pentagon. When I became the second in command of our general staff the Turkey-US relations were in a pretty bad place. We took precautions that such an incident would never happen again. We even signed an order giving the commanders of the special forces to respond with force, if such an incident was to happen again. We let the Americans know about our decision, and they complied. We haven’t had anything similar since.

The Unites States has laws allowing it to implement sanctions on her foes. S-400 situation falls under this category. The Russian company knows about this too. There are 12 sanctions, and the American president may preside over them and he can choose 5 of the 12 sanction categories at his will. He may choose the softer ones or the tougher ones at his discretion. I think he may go for the sanctions that will not hurt Turkey much. We are pretty much at his incentive at this point. Unfortunately, his views tend to change quite often, he cannot be trusted. Plus, they have upcoming elections and he will have to act politically. If he doesn’t implement any serious sanctions that will mean he will want something in return. We have to pay attention to what it is that he will demand.

The United States is unique in the sense that their constitutional institutions are very strong. There is a perfect balance of power there. The judiciary, in particular, is almost fully independent. The congress is also very strong, and they have the power to impeach the president despite the Senate being Republican dominated.

The American president cannot spend a penny unless the congress approves it. He has to get the Congress’ approval to appoint secretaries, ambassadors, heads of the CIA and the FBI and even army commanders. Unfortunately, the Congress is not very friendly towards us. There was the recent decision taken at the Foreign Relations Committee on June 25th. The decision basically stated that the US will act with Greece, Southern Cyprus and Israel when it comes to energy policies in Eastern Mediterranean. These three countries are all ones that we contradict with often. The US said they would extend a military aid to Greece in the amount of 3 billion dollars. Will they do something similar to Turkey as well? There has always been this 7-to-10 ratio in USA’s aids to Greece and Turkey (for every 7 dollars sent to Greece, 10 dollars are sent to Turkey). I hope they do.

The decision also mentions military aid to Greek Cyprus. The US didn’t use to supply weapons to Cyprus, now they say they will. This is a clear indication in their intentions to get closer to Greece. The traditional Greece-Turkey balance is about to be tipped off.

Greece

We have this ongoing coastal water problem with Greece. Currently it is set at 6 miles. Greece wants to extend this to 12 miles. Turkey has reacted to that in the past saying that such a move would be an act of war. The only reason Greece did not go ahead and extend their coast water range to 12 miles is Turkey’s strong position here. We must continue to invest in our Armed Forces whose main aim is to deter a military conflict. And I don’t mean just the weapons; I mean training, psychological help, the chain of command, etc. I would be very cautious of Greece at the moment. I see an alarming situation developing there.

Greece already has armies and weapons over there. Now tyou have the US saying they will also supply weapons. What are we to do? We have to take the necessary precautions.

NATO

I don’t believe the government has any intentions to leave NATO.  And I agree 100% that we must continue to be part of NATO. IT is one of the very few organizations where Turkey has equal say as all the other members. Of course, the US is very strong over there too, but some people confuse the problems we have with the US with what is going on with NATO. They are two separate issues.

Being in NATO gives us an edge in our relations to Greece. You know what happens if we get out of NATO? Greek Cyprus and Israel will join them the very next day. As long as we are a member, we have the right to veto any action that NATO is considering that is against our own interests. For example, when Greek planes penetrate our air space, the NATO monitors it and warns Greece against it. We don’t even have to deal with it.

And being part of NATO will not harm our relations with Shanghai. We know that we cannot be a part of that organization unless we leave NATO for good.

Domestic Terrorism

Cemil Biyik is one of the five founding members of the terrorist organization, PKK. I read his article in the Washington Post. Mr. Biyik is the leader of an organization that the US has already deemed as a terrorist organization. How can you let a leader of a terrorist group pen an op-ed in one of the most prestigious papers in the world? I am very cautious about this. I am not even going into what the article says. The act of it being published is bad enough. Its title suggests it is time to make peace with the Kurds.

But what we have in front of us is a terrorist organization. We may have our intelligence units talk to them, and it is natural that these meetings are held secretly. The only prerequisite they have is that the PKK declares that they will stop all armed assaults, and our intelligence, then may talk with them. But what he says here is demands they have for them to stop using weapons. I think the US may be pushing Turkey towards another solution process. And we must resist against it.