Turkey has signed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 missile defence systems, its first major weapons purchase from Moscow, in an accord that could trouble Ankara's NATO allies.
The purchase of the surface-to-air missile defence batteries, Ankara's most significant deal with a non-NATO supplier, comes with Turkey in the throes of a crisis in relations with several Western states.
"Signatures have been made for the purchase of S-400s from Russia. A deposit has also been paid as far as I know," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in comments published in several newspapers on Tuesday.
"Mr Putin (President Vladimir Putin) and myself are determined on this issue," he told Turkish journalists aboard his presidential jet returning from a trip to Kazakhstan.
Moscow also confirmed the accord, with Vladimir Kozhin, Putin's adviser for military and technical cooperation, saying: "The contract has been signed and is being prepared for implementation."
- 'Take our own decisions' -
The purchase of the missile systems from a non-NATO supplier is likely to raise concerns in the West over their technical compatibility with the alliance's equipment.
The Pentagon has already sounded the alarm, saying bluntly that "generally it's a good idea" for NATO allies to buy inter-operable equipment.
But Erdogan said Turkey -- which has the second largest standing army in NATO after the United States -- was free to make military acquisitions based on its defence needs.
"Nobody has the right to discuss the Turkish republic's independence principles or independent decisions about its defence industry," he said.
"We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves, we are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to defend our country."
He said Moscow would extend a credit to Turkey for the purchase of the weapons.
Quoted by Russian state-owned TASS news agency, Kozhin said the deal was fully in line with Moscow's strategic interests.
The Turkish-Russian contract is a new sign of better relations between Ankara and Moscow since a reconciliation deal was signed last year following the 2015 shooting down by the Turkish military of a Russian plane over the Syrian border.
Jan Fleischhauer, a journalist of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel, coined an expression to define the free fall of German Christianity: Selbstsäkularisierung ("self-secularization"). It is the Church being liquidated?
The German Bishops' Conference just released the data on the decline of Catholicism in Germany for 2016. In one year, the German Catholic Church lost 162,093,000 faithful and closed 537 parishes. From 1996 to today, one quarter of the Catholic communities have been closed. "The faith has evaporated," said Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1982 to 2007.
The next stage seems to be a German cultural and religious landscape dominated by atheists and two minority religions: Islam and Christianity. If the secularists do not take Western Christian heritage -- or at least the Judeo-Christian values from which it sprang -- more seriously and start defending it, both atheists and Christians will soon be dominated by the rising political and supremacist religion, Islam. A prominent Muslim fundamentalist organization in Germany, banned by the federal government, calls itself "The True Religion" ("Die Wahre Religion"). They apparently think they are overtaking Judeo-Christian values.
There are dramatic instances of Christian decay in Germany. In the diocese of Trier, for example, site of the oldest Catholic community and the birthplace of Karl Marx, the number of parishes will drop from 903 to 35 by 2020, according to bishop Stephan Ackermann -- a decrease of more than 90%. In the diocese of Essen, more than 200 parishes have been closed; their number has fallen from 259 to 43.
A demographic decline is also involved in this religious crisis. "Christianity is literally dying in Europe," said Conrad Hackett, head of the researchers who drafted a Pew Forum report a few months ago. In Europe, between 2010 and 2015, Christian deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million. In Germany alone, there were about 1.4 million more Christian deaths.
This decline also apparent from the recruitment crisis for the priesthood. The official website of the German Catholic Church, noted in May that the dioceses of Osnabrück and Mainz did not receive any new priests this year. The archdiocese of Munich last year drew only one candidate. Throughout the Archdiocese of Munich today, there are only 37 seminarians in the various training stages, for about 1.7 million Catholics. In comparison, the American diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, currently has 49 seminarians for about 96,000 Catholics. In the U.S., Christianity is strong; in Germany it is literally dying.
A German architect, Joaquim Reinig, told Die Tageszeitung that to integrate Muslim immigrants better, churches should be demolished and replaced with "highly visible mosques". It might sound a bit crazy, but it contains a dramatic truth. In his book The Last Days of Europe, the historian Walter Laqueur wrote that "Germany had some 700 little mosques and prayer rooms in the 1980s, but there are more than 2,500 at the present time". If, in Germany, Christianity is evaporating, Islam is proliferating.
The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) just opened a new mega-mosque for worship in the German city of Cologne. The new German mega-mosque has a 1,200-person capacity and the tallest minaret of Europe. According to Deutsche Welle, "Christian leaders bristled at the idea of Cologne's famed Dom cathedral sharing the skyline with minarets". When the mosque was planned in 2007, a citizens' initiative was launched to say that "we want the cathedral here, not minarets". The Muslim authorities then announced the plan to "double" the number of mosques.
Since he took power in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has built 17,000 Islamic prayer sites there. The Turkish president is committed to the construction of mosques in European capitals as well. Turkey controls 900 mosques in Germany and feels free to say that a "liberal mosque" in Germany is "incompatible" with Islam, according to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. That is why the 57 percent of Germans fear the rise of Islam in their country.
In the words of Erdogan, however, "Our minarets are our bayonets, our domes are our helmets, our mosques are our barracks". Islamic regimes are, in fact, offering to fill the empty spaces in Germany's religious landscape. Saudi Arabia proposed building 200 new mosques in Germany, "one for every 100 refugees".
Can you imagine Germany offering Iraq, Syria and Egypt to build "200 new churches" to reconstruct the derelict and dispossessed Christian communities there? No, because in the Middle East, Christians have been eradicated in a forced de-Christianization. In Europe, Christians are also becoming extinct by a process of "self-secularization". We risk losing not only our churches, but more importantly, our cultural strength and even confidence in the values of our own civilization.