Defiant Turkey to Go Ahead with Buying Russian Missile System, Despite US Opposition

By Patrick Goodenough | February 22, 2019 | 4:33am EST
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: Presidency of Turkey)

( – Days after President Trump signed a spending bill that blocks the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and could trigger sanctions because of its plans to buy a Russian-made missile defense system, Ankara has confirmed the systems will begin arriving in July and be operational by October.

U.S. lawmakers oppose the transfer of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft to Turkey’s Islamist government for several reasons, but mostly because of its plans to buy the S-400s systems, which experts say boast acquisition radars capable of defeating modern stealth aircraft.

Turkey is a longstanding member of NATO, and the alliance has pointed out the S-400s would not be compatible with, and thus pose a potential risk to, NATO defense systems.

Because of the row over Ukraine, NATO allies have also agreed in recent years to suspend military cooperation with Russia, and to address “existing dependencies on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment.”

Some allies have voiced concern that Moscow is using the issue to stoke tensions within the transatlantic alliance in a bid to undermine what it views as a strategic rival.

The spending bill signed by Trump last Friday includes a provision saying delivery of F-35s to Turkey will be blocked until the secretaries of State and Defense submit an updated report to Congress regarding the pending S-400 purchase.

The report should also include details of sanctions which could be imposed on Turkey under a provision of the 2017 Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which punishes those who enter into significant financial transactions with Russia’s military sector.

(CAATSA, signed into law in August 2017, targets Russia for military intervention in Ukraine, human rights abuses, cyber-attacks, and election interference.)

Loss of the F-35s would be a major blow to Turkey, which is one of eight partners in an international consortium that has developed the advanced fighter, and had planned to purchase 100 of the aircraft. As of January last year Turkey had reportedly contributed more than $1 billion in the project.

Still, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed earlier this week that the $2.5 billion S-400 deal will go ahead, and on Thursday Hurriyet quoted a senior official in Turkey’s defense procurement agency SSM, smail Demir, as saying the Russian systems will begin arriving in July and be active three months later.

A Russian S-400 on display at Victory Day military parade rehearsals west of Moscow on April,11, 2016. Turkey plans to buy $2.5 billion worth of the missile defense systems. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

‘Unavoidable negative consequences’

In a previous report to Congress, late last year, the administration said it has made it clear to Turkey that buying the S-400s would have “unavoidable negative consequences for U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations, as well as Turkey’s role in NATO.”

Consequences could include: potential sanctions under CAATSA; the risk to Turkey’s ongoing participation in the F-35 program; the risk to other future U.S. arms transfers and defense industry cooperation; reduction in NATO interoperability; and the “introduction of new vulnerabilities from Turkey’s increased dependence on Russia for sophisticated military equipment.”

The deepening row between the two NATO allies comes just four months after Turkey’s release of an American pastor accused of terrorism raised hopes of an improvement in relations.

Other unresolved irritants relate to differences over Kurdish rebels in Syria and Erdogan’s demands that the U.S. extradite expatriate Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of coup plotting.

Late last year the U.S. administration offered to sell Turkey Patriot missile defense systems to meet its defense requirements.

Aa Defense Security Cooperation Agency release said the proposed sale would “enhance Turkey’s interoperability with the United States and NATO, making it a more valuable partner in an increasingly important area of the world.”

It said the Patriot system would help improve Turkey’s missile defense capability, defend its territorial integrity, and deter threats – both to Turkey and to NATO allies training or operating on Turkish soil.

However, U.S. officials have said the deal was contingent on Ankara canceling the S-400 agreement with Russia. Turkey has shown no willingness to do so, and missed an informal deadline last week to respond to the U.S. offer.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, Vice President Mike Pence said – in a clear reference to the S-400 deal – that the U.S. “will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries. We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.”

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