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Turkey ignores US warnings over Russian S-400 missile deployment

Updated July 14, 2019

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This file photo shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, walking to shake hands with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, as he welcomes him prior to their meeting in Moscow, Russia on April 8. — AP
This file photo shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, walking to shake hands with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, as he welcomes him prior to their meeting in Moscow, Russia on April 8. — AP

ANKARA: Turkey ignored US warnings as it continued on Saturday to take delivery of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system near Ankara, a defence ministry statement indicated.

“Delivery of S-400 Long Range Air and Missile Defence Systems resumed today,” the statement said.

“The fourth Russian plane carrying S-400 parts landed at Murted Airport outside Ankara,” it added.

The US fears that if Ankara integrates the S-400 into its defences, data about the US-built F-35 fighter jet could leak back to the Russians, and Washington has threatened to deny Turkey access to the stealth aircraft.

The western defence alliance Nato, which counts Turkey as one of its members, is also “concerned about the potential consequences” of the S-400 purchase, an official said.

Members of the US Congress have repeatedly voiced opposition to the move and threatened sanctions.

“President Erdogan was given a very clear choice. Unfortunately, he has clearly made the wrong one,” said Eliot Engel and Michael McFaul, the top Democrat and Republican respectively on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ankara rejects the US warnings, and on Friday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters: “We say this each time. This is a done deal. The process continues.

Russia flew a fresh shipment of advanced air defence equipment to Turkey on Saturday, the Turkish Defence Ministry said.

The ministry said a fourth Russian cargo plane landed at the Murted air base near the Turkish capital Ankara, a day after three huge Russian air force AN-124 planes offloaded equipment at the base.

Washington has tried for months to prevent the deal, arguing that the Russian S-400 air defence system is incompatible with Nato systems. It also says that if the S-400s are deployed near US F-35 jets, which Turkey is buying and helping to produce, they would undermine the stealth fighter planes’ defences.

US officials had warned that Turkey would be thrown off the F-35 programme if it took delivery of the S-400s, and would also face sanctions under US legislation seeking to prevent countries from buying military equipment from Russia.

Turkey says S-400 is a strategic defence requirement, above all to secure its southern borders with Syria and Iraq. It says that when it made the deal with Russia for the S-400s, the United States and Europe had not presented a viable alternative.

The dispute between the countries with the two largest armies in Nato marks a deep division in the Western military alliance, which was forged after World War Two to counter Moscow’s military power.

Reaction from Washington was limited on Friday, with acting Defence Secretary Mark Esper saying the US stance had not changed. Esper later spoke with Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar.

“Minister Akar told his US counterpart that Turkey remains under a serious air and missile threat and that purchase of S-400 defence systems was not an option but rather a necessity,” a Turkish Defence Ministry statement said.

Investors in Turkey have been unsettled by the deal and the prospect of sanctions, a year after a dispute with Washington over the trial of a US pastor in Turkey contributed to a financial crisis which drove Turkey’s economy into recession.

The Turkish lira TRYTOM=D3 weakened as much as 1.6 percent to 5.7780 against the dollar on Friday, before recovering somewhat.

Russia’s TASS news agency quoted an unnamed military-diplomatic source on Friday as saying that a further delivery of 120 guided missiles would be carried out by ship at the end of the summer.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019