First shipment of Russian S-400 systems delivered to Turkey
The reason is the outbreak of coronavirus, but Ankara says it will not change its mind
Ankara’s plans to commission a new Russian missile defense system have been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak, a senior Turkish official said. At the same time, Turkey does not intend to cancel the decision, which could lead to sanctions by the United States..
Tensions between NATO allies, Turkey and the United States over the S-400 air defense system appear to have come to a head in April when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that it would be operational..
The coronavirus outbreak has focused Turkey’s efforts on tackling the pandemic and protecting an economy that emerged from a recession last year. In recent weeks, Erdogan and his government have not publicly raised the issue of the S-400..
“There will be no return to the decision not to deploy the S-400, but due to the outbreak of COVID-19 … plans for its readiness in April will be delayed,” a senior Turkish government official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity..
It will take several months before the Russian air defense system is operational, he said. He added that there are still some technical problems to be solved..
Turkish Defense Ministry declined to comment.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Washington has not changed its position. “We continue to actively oppose Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 air defense system and are deeply concerned about reports that Turkey continues to make efforts to bring the S-400 into service,” she said..
The United States says the S-400s Moscow supplied to Turkey last July are incompatible with NATO’s defenses and would jeopardize the F-35 stealth aircraft that Turkey planned to buy from the United States..
Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 system means that Ankara may face US sanctions under the law on countries that purchase defense equipment from Russia.
“We continue to emphasize at the highest levels that the S-400 deal is the subject of ongoing discussions on sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, and remains a major obstacle in bilateral relations. and in relations with NATO. We are confident that President Erdogan and his senior officials understand our position, ”Ortagus said..
Ankara did not mention the S-400 in a released statement following a call between Erdogan and President Trump on Sunday, which said the focus was on cooperation to protect health and the economy from the coronavirus outbreak..
Deployment of the S-400 in the same airspace as US aircraft will be a “major challenge” that will lead to a new crisis between the two countries, State Department senior adviser Richard Autzen said last week..
The Turkish Air Force includes American F-16s, and they should have received new F-35s before Washington refused to supply them in response to the purchase of the S-400..
The question “is now muted due to COVID-19, but in Washington before the coronavirus dominated discourse, they thought that the Turks were probably going to start exploiting the system in April, and Congress was going to impose sanctions,” Autzen said. “I don’t think it’s gone.”.
The delay in the deployment of the S-400 gives Ankara more time to think about its next move, analysts said. The recent reconciliation of US and Turkish interests in Syria and the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis may also play a role..
“The economic shock is such that Turkey may indeed seek some kind of external funding in the future,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who now heads the research center at the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy in Istanbul. “If and when that time comes, more pressure will be exerted on the Turkish government to abandon the S-400.”.
Turkey’s military operation in February against Russian-backed Syrian troops of President Bashar al-Assad in the rebel-held region of Idlib also put Ankara on one side with Washington and against Moscow. This was in stark contrast to Turkey’s deepening dispute with the US over US support for Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria, which Ankara views as a major security threat..
“In Washington, people saw that Turkey is not completely lost, that there is a chance that it will be able to distance itself from Russia and become closer to the United States,” said Uzgur Unluhisarchikli, director of the German Marshall Fund’s research group in Ankara..
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