Turkey Gets First Shipment of Russian Missile System, Defying U.S.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has been insistent in his determination to purchase the S-400 system, Russia’s most advanced antiaircraft weaponry, despite warnings from the United States. Washington has cautioned that the deal will lead to economic penalties against Turkey, a fellow NATO member, and cancellation of Turkey’s purchase of American F-35 fighter jets.
The United States has been unyielding in its opposition to Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400. American officials have argued that the missile system is incompatible with NATO equipment, and that having Turkey operating both the Russian weapons and the F-35 could give Russia access to the American jets’ secret stealth technology.
The delivery of the S-400 is likely to worsen strained Turkish-American relations, despite expressions of friendliness between Mr. Erdogan and President Trump at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Japan last month.
Mr. Erdogan has pursued the missile system despite American warnings and the damage that sanctions could do to his country’s already suffering economy, including a renewed slide in the Turkish lira. His party suffered a set of stinging defeats in local elections this year, largely because of the economic recession, his worst political setback in many years.
Speaking last month, Mr. Erdogan warned the United States not to risk a larger fissure in ties with Turkey over the missile system, and he said he was confident that he could reach an understanding with Mr. Trump to avoid sanctions.
“They should think deeply, because losing a country like Turkey will not be easy,” Mr. Erdogan said of the United States. “If we are friends, if we are strategic partners, then we should handle this issue between each other.”
A NATO spokesman said on Friday that while member nations decide for themselves what equipment to buy, “we are concerned about the potential consequences of Turkey’s decision to acquire the S-400 system.”
“Interoperability of our armed forces is fundamental to NATO for the conduct of our operations and missions,” said the spokesman who, in keeping with the organization’s protocol, declined to be quoted by name. “We welcome that Turkey is working with several Allies on developing long-range air and missile defense systems.”
NATO has stationed the American-made Patriot surface-to-air missile system on Turkish soil since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, but Mr. Erdogan has insisted his country needs its own long-range system.
Turkey tried for years to buy its own Patriot system, but talks with Washington never produced a deal — a result that Mr. Trump, at the Group of 20 meeting last month, said was the fault of the Obama administration.
“It’s a mess,” he said. “And honestly, it’s not really Erdogan’s fault.”
The S-400 system includes advanced radar that is designed to detect stealth targets as well as other aircraft, and it can also be used against some types of missiles.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the first parts of the system arrived at the Murted airfield in Ankara on Friday. Turkish news media reported that a team of Russian specialists had also arrived to assemble the system.
Turkey would be liable for sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which mandates United States sanctions against anyone making a significant deal with the Russian defense industry. American officials have said that Turkey would incur sanctions as soon as it received the weapon system on its soil.
The law calls on President Trump to select five sanctions from a list of 12 to impose against Turkey. There is no waiver or suspension that could apply to Turkey, but there is no time schedule laid down for enforcement.