Tuesday 16 July 2019

US sanctions threat as Turkey gets its Russian missile system

Deal: Russian President Vladimir Putin with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images
Deal: Russian President Vladimir Putin with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Sarah Dadouch

Russia began delivery of an advanced missile defence system to Turkey yesterday, a move expected to trigger US sanctions against a Nato ally and drive a wedge into the western military alliance.

The first parts of the S-400 air defence system were flown to a military air base near the capital Ankara, the Turkish defence ministry said, sealing Turkey's deal with Russia which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

The US says the Russian military hardware is not compatible with Nato systems and the acquisition may lead to Ankara's expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet programme.

"The delivery of parts belonging to the system will continue in the coming days," Turkey's Defence Industry Directorate said. "Once the system is completely ready, it will begin to be used in a way determined by the relevant authorities."

At least two Russian Air Force cargo planes flew to Turkey yesterday. Turkish broadcasters showed footage of one plane parked at the airbase and a second one landing.

Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed it had started delivering the S-400 systems and that the deliveries would continue in accordance with an agreed schedule.

An unnamed military source said a second delivery would be carried out by plane soon. A third delivery, of 120 guided missiles, will be carried out by ship at the end of the summer, the source added.

Twenty Turkish servicemen received training from Russia in May and June and 80 more will receive training to use the S-400 system, the source was quoted as saying.

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

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting US President Donald Trump at a G20 summit last month the US did not plan to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the S-400s.

Mr Trump said Turkey had not been treated fairly but did not rule out sanctions. US officials said last week the administration still plans to impose sanctions on Turkey.

These range from banning visas and denying access to the US-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the US financial system and denying export licences.

Washington says the S-400s could compromise its F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.

Turkey could also face expulsion from the F-35 programme. Mr Erdogan has dismissed that possibility, but Washington has started the process, halting training of Turkish pilots.

Investors in Turkey have been concerned about the impact of potential US sanctions on an economy which fell into recession after a currency crisis last year.

Turkey's dollar bonds dropped to three-week lows on the news of the delivery, while the cost of insuring exposure to Turkish sovereign debt rose.

The S-400 acquisition is one of several issues which have frayed ties between the two allies, including a dispute over strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates, where the US is allied with Kurdish forces which Turkey views as foes.

The detention of US consular staff in Turkey has also strained relations, along with disagreements over Iran, Venezuela and Middle East policy.

Turkey has long demanded Washington hand over a Muslim cleric who Ankara holds responsible for an attempted coup in 2016. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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