‘Destroy, return, get rid of S-400’? Nope, Turkey says we’ll activate Russian missiles instead
Washington officials are reportedly demanding that Turkey “destroy or return” its Russian-made S-400 air defense systems to get back in the good books and rejoin the F-35 fighter program – but Ankara has no intention of complying.
After a meeting between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House last week, Erdogan noted that Trump’s attitude to resolving the F-35 standoff was “positive,” but offered no specifics. An unnamed State Department official, however, told Reuters on Thursday that ditching the S-400 is a precondition for rejoining the F-35 program.
“There is room for Turkey to come back to the table,” the official said at a briefing. “They know that to make this work they need to either destroy or return or somehow get rid of the S-400.”
However, far from scrapping the Russian missiles, Turkey is pressing ahead and activating them as planned, the country’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, told lawmakers in parliament on Thursday. Akar said that the relevant personnel are still undergoing training, after which “we will conduct our planned activities” with the new missiles.
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Akar’s comment’s build on Erdogan’s promise last week not to ditch the S-400, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s earlier statement that “we didn’t buy these systems as a prop.”
Though itself a NATO country, Turkey’s purchase earlier this year of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system made it the black sheep of the alliance. After taking delivery of the missile launchers, Turkey was swiftly booted from the F-35 jet fighter program – a big deal considering Ankara was both a buyer and a producer of the fifth-generation warplane.
Washington maintains that by operating the S-400 alongside the F-35, Turkey will give Russia a chance to learn the stealthy jet’s secrets. This strategic worry means that the US is unlikely to give in and sell the planes to Ankara any time soon. Erdogan has meanwhile teased the possibility of buying Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters if the F-35 deal cannot be revived, a move that would likely further inflame tension between the NATO allies.
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