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Turkey Committed ‘In Principle’ to Activating Russian-Made S-400 Missiles

Washington has consistently objected to NATO-member Turkey acquiring the Russian-made S-400 missile systems, claiming they were incompatible with security standards of the alliance and might compromise the operations of the new US fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets.

Turkey is committed “in principle” to its earlier announced plans to activate the Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems acquired last year, despite procrastination due to a spate of issues, Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin was quoted as saying by France 24 on Monday.

Speaking in an interview, the spokesperson referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as having delayed the matter of activation, slated originally for April, and reiterated the country’s intention to proceed with the move.

“Because of the COVID virus things have been delayed but in principle we are sticking to our agreement with the S-400 as before,” said Ibrahim Kalin.

According to the official, Turkey is prepared to work with countries to allay any security concerns they “may have about the S-400s being compatible or not compatible with the NATO defence system.”

The Turkish official spokesperson was cited by the agency as also echoing previous statements by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey would also buy US Patriot missile systems.

While there has not been any official comment from the Turkish government regarding the reasons for a delay in activation of the S-400 systems, and to what extent the COVID-19 pandemic might be connected to the issue, some observers have been suggesting Turkey was deliberately holding off on activating the missiles.

The measure could be a ploy, they believe, to try and mend the rift between Ankara and Washington over the purchase of the Russian systems, besides other issues.

On 30 April David Satterfield, the US envoy to Turkey, said the Turkish government was exposing itself to sanctions if it went ahead with activating the S-400s.

“We made our position quite explicit to President Erdogan, to all the senior leadership of Turkey, and that is the operation of the S-400 system…exposes Turkey to the very significant possibility of Congressional sanctions, both those that invoke the CAATSA legislation, and additional freestanding legislative sanctions,” he said during an online meeting hosted by the Atlantic Council.

“We do not have in our possession the assurances from the government of Turkey that would allow us to mitigate those concerns,” he added.

The S-400 Spat

In July 2019, Russia fulfilled its first contract for delivering four divisions of sophisticated S-400 defence systems to Turkey, with the total cost reaching $2.5 billion, with the option of one more regimental batch laid down in the details of the contract.

Turkey’s President Erdogan earlier pledged the systems would enter service already before the end of last month.

After Turkey received its first batch of S-400 systems from Russia in July 2019, Washington had moved to suspend Ankara from its F-35 stealth fighter programme and froze its orders of the new generation jets.

Although the issue has not yet been brought to a vote in the upper chamber, the US Congress drew up a list of sanctions against Turkey over the S-400 purchase, under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Despite Washington’s demands that Turkey cancel all purchases of the Russian-made systems and acquire the US-made Patriot interceptor missiles instead, Ankara has refused to make concessions, insisting the S-400 agreement was a “done” deal.

The US has consistently claimed the Russian-made S-400s are incompatible with the NATO defence grid and might hamper operations of the US fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter.