Turkeys chafes at Washington’s ultimatum: S-400s or F-35s, as sanctions loom
Washington has also raised the prospect of sanctions on Turkey, which could prolong its economic recession and prompt a re-evaluation of its 67-year membership of NATO.
Turkey has said that a U.S. House of Representatives’ resolution condemning Ankara’s purchase of Russian defense systems and urging potential sanctions was unacceptably threatening.
At the same time, the Kremlin said that Russia plans to deliver its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, amid concerns that the delivery will further harm already strained Turkish-U.S. relations.
The United States has threatened to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program unless it drops the deal. Washington has also raised the prospect of sanctions on Turkey, which could prolong its economic recession and prompt a re-evaluation of its 67-year membership of NATO.
“The agreements reached between Russia and Turkey are being fulfilled on time in the given context. There are no bilateral problems,” Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters on 11 June.
Asked if the missiles would be delivered in July, he said: “Yes, that’s what we plan somehow.”
The comments came days after the head of Russian state conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said Moscow would start delivering S-400 missile systems to Turkey in two months, contradicting several Turkish officials who said the delivery could take place as soon as June.
US-Turkey relations have been strained on several fronts including Ankara’s plans to buy Russia’s S-400 air defense systems, the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey, and conflicting strategy over Syria and Iran.
The standoff threatens to bring U.S. sanctions, which would hurt Turkey’s already recession-hit economy, and raise questions over its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The resolution, introduced in May and entitled “Expressing concern for the United States-Turkey alliance”, was agreed in the House on Monday.
It urges Turkey to cancel the S-400 purchase and calls for sanctions if it accepts their delivery, which may come as soon as July. That, the resolution said, would undermine the U.S.-led transatlantic defense alliance.
In response, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its foreign policy and judicial system were being maligned by “unfair” and “unfounded” allegations in the resolution.
“It is unacceptable to take decisions which do not serve to increase mutual trust, to continue to keep the language of threats and sanctions on the agenda and to set various artificial deadlines,” it added.
Turkish pilots’ F-35 training in US cut short
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government faces a balancing act in its ties with the West and Russia, with which it has close energy ties and is also cooperating in neighboring Syria.
The United States is also pressuring Turkey and other nations to isolate Iran, including blocking oil exports.
U.S. officials said on Monday the training of Turkish pilots on F-35 fighter jets had come to a faster-than-expected halt at an air base in Arizona, as Ankara’s involvement was wound down over the S-400 controversy.
The United States says Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defenses poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.
“We rarely see it in foreign affairs, but this is a black and white issue. There is no middle ground. Either Mr. Erdogan cancels the Russian deal, or he doesn’t,” Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on the House floor on Monday.
“There is no future for Turkey having both Russian weapons and American F-35s. There’s no third option.”
Regardless of the U.S. warnings, Turkey appeared to be moving ahead with the S-400 purchase. Erdogan said last week it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.