Turkey not backing away from Russian arms deal despite US pressure
Turkey is not backing away from a deal to acquire an advanced Russian missile system, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, despite mounting pressure from the United States.
“No one can demand that we give it up,” Erdogan told a press conference in Moscow alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is our sovereign right.”
The US is seeking to persuade fellow NATO state Turkey to nix the deal for the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The US contends that a member of the Western military alliance should not acquire such equipment from an adversary.
Putin said, as he met Erdogan in Moscow, that delivering the S-400 to Turkey is a national priority.
“Before our countries stand serious tasks for strengthening our cooperation in the military industrial sphere,” Putin said, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
“First and foremost is the realization of the contract for supplying the S-400 Triumph air defence missile system to Turkey,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Last week the US Defence Department said it has suspended the delivery of F-35 fighter-jet parts to Turkey over its plans to purchase the S-400 system.
“Ankara’s decision to procure military hardware from Russia is seen as an act of betrayal by the US and other NATO members,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of political and policy risk advisory at Teneo Intelligence in London.
“The purchase of the Russian missile system would trigger a serious political rupture that will be hard to overcome and could put into question Turkey’s NATO membership in the future,” he said in an emailed comment.
In a sign of strengthening ties between Moscow and Ankara, bilateral trade has grown 15 per cent to reach 25 billion dollars, Putin told Erdogan in the Kremlin.
Putin spoke of the TurkStream pipeline, for transporting Russian-sourced natural gas to Turkey across the Black Sea, and Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, Akkuyu, which Russia is helping to construct.
“A bilateral year of culture of Russia and Turkey will begin this evening,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Russian state media said the two leaders would attend a Turkish production of the opera “Troy” at Moscow’s prestigious Bolshoi Theatre to begin the year of cultural exchange.
Turkey’s relations with Russian rival the US have grown increasingly contentious, exacerbated by Turkey’s intention to purchase the Russian missile system.
Last week US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington “will not stand idly by” while a NATO member buys weapons from an adversary.
Turkey has long been angered by US support for Kurdish forces in neighbouring Syria. Ankara says such forces are linked to a Kurdish insurgency fighting for autonomy within Turkey.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces last month declared final territorial victory over Islamic State in Syria, paving the way for the US to begin winding down its troop presence.
Concerns remain that Turkey will attack the US ally once those special forces depart.
This is the third meeting between Putin and Erdogan this year. The earlier two focused on Syria. The conflict has pushed more than 3.6 million refugees into Turkey, according to Turkish state estimates.
Russia and Turkey, which have supported opposing sides in the conflict, experienced a tense period in 2015-16 after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.
Now they are working together to secure a de-escalation zone in Idlib, near the Turkish border.
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