Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (not shown in the picture) at Cankaya Palace in Ankara, Turkey, on May 6, 2019. (Photo by AFP)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says his country will not back down from its decision to buy advanced Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, rejecting any ultimatums on the issue despite US warnings that it will lead to Ankara’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet program.
“The language and content of Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s letter are unacceptable, will not make Turkey back down from its decisions. Turkey bought S-400, it is going to be delivered and stationed in Turkey,” Cavusoglu said during a joint press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Ankara on Thursday.
“If there are concerns about S-400s, we should establish a working group with the participation of NATO,” the Turkish minister added.
Shanahan sent a letter to his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar last week, saying Washington would cut short a training program on F-35 fighter jets for Turkish pilots over “safety concerns.”
“We’ve suspended some of the activities in terms of training. We haven’t suspended any of the maintenance activity,” the letter read.
Akar on Wednesday objected to the letter, saying it “is not in line with the spirit of alliance” between Ankara and Washington.
“We have noticed […] that the manner is not in line with the spirit of alliance. We are accordingly preparing a response,” the Turkish defense chief told reporters in the northern Azerbaijani city of Gabala.
Also on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara had already purchased Russian-made S-400s and the missile systems will be delivered next month, reiterating that the deal with Moscow was irreversible.
“I’m not saying Turkey will buy S-400s, it already has. We have sealed the deal,” Erdogan said at a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) meeting.
He also reacted to US plans to wind down Turkey’s involvement in F-35 stealth fighter jet program, underlining that Ankara was not only a client but also a production partner that has invested over $1 billion in the project.
“We will meet with President (Donald) Trump in Japan at the end of the month, where we already have meetings planned. I hope there will be a mutual discussion of these issues,” Erdogan said.
Moscow and Ankara finalized an agreement on the delivery of the S-400 in December 2017.
Back in April 2018, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in Ankara that they had agreed to expedite the delivery of the S-400. At the time, it was said that the delivery could be made between late 2019 and early 2020.
A number of NATO member states have criticized Turkey for purchase of the S-400, arguing the missile batteries are not compatible with those of the military alliance.
They also argue that the purchase could jeopardize Ankara’s acquisition of F-35 fighter jets and possibly result in US sanctions.
The S-400 is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometers away. It has previously been sold only to China and India.
Ankara is striving to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from Turkish border with Syria, a move that weakened Turkey’s air defense.
Before gravitating towards Russia, the Turkish military reportedly walked out of a $3.4-billion contract for a similar Chinese system. The withdrawal took place under purported pressure from Washington.