US Vice-President Mike Pence has warned Turkey against a defense deal with Russia to acquire Moscow S-400 anti-aircraft missile system that Washington views as a threat to US jets.
Speaking at a gathering in Washington to mark Nato’s 70th anniversary, Mr Pence said: “Turkey must choose.
“Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making such reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?”
Thus far, Turkey has responded that the purchase of the advanced system is a done deal.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated that the deal with Russia – thought to be worth about £2.5bn (£1.9bn) – would not be cancelled.
In a tweet, Turkey’s vice-president later wrote: “The United States must choose.
“Does it want to remain Turkey’s ally or risk our friendship by joining forces with terrorists to undermine its Nato ally’s defence against its enemies?”
Ankara says the S-400 system will help the country to defend itself, as Turkey faces threats from Kurdish rebels and Islamist militants. The S-400 “Triumf” is one of the most sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems in the world, with a range of 400km (250 miles) and one S-400 integrated system being able to shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously.
The US has also been pushing for Turkey to buy America’s Patriot missiles instead. Senior Nato officials have repeatedly stated that the Russian system is not compatible with the alliance’s equipment. Washington believes that Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 would be a threat to US F-35 fighter jets.
With the second largest army in NATO, Ankara’s close military ties with Russia are a source of collosal uncertainty not just to the NATO member states, but primarily offer grave military concerns for the US which may lose a key defense client.
Further, Turkey has been a linchpin for NATO’s defense strategy in the Middle East, allowing the U.S. and other NATO forces to use its airspace and bases for carrying out operations in the region. The United States is also aware that in making Turkey ineligible for the F-35, this could imperil its strategic leverage and that of other NATO allies in military cooperation.
It is striking that the US has already suspended Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme, even when its attempts at negotiating with Ankara are still under way.
In January, the Trump administration tried enticing Turkey to scrap its $2.5 billion deal with Moscow by making a counteroffer: US offered its Raytheon’s $3.5 billion Patriot surface-to-air missile system at a discount valid until the end of March.
But the offer also came with a catch; the US would only continue to discuss that potential sale to Turkey, if it commits to not accepting the S-400.
As it stands, the Pentagon suspended deliveries for Turkey’s F-35 program one day after its Patriot discount offer ended.
Uptil now the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is showing no signs of yielding to the United States. He has stated that while he remains interested in the US Patriot missile system, equally there is no turning back from the S-400 deal with Russia.
“Nobody “should ask us to lick up what we spat.” Erdogan has stated in a recent interview to national TV.
The clock is running out for a solution to the impasse. Turkish officials say they expect to install Russia’s S-400 missile defense system in July and given that President Erdogan looks to a re-election, standing up to the United States on account of his rejection of its ultimatum adds to his credibility and independence as a political leader. Analysts predict that it is unlikely that he will go back on the S-400 deal, even if it is on account of its deteriorating relations with NATO.