President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday confirmed Turkey’s first test of a controversial Russian missile defence system as he dismissed criticism by the United States.
“It is true about the tests, they have been done and will continue,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, a week after reports emerged of the Turkish army test-firing the S-400 system.
“How can we not test these kinds of capabilities we have? Of course we aren’t going to consult America. We’re not going to ask America for permission,” he added.
There had been hope in Washington that Ankara would “keep it in the box”, but Turkey has always insisted the S-400s would be deployed after their delivery last year.
The US State Department and Pentagon responded furiously to reports of the test.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said last Friday that, if confirmed, Washington would consider them “incompatible with Turkey’s responsibilities as a NATO ally and strategic partner of the United States”.
Washington says Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 systems compromises NATO defences and has threatened sanctions.
Turkey faces sanctions under a 2017 law known as CAATSA, which mandates sanctions for any “significant” purchases of weapons from Russia.
Last year, the US suspended Turkey from its F-35 jet programme over the Russian missile purchase. Turkish officials have said the S-400s will not be integrated into NATO’s defence infrastructure.
However, Ankara accuses Washington of failing to sell the US’s competing Patriot missile systems, and has pointed to its security needs while justifying buying the Russian S-400s.
The S-400 tests come at a particularly tense time in Turkey’s relationships with NATO allies – the US, France and Germany – after Ankara resumed gas exploration this month in eastern Mediterranean waters disputed by Greece.
Erdogan also suggested a double standard, saying NATO member Greece was using its S-300 missile defense system. He asked: “Is America telling them anything?”
During a visit to Turkey earlier this month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the S-400 system could not be integrated into the alliance’s air-and-missile defence apparatus.
Turkey signed the S-400 deal with Russia in 2017. Deliveries of the first four missile batteries, worth $2.5bn, began in July 2019.
Turkey initially said the S-400 would be operational in April but it has since delayed activating the system.
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