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Russia will begin delivering its S-400 air-defense system to NATO-member Turkey in the coming days, a Kremlin spokesman said Friday, in a deal likely to trigger U.S. sanctions and test the bonds of the Western military alliance.
But the scope of the possible response from Washington remains clouded by apparent conflicting messages.
President Donald Trump has publicly shown sympathy for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s position on the purchase of the Russian S-400 air-defense system. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, has warned of tough measures that would include canceling the sales of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey unless it aborts the deal with Russia.
On Friday, the State Department reinforced the warnings of “very real and negative consequences” for Turkey.
For the wider NATO alliance, the Turkish deal strikes at the heart of military coordination. NATO has expressed worry that the S-400 is incompatible with Turkey’s possession of the U.S.-made F-35s, and could give Russia access to secrets of its stealth technology.
For more than a year, the United States has urged Erdogan not to procure the sophisticated Russian system – a move that would bring mandatory U.S. sanctions against Turkey under a 2017 law on cooperation with “adversaries.”
The U.S. measures, if carried out, would cause an extraordinary breach in U.S.-Turkey relations and almost certainly complicate ongoing negotiations between the two countries over other issues, including military strategy in Syria.
The latest crisis comes less than a year after another argument between the United States and Turkey: the imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, led both countries to impose sanctions and helped hobble the Turkish economy. Brunson was arrested in 2017 after a failed coup against Erdogan. He was released from detention in October and returned to the United States.
Erdogan “has made his decision and we are going to live through the consequences,” said Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. “If you thought Brunson was bad – this is far, far worse.”
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Erdogan has said that his deal with Russia is part of Turkey’s sovereign right to defend itself and denied that the purchase threatened NATO.
“Turkey adds value and strength to NATO, too, and expands its vision and scope,” he said at a graduation ceremony at the National Defense University in Istanbul on Friday, according to his office.