The US-Turkey showdown over Ankara’s deal with Russia for the S-400 anti-air defense system continues and could even escalate further considering Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu this week issued a return ultimatum after continued Washington pledges to halt sale of Lockheed’s F-35 stealth fighters.
Not only did FM Cavusoglu say on Wednesday that Turkey will not bow to mounting US pressure, but said if Washington blacklists Turkey on either sales of the US-made Patriot systems, or blocks F-35s already purchased, then Ankara may pursue even more S-400 systems and would further look for alternatives to the F-35 jets.
This comes after Turkey’s leaders voiced deep frustration over NATO leadership giving the cold shoulder to a Turkish proposal last week to overcome the standoff by forming a technical group in order to address the alliance’s concerns over the S-400 purchase.
“If the United States is willing to sell, then we’ll buy Patriots. However, if the United States doesn’t want to sell, we may buy more S-400s or other systems,” Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster NTV, as cited by Reuters.
“If the F-35s don’t work out, I will again have to procure the jets I need from elsewhere …There are (Russian) SU-34, SU-57 and others.” And continuing the threat, he said, “I will absolutely meet my needs from somewhere until I can produce it myself.”
The US has tried a carrot-and-stick approach by dangling its US Army Patriot systems in front of Turkey, hoping it would be a desirable alternative to the S-400 altogether.
The advanced Russian-made S-400 air defense system purchased by Turkey has been seen as a threat by the United States, given the potential for compromising the F-35 advanced radar evading and electronics capabilities. The fear is that Turkey possessing the S-400s and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft together would potentially enabling Moscow to detect and exploit its vulnerabilities, meaning Russia could ultimately learn how the S-400 could take out an F-35.
Interestingly, during his comments Wednesday, the Turkish foreign minister invoked Syria, in an observation that probably won’t sit well with Pentagon planners. “The U.S. F-35s fly over Syria every day and there are S-400 systems there.”
He followed this provocative reference by concluding, “They pose no threats despite being systems that are completely under Russian control, so will they pose a risk when the are in Turkey’s control?” he said.
Meanwhile Kremlin officials responded to Cavusoglu’s comments by noting Russia and Turkey were seeking closer military and technical ties — this after Presidents Putin and Erdogan met in Moscow earlier this week.