10, March 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the United States is pressuring Turkey to cancel an arms agreement with Russia because Washington is angered by Ankara’s independence.
“The issue is not about (the Russian defense system) S-400. It is because Turkey takes action of its own will regarding regional developments, particularly in Syria,” President Erdogan said in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Saturday.
Turkey has been maintaining military presence in Syria to ward off Kurdish militants, whom it associates with anti-Ankara separatists. The US, which has also been present on Syrian soil, has been arming those Kurds under the pretext of helping them fight the Takfiri terror group of Daesh. Ankara has been at loggerheads with Washington over that support.
Russia and Turkey finalized an agreement on the delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems in December 2017. Turkey is expected to take delivery of the systems between later this year and early next year. The US has been selling its own Patriot missile systems to regional countries to push back against Russia’s expanding influence among them.
A day before Erdogan made the comments, the US Department of Defense warned Turkey of “grave consequences” if it took delivery of the Russian equipment. “They (the Turks) would not have access to Patriot and the F-35,” acting Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers said, also referring to an advanced American fighter jet that the Turks plan to purchase.
The US was about to sell the Patriots to Turkey before Ankara chose to purchase the Russian systems. It is also contracted to deliver 100 F-35 stealth warplanes to Turkey. Washington claims that members of the Western military alliance of NATO, including Turkey, should be using certain weapons to ensure “interoperability.”
Erdogan, however, said, “Everyone knows that this issue has nothing to do with either NATO and the F-35 project nor the security of the US.”
Turkish-US tensions are at a peak mainly due to Washington’s support for the Kurds and Turkey’s subsequent imprisonment of an American pastor.
Last year, Ankara also imposed tariffs on US goods in response to American tariffs on Turkish-supplied steel and aluminum.
The two sides are separately at odds over Washington’s refusal to extradite Fetullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric accused of masterminding an abortive 2016 coup against the Turkish government.
The situation was not defused despite Turkey’s release of the pastor, whom it had detained over alleged links to anti-Ankara outfits.