Turkey’s defense minister Hulusi Akar says that delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems may be delayed until after June after government previously announced they were due to arrive earlier.
Akar told the Turkish broadcaster Haberturk during an interview on Monday that although the missiles may not arrive in June, the agreement between Ankara and Moscow is a done deal.
“They may not make it by June but they will come in the months ahead. The process has begun,” he said.
“There are some details about the agreements we have made regarding the procurement of the S-400. Institutions and organizations in charge of the issue continue to negotiate about them,” Akar explained when asked about the deployment schedule. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not confirm the Turkish minister’s statement and said on Wednesday that the delivery of the S-400 systems to Turkey is going according to schedule.
“The delivery will be carried out earlier than originally planned, at the request of the Turkish side. There will be no delay in the delivery of the defense hardware,” Peskov told reporters in Kazakhstan.
Turkey and Russia signed the S-400 air defense system purchase deal in 2017. Since then, the agreement has triggered ongoing friction between Turkey and the US, two NATO allies, as the latter has expressed strong disapproval of the deal.
According to a Reuters report on Wednesday, the US is seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on advanced F-35 fighter jets as Turkey carries on with its plans to buy the Russian S-400s despite objections from Washington.
The US has argued that Russian S-400 defense systems are incompatible with NATO’s defense network and would pose a threat to American F-35 stealth fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.
Two sources familiar with Turkey’s role in the F-35 program who spoke to Reuters reportedly on condition of anonymity indicated that a final decision had not been made about the issue.
Reuters reported that it was unclear whether a decision to suspend Turkish pilots’ training would mean they would have to leave the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where they have been training.
The US previously underlined that Turkey cannot have the Russian S-400 systems and be part of the program of F-35, a fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Washington, as well as other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the Russian S-400 air defense systems’ radar will learn how to spot and track the fighter jet and make it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.
In late March, the US froze the delivery of equipment related to the F-35 to Turkey. This was seen as its first concrete step of what could eventually be the full removal of Turkey from the F-35 program, in which Ankara is also a production partner.
Experts say that Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between Washington and Ankara.
The two NATO allies have already been at odds with each other regarding Ankara’s demands that the US extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, conflicting strategy in Syria, sanctions on Iran and the detention of US consular staff in Turkey.