Turkey has begun taking delivery of the S-400 Russian missile defense system, in a move that is expected to trigger United States sanctions against a NATO ally, Reuters reported on Friday.
Turkish Defense Ministry on Friday said that first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military airbase northwest of Ankara, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia despite strong disapproval and numerous warnings from the US against it.
Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister, told the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) that three cargo planes arrived in Turkey on Friday, adding that the deliveries would continue in the upcoming days.
Having threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey for months, the reaction from Washington to the S-400 deal was limited with the acting Defence Secretary Mark Esper saying the US position has not changed.
“We are aware of Turkey taking delivery of the S-400. Our position regarding the F-35 has not changed,” Esper told reporters, referring to Turkey’s possible expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet program.
Washington has repeatedly stressed that the S-400s could compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.
Although Esper also said there will be “more to follow” after he spoke with his Turkish counterpart, the Pentagon then canceled a planned news briefing on the issue.
Turkey’s defense ministry released a statement after the phone call between Esper and his Turkish counterpart Akar, saying that Ankara was still assessing acquiring US Patriot missiles.
“Minister Akar told his U.S. counterpart that Turkey remains under a serious air and missile threat and that purchase of S-400 defense systems was not an option but rather a necessity,” the ministry noted.
NATO also told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Friday that it was “concerned” by Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian defense system.
“We are concerned about the potential consequences of Turkey’s decision to acquire the S-400 system,” a NATO official told AFP, after subsequent warnings that the system is not compatible with allied weapons.
There has also been strong bipartisan opposition in the U.S. Congress to Turkey’s S-400 deal, with lawmakers calling the State Department and Pentagon to remove Turkey from the F-35 program.
“President Erdogan was given a very clear choice. Unfortunately, he has clearly made the wrong one,” said Eliot Engel and Michael McFaul, the top Democrat and Republican respectively on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen also argued on social media that Turkey has made was a “very bad” choice that is not “the conduct of an ally.”
“Unless it reverses course, Turkey will not receive the F-35 aircraft and any move to deploy the Russian S-400 system must be met with immediate sanctions under U.S. law,” he added in a tweet.
President Donald Trump, however, made no mention of Turkey during his 30-minute speech on trade on Friday afternoon.
After last month’s meeting with Trump at the G20 summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the US did not plan to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the S-400s.
Although Trump stated that Turkey had not been treated fairly, he did not rule out sanctions, and officials from the US indicated last week that the administration still plans to act.
Erdogan has dismissed the possibility of Turkey facing expulsion from the F-35 program under the sanctions, but the US has already started the process of removing the county from the program, halting the training of Turkish pilots on the aircraft.
Acquisition of the S-400s is not the only issue that has frayed ties between Turkey and the U.S. The two NATO allies have been at odds with each other over a number of issues, including Ankara’s demand that the US hand over Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria.