Turkey is preparing for US sanctions as it prepares to take delivery of Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Ankara is concerned that it could be hit with sanctions relating to the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, according to Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Yet the country is keeping a positive face, suggesting it still might receive US F-35s and that it could repair relations with Washington. Russia waded into the controversy Wednesday.
According to Russia’s TASS state news agency, Moscow considers the US demands to Turkey to “give up the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems unacceptable.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments Wednesday. According to the Russians, they are concerned about reported US threats to Turkey that Ankara must give up the S-400 deal in two weeks.
Russia understands that high-stakes brinkmanship is in play and that it must encourage Turkey to stay the course. Turkey faces challenges in Syria, including anger that the US is working with the Syrian Democratic Forces, which Turkey views as linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Also, Turkey was recently contending with a Syrian regime offensive near Idlib that killed Syrian rebel fighters. Turkey and Russia signed a deal for Idlib in September which prevented a Syrian regime offensive. Likely the Syrian regime offensive was halted this month because Russia wants the S-400 deal to go smoothly.
“In general, we perceive ultimatums extremely negatively and consider such ultimatums as unacceptable,” Peskov said, according to TASS. The Kremlin said that Turkey has indicated the deal will go through. Russia says that its S-400 Triumf is the “most advanced long-range air defense missile system” and that it can engage targets at a distance of 400 km. Turkey, which is a member of NATO, has said it wants to work on an S-500 system with Russia as well, part of the growing Turkey-Russia alliance. The US has been in denial about this alliance, with the US still trying to discuss details of a Syrian “safe zone” with Turkey.
Turkey’s Anadolu state news agency says that Turkish military personnel are already in Russia receiving training for the S-400. “We’ve sent personnel to Russia for S-400 training that will begin in the coming days and will span the following months,” Akar said on Tuesday. Akar said Turkey expects to continue to play a role in the F-35 warplane program with the US. Also Turkey seems to be courting France to buy its Samp-T battery, according to Anadolu.
Turkey’s Akar also said that 16,000 government officials have been fired in Turkey as the country claims they were connected to a cleric named Fetullah Gulen in the US. Gulen’s presence in the US is another thorn in US-Turkey relations with Ankara claiming Gulen was behind a 2016 coup attempt.