Defence minister tells US counterpart Ankara needs the Russian defence system because it faces a ‘serious threat’.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a controversial Russian missile defence system will be fully deployed in April 2020 despite the threat of US sanctions, adding the next step would be to jointly produce S-400s with Moscow.
The first batch of the Russian S-400 equipment was delivered to Turkey in recent days even after repeated US calls to cancel the deal or face punishment.
“We have begun to receive our S-400s. Some said ‘they cannot buy them’… God willing they will have been installed in their sites by April 2020,” Erdogan told a crowd of thousands on Monday in Ankara, as Turkey marked the third anniversary of a bloody coup attempt.
“The S-400s are the strongest defence system against those who want to attack our country. Now the aim is joint production with Russia. We will do that,” he said.
The US threatened Turkey with sanctions and already started removing it from the stealth F-35 fighter jet programme. Washington says the Russian missile system is a threat to the F-35s and Turkey can’t have both.
The Turkish leader previously said he does not believe Washington will impose sanctions since the two countries are “strategic allies”.
It’s unclear when and where the S-400s will be fully installed, but Turkey will be the first NATO member to operate the Russian surface-to-air defence system, which can hit targets as far as 400km away.
The ninth Russian plane carrying S-400 parts landed at the Murted military base in Ankara on Monday, the defence ministry said.
Formerly known as the Akinci base, it was renamed after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt by a faction of the military. Akinci was reportedly where many soldiers who backed the putsch were based.
The anniversary comes at a difficult moment for Erdogan. He faces a weakened economy, worsening relations with NATO ally the US over the S-400 purchase, and a humiliating loss for his party in the recent Istanbul local election.
Nearly 250 people were killed – excluding the coup-plotters – and more than 2,000 wounded after a rogue military faction tried to wrest power from the president. Thousands took to the streets in response to Erdogan’s call to defeat the uprising.
Relations with the West deteriorated after the coup bid as Turkish officials accused the West of not giving Ankara sufficient support.
Since then, Erdogan has grown closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising concerns in Europe and the US.