People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, in the city of Volgograd, Russia February 2, 2018. Picture: REUTERS / TATYANA MALEYEVA
People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, in the city of Volgograd, Russia February 2, 2018. Picture: REUTERS / TATYANA MALEYEVA

Ankara — Turkey will not back down from its decision to buy Russian S-400 missile defence systems despite US warnings that it will lead to Ankara’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet programme, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says.

In what has become the main source of tension between Ankara and Washington, the Nato allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s, which Washington has said could trigger US sanctions.

US acting secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan last week sent his Turkish counterpart a letter warning that Ankara would be pulled out of the F-35 jet programme unless it changes course from its plans to install the defences.

In what was Turkey’s first direct response to the letter, Cavusoglu said no one can give Turkey ultimatums.

“Turkey will not back down from its decisions with these kinds of letters,” he said. “Turkey bought S-400, it is going to be delivered and stationed in Turkey.”

The S-400s are not compatible with Nato’s defence systems and Washington says they would compromise its F-35s, which Turkey also plans to buy. Turkey has proposed that the allies form a working group to assess the impact of the S-400s, but has yet to receive a response from the US.

Cavusoglu on Thursday repeated Turkey’s call for the joint working group, saying experts from both countries should come together to evaluate US concerns.

A day earlier, President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey had completed the deal with Russia and that the systems will be delivered in July. Russia has said it will begin the delivery of the systems in July.

Erdogan also said that Ankara would challenge its potential removal from the F-35 programme on every platform and hold those who exclude Turkey accountable.

The US has threatened to impose sanctions on Ankara under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the possibility of which has spooked investors and caused a selloff in the Turkish lira in 2019.

The lira stood at 5.8460 on Thursday morning, weakening from around 5.8320 where it stood prior to Cavusoglu’s speech. It was down some 0.7% from Wednesday’s close.

While Turkey has dismissed the US warnings, Washington has said discussions are taking place with Ankara on selling Turkey rival Raytheon Co-Patriot defence systems. But Erdogan has said the US offer was not “as good as the S-400s”.

Reuters