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US sets Turkey deadline on Russia missile deal

June 7, 2019

Turkey has until July 31 to "unwind" a deal to buy an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, the US has warned. The ongoing dispute between the two NATO allies could reach breaking point.

S-400 missiles
Image: picturealliance/A. Pavlishak/TASS/dpa

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Friday wrote to his Turkish counterpart, warning him of the consequences Ankara would face if it did not step back from a deal to buy a Russian air defense system. 

The US considers the S-400 air defense system a threat to NATO's F-35 fighter jet program.

Read more: Erdogan and Putin seek to deepen their military ties

What Shanahan's letter says

  • If the Ankara government proceeds with its deal with Moscow, Washington will unwind the country's participation in the F-35 fighter jet program.
  • Turkey will be forbidden from taking final delivery of the four F-35s it recently ordered.
  • Training for Turkish personnel on the F-35 will be discontinued from the end of July.
  • All Turkish personnel on the program must leave the US by the end of that month.

Read more: US threatens to impose sanctions on NATO ally Turkey

Why the ultimatum?

Turkey has given strong signals that it is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase, despite US pressure.

Ankara confirmed last month that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and that Russian personnel may go to Turkey. Moscow, meanwhile, has said the first deliveries of the missile system could begin in two months.

Read more: Turkey to produce new S-500 missile system with Russia

Why the S-400 program is a threat

The S-400 is designed to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35 stealth fighter jet, leaving US technology vulnerable to any Turkish-Russian collaboration. Washington has said Turkey can't have both.

As a key NATO member, Turkey's deal with Russia's military could undermine its ties with Europe and the US.

Washington is also concerned that Turkey could become over-dependent on Russia strategically and economically.

Read more: Turkish democracy 'backsliding,' EU says in membership report

'Economic downturn explains Erdogan's losses'

US missile program threatened

Kathryn Wheelbarger, one of the Pentagon's most senior policy officials, said last week that Turkey's deal with Russia would deal heavy blows to the F-35 program and to Turkish interoperability within the NATO alliance.

What other action could Washington take?

The US has also threatened economic sanctions, which would hit Turkey hard. Since 2018, the country has been mired in a serious currency and economic crisis. Inflation and unemployment have skyrocketed. Last year's US tariffs on steel and aluminum further aggravated the country's woes.

mm/rt (AP, Reuters)

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