Moscow is positive about the request by Ankara to speed up the delivery of its S-400 air defense systems to Turkey, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said after talks with visiting Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“In response to the request by our Turkish partners to speed up the originally planned delivery terms, we are reacting positively,” Lavrov told journalists in the Russian capital on Wednesday. The FM refrained from announcing any dates, only saying that the implementation of the S-400 deal is among the issues “now discussed in practical terms by specialists; they aren’t for public disclosure.”
Moscow and Ankara signed a $2.5 billion agreement on the procurement of Russia’s most advanced S-400 Triumph (known to NATO as the SA-21 Growler) system in December. The delivery of the first complexes to Turkey is scheduled to begin in early 2020, Russian presidential aide for the defense industry cooperation, Vladimir Kozhin, told Rossiya 24 channel on Monday. He noted that Russia had accommodated Turkey’s wish to accelerate the implementation of the contract.
“The sooner Turkey receives [the S-400 missile system] the better. Works are continuing to this end,” Cavusoglu said to the same question, as cited by the Hurriyet Daily News.
The deal has strained the already uneasy relations between Turkey and its NATO ally, the US. Washington staunchly opposed the deal, warning Ankara in October that it might face “necessary consequences” in the event that the deal plays out. Buying a Russian-made system, which is not interoperable with the NATO infrastructure, might prevent Turkey from being a part of any future air-defense NATO system, the US military warned.
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In the worst case scenario, Washington can slap Ankara with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was signed in August and aimed, in particular, at hindering Russian arms exports.
Turkey has vowed to stick to the deal despite the pressure.
On Tuesday, Cavusoglu, who was on a two-day visit to Moscow, stressed that Turkey’s NATO membership does not make it a US vassal.
“Turkey is a NATO member, but we are an independent state, we are not a satellite state,” Cavusoglu said during a public talk with students at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, adding that Turkey has “the same right and liberty” as the other NATO members to buy arms from third parties.
He also brushed off concerns that the systems could be employed in the Turkish army operations against Kurds, stating that the S-400 is not intended to be used in Turkey’s offensive in Syria’s Afrin, and will be only deployed as a defensive system “if Turkey is attacked.”
In a recent interview with the German Zeit newspaper, Cavusoglu defended Turkey’s decision to opt for the Russian S-400 complexes, noting that a potential deal to purchase the US Patriot anti-air missiles will likely get stuck in Congress. “We even had troubles with buying simple rifles from the US due to concerns of the Congress. We had to buy it from someone,” he said, adding that he would not rule out Turkey buying the US-made systems in the future, as long as Washington is able to guarantee the lawmakers’ consent.
The S-400 anti-aircraft system is equipped with four types of interceptor missiles operating at ranges from 400 meters to 40 kilometers and is capable of destroying aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles.