Congressional leaders warn Turkey on S-400

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Laurie Mylroie-WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – A bipartisan group of senior senators warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday against the purchase of the Russian air defense system, the S-400.

Turkey can have either the Russian system or the US fighter jet, the F-35, the senators said—but not the two weapons systems together.

“By the end of the year, Turkey will have either F-35 advanced fighter aircraft” or “a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system,” the top Republican and Democratic senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

The senators’ warning followed similarly strong statements from Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week in the context of the NATO Foreign Ministers’ conference held in Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the alliance.

Nonetheless, Turkish officials have repeatedly affirmed their intent to proceed with the S-400. Indeed, Erdogan was just in Moscow, where on Monday, he re-affirmed Ankara’s intent to acquire the weapons system.

“We have already drawn out our road map regarding the S-400, and those who are calling on us to ‘forgo’ it at this time clearly do not know us,” Erdogan said. “If we have made an agreement, then that matter is over.”

The four authors—Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with Jim Risch and Bob Menendez, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—laid out the high stakes involved.

They explained in clear and no uncertain terms how Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian missile system would endanger the F-35.

“The F-35 program is the world’s largest fifth-generation fighter aircraft program, with more than a trillion dollars in investment from a dozen international partners,” they wrote.

The ability of the US and allied countries “to maintain a military advantage in the skies is riding on the program.”

“The S-400,” on the other hand, “is the most advanced system produced to date in Russia’s quest to defeat stealth technology—the system Russia built to shoot down the F-35 fighters,” the senators explained.

They also described the serious consequences for Turkey, if Erdogan persists in the Russian missile purchase, as well as the leverage that Russian President Vladimir Putin has over Erdogan: the threat of retaliation in the various areas where Turkey has relations with Russia, including Syria, energy, agriculture and tourism.

Erdogan’s decision will have “profound consequences” for Turkey’s “place in the world, its relationship with the United States and its standing in NATO,” they wrote.

The senators, thus, echoed Pence’s warning last Wednesday that Turkey could be putting at risk its membership in the NATO alliance.

If Turkey takes delivery of the S-400, it “will be sanctioned, as required by United States law” (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which “will hit Turkey’s economy hard” and will mean the loss of over $1.25 billion that Turkey has already invested in the F-35 program, they stated.

The senators also promised to help Turkey deal with Russia’s retaliation, if it cancels the S-400 deal, while they pledged to make the US-manufactured air defense system, the Patriot, available to Turkey.

Finally, they explained just what Putin’s goal was in dangling the S-400 and other incentives before Erdogan: “to divide Turkey from the West.”

Indeed, sowing problems and troubles within the NATO alliance is a strategic objective for Russia.

Can Putin render Turkey’s continued participation in NATO untenable, by locking Erdogan into a position in which Turkey can no longer be trusted by other alliance members as a defense partner?

Only time will tell, but that prospect could be in the offing, and the US and others will have to prepare for that possibility.

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