Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator who U.S. President Joe Biden nominated as ambassador to Turkey in July, warned Turkey against buying a second battery of Russian-made S-400 air defence missiles.
“Any purchase of additional Russian weapons will result in additional sanctions,” Flake said during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, the Politico news website reported.
If confirmed as ambassador to Ankara, Flake said he would push Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to change course.
Last week, Erdoğan said his government planned to go ahead with the purchase of a second batch of the missiles despite warnings by the U.S. government that the defence system puts NATO’s security at risk. Former U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey’s defence procurement agency in December under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
“In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defence systems we acquire, from which country, at what level. Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions,” Erdoğan told CBS News in an exclusive interview aired on Sunday.
“If confirmed, I will consistently reiterate that disposing of this system is the path to removing CAATSA sanctions,” Flake said. “I will also warn Turkey that any future purchase of Russian weapons risks triggering further CAATSA sanctions, in addition to those already imposed.”
Turkey and the United States have a fractured relationship due to policy differences over Syria, Israel, Libya and Erdoğan’s decision to purchase the S-400s.
The Pentagon and State Department have called on Turkey to abandon the battery of missiles purchased in 2019 and to scrap plans to buy more, saying the system could gather sensitive information on NATO’s defences, including the new F-35 stealth fighter jet. Turkey has been excluded from a programme to build and purchase the aircraft in response.
Robert Menendez, a top Democratic senator and the chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, also warned Turkey that it would face sanctions if it bought a second battery of Russian-made S-400 air defence missiles.
“We were crystal clear when we wrote the CAATSA law: Sanctions are mandated for any entity that does significant business with the Russian military or intelligence sectors. Any new purchases by Turkey must mean new sanctions,” Menendez said via his official Twitter account early on Tuesday.
On Monday, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Greece’s state broadcaster ERT that Turkey’s purchase of more missiles would lead to fresh sanctions.
“We continue to make clear to Turkey that any significant new Russian arms purchases would risk triggering CAATSA sanctions separate from and in addition to those imposed in December 2020,” the official said.
Flake also promised to advocate against Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.
“I’m troubled by Ankara’s democratic backsliding, and the negative trajectory in terms of freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly in Turkey,” he said.
“I will challenge Turkey to uphold its domestic and international human rights commitments, while also pushing Turkey to live up to its status as a NATO ally.”