Turkey began taking delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system on Friday, a move expected to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.
The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara, the Turkish Defence Ministry said, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.
Reaction from Washington, which has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, was limited, with acting Defence Secretary Mark Esper saying the U.S. position has not changed.
President Donald Trump gave a 30-minute speech on trade on Friday afternoon at a plant in Milwaukee run by a subsidiary of defense contractor Lockheed Martin but made no mention of Turkey.
Washington has opposed Turkey’s purchase, saying Russian military hardware is not compatible with NATO systems and that the acquisition may lead to Turkey’s expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet program.
Investors in Turkey have been unsettled by the deal. The Turkish lira weakened as much as 1.6% to 5.7780 against the dollar, before recovering somewhat, after the ministry announced the arrival of the S-400 consignment. The main Istanbul share index fell 2.13%.
Turkish broadcasters showed footage of huge Russian Air Force AN-124 cargo planes offloading equipment at the air base.
“Today three cargo planes arrived,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency, adding that deliveries would continue in coming days.
A second delivery by air will take place soon, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted an unnamed military-diplomatic source as saying. A third delivery – of 120 guided missiles – will be carried out by ship at the end of the summer, the source said.
Twenty Turkish servicemen received training from Russia in May-June and 80 more Turkish servicemen will receive training to use the S-400 system, the source was quoted as saying.
“We are aware of Turkey taking delivery of the S-400, our position regarding the F-35 has not changed,” Esper told reporters earlier in the day and said there will be “more to follow” after he spoke with his Turkish counterpart.
But the Pentagon then canceled a planned news briefing on Turkey.
“Minister Akar told his U.S. counterpart that Turkey remains under a serious air and missile threat and that purchase of S-400 defense systems was not an option but rather a necessity,” the Turkish defense ministry said about the phone call, adding that Ankara was still assessing acquiring U.S. Patriot missiles.