World News

Turkey says deployment of Russian defences delayed, but will happen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey’s planned deployment of Russian S-400 missile defences has been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak but will ultimately go ahead, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Thursday, despite Washington’s warnings that Ankara risks U.S. sanctions.

“There has been a delay because of the coronavirus but it will move forward as it was planned,” Ibrahim Kalin told an online meeting hosted by the Atlantic Council, adding that Erdogan had told President Donald Trump several times that he was also interested in purchasing U.S. Patriot missiles.

Reuters earlier this month reported that Turkey delayed bringing online the Russian weapons systems, which the United States says are incompatible with NATO defences and would jeopardise U.S. F35 stealth jets which Turkey planned to buy.

Erdogan previously had said the S-400s would be activated in April but the coronavirus pandemic has focused Turkish efforts on combating the outbreak and supporting an economy which faces a second recession in two years. In recent weeks Erdogan and his government had not raised the issue publicly.

Making the S-400s operational exposes Turkey to U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) legislation designed to punish countries which buy defence equipment from Russia.

That prospect has been conveyed to the Turkish leadership multiple times, David Satterfield, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey also told the online panel.

“We made our position quite explicit to President Erdogan, to all the senior leadership of Turkey, and that is the operation of the S-400 system...exposes Turkey to the very significant possibility of Congressional sanctions, both those that invoke the CAATSA legislation, and additional freestanding legislative sanctions.”

“We do not have in our possession the assurances from the government of Turkey that would allow us to mitigate those concerns,” he added.

Turkey says it is also in talks with the United States about trying to secure a swap line from the U.S. Federal Reserve as its foreign exchange reserves are eroded by the economic impact of the pandemic.

Ankara is keen to secure funding from the U.S. central bank if possible, as it is not considering pursing a deal with the IMF.

Satterfield on Thursday confirmed Ankara’s contact with the U.S. Federal Reserve. “There are certain requirements set by the open markets committee of the Fed with respect to potential eligibility. They are financial monetary requirements and conditions. They are not politically linked,” he said.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans