Russian Missiles ‘Just Pretext’ for U.S. Sanctions, Erdogan Says

Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system was “just a pretext” for the U.S. to impose sanctions, designed to squelch Ankara’s efforts to lessen its dependence on the American defense industry, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“This decision is a blatant assault on our nation’s sovereign rights,” Erdogan said in Ankara on Wednesday. “This has been imposed for the first time against us, a NATO member. What kind of an alliance is this?”

Turkey bought the Russian S-400 missiles in 2017, saying the U.S. was unwilling to sell equivalent systems on acceptable terms. The first batteries were delivered last year, prompting bipartisan demands in the U.S. Congress for restrictive measures long resisted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ankara may have stretched the rope too tight in October by testing the missiles in defiance of American warnings, and on Monday, the Trump-approved sanctions were announced.

“The allegation that the S-400 systems constitute a threat to the F-35 fighter jet is just a pretext,” Erdogan said. “The real aim is to block the leaps we started in defense industry and make us once again dependent on them.”

The Turkish leader made a point of noting that his country started to develop its own defense industry after the 1975-1978 U.S. arms embargo over Cyprus significantly hampered arms acquisitions.

“We’ll double efforts to make our defense industry an independent one in every sense,” he said, broadcasting a video showing tests of the Hisar missile-defense system developed by state-run contractors.

The sanctions cut off Turkey’s top defense procurement agency from U.S. financial institutions, military hardware and technology. New export licenses to transfer American goods or technology to the agency have been banned.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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