Turkey Warns West It Will Continue to Shop Around for Missiles

Turkey said it would continue to turn to other providers of air-defense weapons if traditional western allies fail to deliver, suggesting the rancor prompted by Ankara’s decision to buy Russian missiles may be repeated.

The Turkish military needs upgrades far beyond the scope of its current purchase of an advanced S-400 system from Moscow, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview on Thursday.

“If you don’t want me to buy it from elsewhere, then you need to sell it,” Cavusoglu said. “If you don’t, we’ll continue to buy from elsewhere. Today, this can be the S-400. Tomorrow, there will be another system. It doesn’t matter.”

The comments are the most forthright statement so far of Ankara’s intention to substantially upgrade its air-defense capabilities, even at the cost of further inflaming ties with its partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While there’s already an outline deal with Russia for a second S-400 battery that would be jointly produced, the minister signaled Turkey won’t stop there.

“We need more than two batteries. Two, three, five [batteries] until we produce this ourselves,” Cavusoglu said, citing possible threats Turkey faces in a volatile part of the world, especially from the decade-long civil war in neighboring Syria.

Patriot Alternative

Turkey has wrangled with the U.S. over its Patriot missile system for years, with Washington unwilling to concede to demands for the transfer of technology. The decision to procure the S-400s inflamed a relationship with Washington that had soured over other issues, and the Trump administration ended up suspending Ankara from development of the advanced F-35 fighter jet.

The U.S. says the Russian system can gather critical information on NATO operations, including the stealthy F-35s.

The U.S. has recently proposed Patriots as part of a solution to the impasse which includes Turkey abandoning the S-400s. Ankara has so far refused to go along, stating the threat of American sanctions won’t change its mind on a critical defense issue.

Election Fight

Cavusoglu said American-made missiles are still an alternative for Turkey but such a procurement can’t be “imposed” on Ankara.

Turkey hasn’t yet activated the S-400s it took delivery of last year, leading some observers to conclude that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to avoid planting Turkey into the raw politics of President Donald Trump’s re-election fight in the hope of a solution later on.

Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have cooperated in some Middle Eastern flashpoints but have backed opposing sides in others, including Syria and the conflict in Libya.

The White House has resisted growing pressure from both parties in Congress to exact retribution on Turkey, which hosts key NATO installations, over the S-400 purchase. But bipartisan legislation approved by the House of Representatives calls for sanctions.

Erdogan’s spokesman said last month that the process to activate the missiles was still underway.

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