Turkey Poised to Test Russia-Made Missiles That Stoked U.S. Ire

Turkey is planning to conduct a comprehensive test of the S-400 missile-defense system it purchased from Russia next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

The air force isn’t activating the batteries, but testing equipment as well as the readiness of Turkish personnel at a site in Sinop province on the Black Sea coast, the people said. Turkey’s Defense Ministry declined to comment.

The S-400 deal alarmed Turkey’s NATO allies, which fear it could help Moscow gather intelligence on the bloc’s capabilities, specifically the stealthy F-35 fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin.

The Trump administration suspended Ankara from development of the advanced F-35 to protest the agreement with Russia, and has raised the specter of imposing sanctions on Turkey if the missiles are activated. The lira weakened on the news of a scheduled test.

Turkey had wrangled with the U.S. for years over access to its Patriot missile system, with Washington balking at Turkish demands for a transfer of technology.

The U.S. recently proposed providing the Patriot as part of a solution to the impasse which included Turkey abandoning the S-400s. Ankara has refused to go along with the proposal, insisting that the threat of American sanctions wouldn’t change its mind on a critical defense issue.

The White House has so far resisted growing pressure from both parties in Congress to exact retributions on Turkey, which hosts key NATO installations. But bipartisan legislation approved by the House of Representatives calls for sanctions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also approached French President Emmanuel Macron over procuring European-made air defense systems, known as the Eurosam SAMP/T, according to people familiar with a phone call last month.

Macron responded saying Turkey must clarify its objectives in Syria before deployment of European-made systems could be considered. Turkey’s involvement in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, where it backs Azerbaijan, has since inflamed ties between the two governments.

Moscow also objects to Turkey’s role in its old Soviet backyard, and despite the S-400 deal Ankara and Moscow have been at loggerheads in Middle East flashpoints.

They have had either military advisers, mercenaries or troops deployed on opposite sides of two major conflicts, in Syria and Libya.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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