Erdogan Says Russia Defense Deal ‘Done’ as Putin Urges More Ties

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he’s going ahead with the controversial purchase of a Russian air-defense system over U.S. objections as Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin urged even closer military links between their two countries.

“Everything is done” on the agreement to buy the S-400 missile system and “those who ask or suggest we backtrack don’t know us,” Erdogan told reporters after talks with Putin in Moscow on Monday. “If we sign a deal on an issue, that’s a done deal. This is our sovereign right, no one can ask us to back down.’’

Russia’s ready to consider deepening defense cooperation with Turkey through “joint development and joint production of high-tech weaponry,” Putin said. While they discussed implementing the S-400 contract, there are also other “promising projects,” he said.

Turkey is pressing ahead with plans to take delivery of the S-400 despite intense opposition from the U.S., which has threatened to expel Ankara from its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program if the deal is completed. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned last week that Turkey must choose between being a critical player in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “or risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions.”

The leaders also focused on the war in Syria, where they’ve supported opposing factions. At the start of the talks, Erdogan praised the two countries’ coordination, saying the “steps we’ve taken and will take in Syria are of great importance.”

Idlib Issue

The Kremlin talks ended without agreement, however, on dealing with militants in Syria’s northern Idlib region, though the issue is “solvable,” Putin said.

“There are terrorist groups” in Idlib, Erdogan said. “Our Defense Ministry together with the Russian Defense Ministry are working on the issue and will continue doing so.”

The two sides failed to agree on military action in Idlib when they held summit talks with Iran in Russia’s Sochi in February. There are also continued divisions over Ankara’s demand for a buffer zone inside Syria to prevent U.S-backed Kurdish forces getting access to the Turkish border. Ankara says the Kurdish forces are affiliated with PKK militants in southeast Turkey. The Kurdish YPF group in Syria denies links to the PKK.

An envoy for the Syrian Kurds said last month that they’re ready to merge their forces with President Bashar al-Assad’s military if he grants them some measure of political autonomy.

The Syrian Kurds were left exposed in December when President Donald Trump announced he’s pulling out all 2,000 U.S. troops from the country. The administration changed tack in February and said 400 soldiers would stay in Syria to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State and protect America’s Kurdish allies.

Putin proposed reviving a 1998 security treaty between Turkey and Syria at talks with Erdogan in Moscow in January, effectively pressing the Turkish leader to restore ties with the Assad regime that Ankara opposes. The treaty obliges Syria to prevent activity on its territory that jeopardizes Turkish security, and allows the Turkish military to cross the border in self-defense if Damascus fails to rein in the Kurdish fighters.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.