ANKARA (Dispatches) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country is seeking to acquire the Russian S-500 missile system, a more advanced version of the S-400, taking a dispute with the United States up a notch.
Speaking at a televised question and answer session with university students in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 systems was "a done deal” and that Ankara was absolutely not "stepping back on the S-400 issue” under U.S. threats.
"The S-400 deal is completed. Under the contract, the deliveries are to begin in July or, maybe, even earlier. Russia has offered us very good conditions. After that, we will talk about the S-500, including joint production [of these systems], as well as S-400,” he said.
Turkey has signed a 2.5-billion-dollar deal with Russia for the purchase of S-400 system. That contract is strongly opposed by the U.S., which has tied the implementation of a contract of its own with Turkey — for the sale of 30 American F-35 stealth fighter jets — to the cancellation of the deal with Russia.
Washington has also gone as far as to warn that Ankara could lose its NATO membership.
Last month, the Pentagon halted the delivery of equipment related to the F-35 to Turkey.
Erdogan, however, said that Turkey would "sooner or later” get the F-35s despite the U.S. delay in the process.
"They (the Americans) are passing the ball around in the midfield now, showing some reluctance. But sooner or later, we will receive the F-35s. Not delivering them is not an option,” he said.
The U.S. has claimed that the Russian system is not interoperable with NATO equipment.
But the Turkish president said Turkey had conducted technical studies on the compatibility of the S-400s and the F-35s and had found no issues of concern as expressed by the U.S.
Recently, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would look elsewhere for an alternative to the F-35 if the U.S. blocked the delivery of its advanced stealth warplanes to Ankara.
The remark by President Erdogan about a potential purchase of the S-500 is expected to stir dispute with the U.S.
Russian servicemen sit in the cabins of vehicles carrying the S-400 missile systems before a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in central Moscow, Russia, on April 29, 2019.