ISTANBUL (Dispatches) – Russia has begun delivery of an advanced missile system to Turkey, a move expected to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.
The first parts of the S-400 system were flown to a military air base near the capital Ankara, the Turkish Defense Ministry said, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.
The United States says the Russian military hardware is not compatible with NATO systems and that the acquisition may lead to Ankara’s expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet program.
"The delivery of parts belonging to the system will continue in the coming days,” Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate said. "Once the system is completely ready, it will begin to be used in a way determined by the relevant authorities.”
At least two Russian Air Force AN-124 cargo planes flew to Turkey on Friday morning, data from plane tracking website Flightradar24 showed. Turkish broadcasters showed footage of one plane parked at airbase and a second one landing at around 12.30 pm (0930 GMT).
Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed on Friday it had started delivering the S-400 systems and that the deliveries would continue in accordance with an agreed schedule, the RIA news agency reported.
An unnamed military-diplomatic source was cited by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying a second delivery would be carried out by plane soon. A third delivery – of 120 guided missiles – will be carried out by ship at the end of the summer, the source was quoted as saying.
Twenty Turkish servicemen received training from Russia in May-June and 80 more Turkish servicemen will receive training to use the S-400 system, the source was quoted as saying.
The US has threatened to expel Turkey from the F-35 program under sanctions. Washington has already halted training of Turkish pilots in the United States on the aircraft.
Turkey has repeatedly rebuffed calls from the US to scrap the deal, saying it is free to choose the countries it buys weapons from.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will seek compensation if it is omitted from the F-35 program. He has said excluding Turkey from the F-35 program would be "robbery” since Ankara has already invested money in it.
Moscow and Ankara finalized the agreement on the delivery of the S-400 in December 2017 even as US officials warned that the move would damage Turkey's ability to work with NATO.
The S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system can shoot down aircraft at a distance of up to 250 km away.