Russia began delivery of an advanced missile defence system to Turkey yesterday, a move expected to trigger US sanctions against a Nato ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.
The delivery to an air base in the Turkish capital Ankara comes after Washington warned this week that there would be “real and negative” consequences if Turkey bought the defence system.
Nato, which counts Turkey as one of its members, is “concerned about the potential consequences” of the purchase, an official told AFP.
The alliance has repeatedly warned Turkey that the Russian system is incompatible with other Nato weapons systems, not least the F-35, a new generation multi-role stealth fighter jet.
The US fears that if Ankara integrates the S-400 into its defences there is a risk that sensitive data about its F-35 could leak back to the Russians and it has threatened to expel Turkey from its fighter jet programme.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down and said he is confident Turkey will not face US sanctions.
Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries said in a statement that the delivery of the system’s other parts would continue “in the coming days”.
The US State Department has said Turkish officials are fully aware of legislation -- the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act -- which mandates sanctions for any “significant” purchases of weapons from Russia.
Washington has given Ankara until July 31 to cancel the S-400 purchase or have its pilots kicked off its F-35 training course and expelled from the US.
Nicholas Danforth, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told AFP the delivery reflected Ankara’s desire to forge “a more independent foreign policy and reset the terms of its relationship with the US”.
Nick Heras, of the Center for a New American Security, said the S-400 system would be a “game changer” for Turkey’s air defence strategy in a region surrounded by actors with well-developed air forces.