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Coronavirus puts missile showdown between Turkey and US on hold

April 20, 2020 at 6:38 pm

Russia’s S-400 missile defence system being delivered in Ankara, Turkey on 12 July 2019 [Turkey’s National Defense Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey’s plans to switch on its new Russian missile defence systems have been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak but it does not intend to reverse a decision which has raised the threat of US sanctions, a senior Turkish official said.

Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States over the S-400 air defence systems had looked set to reach a showdown in April when President Tayyip Erdogan and the government had said they would be activated.

But the coronavirus outbreak has focused Turkish efforts on combatting the pandemic and ring-fencing an economy which only just pulled out of recession last year. In recent weeks Erdogan and his government have not raised the S-400 issue publicly.

READ: Turkey repeats working group offer to US to solve row over Russian defense purchase

“There is no going back on the decision to activate the S-400s (but) due to COVID-19 … the plan for them to be ready in April will be delayed,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It could be several months before the Russian system is activated, the official said, adding some technical issues remained to be overcome.

The Turkish defence ministry declined to comment.

The United States says the S-400s, which Moscow delivered to Turkey last July, are incompatible with NATO defences and would jeopardise US F35 stealth jets which Turkey planned to buy.

Turkey receives Russian S-400 despite Trump's threats. [Cartoon-Arabi21]

Turkey receives Russian S-400 despite Trump’s threats [Cartoon-Arabi21]

Their acquisition by Turkey means Ankara could face US sanctions under legislation designed to punish countries which buy defence equipment from Russia.

Turkey’s presidency made no mention of the S-400s in a statement following a call between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on Sunday, which it said focused on cooperation to protect health and the economy from coronavirus.