Turkey’s purchase of a Russian-made air defense system was worth the friction with the United States, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has also vowed there is no stepping back in defense cooperation with Moscow.
“I think it was worth it,” Erdoğan said when asked by editors of The New York Times whether Ankara’s actions had been worth tensions with Washington.
“We can strengthen our defense as we please,” the president told the editors he had received on the sidelines of his last week’s trip to the U.S.
Erdoğan reiterated that Ankara has not undermined NATO or the Western alliance by purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defense missile system.
“We buy our own weapons,” he said, asserting that both NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and former U.S. President Donald Trump had reaffirmed Turkey’s right to choose arms suppliers.
Erdoğan reiterated that Ankara “would not have had to buy S-400s” had the Americans sold Turkey a Patriot missile defense system.
Yet, the president also said the U.S.-Turkish relationship remained fundamentally important.
“Turkey has long U.S. ties,” he said. “This will be reinforced and has to be protected.”
The initial purchase of S-400s had strained ties with the U.S. in 2019 and triggered penalties.
The move prompted Washington to remove Turkey from the new generation F-35 Lightning II jet program before it then imposed sanctions on the country’s Defense Industry Presidency (SSB), its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees in December.
The U.S. argued that the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and that it is incompatible with NATO systems. Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Turkey has said it was not given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and that the U.S. had not delivered F-35 stealth fighter jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion.
The report on Wednesday came as Erdoğan held talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Russia.
“U.S. must either give us the F-35 jets or refund the $1.4 billion payment Turkey made to the country,” he told reporters Thursday on his way back from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
He said he would address the issue during his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on the margins of the G-20 summit in Rome next month.
Erdoğan has recently said that relations between Ankara and Washington are not healthy, stressing that the two countries need to “sort out” issues over the defense systems.
The two countries should work together as friends but “the current direction does not bode well,” he said, adding he and Biden had not “started off right.”
Speaking to reporters aboard the presidential plane, Erdoğan ruled out reversing Turkey’s defense cooperation with Russia and said the process on the S-400 continues.
“It is out of the question to step back,” he stressed, adding that he and Putin discussed ways to further advance cooperation in this field.
Talks are continuing about the delivery of a second batch, and Ankara and Moscow are in the process of signing a new S-400 deal in the near future, Alexander Mikheyev, the head of Russia’s state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport, said in August.
While in New York last week, Erdoğan had reinforced Ankara’s intention to acquire a new batch of S-400 systems.
His statements were followed by calls from the U.S., urging Ankara not to go ahead with the new deal. Some U.S. senators warned that “any new purchases by Turkey must mean new sanctions,” according to a tweet Tuesday by the office of Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez.
Erdoğan on Thursday also said he and Putin “thoroughly discussed which steps we would be taking in terms of jet engines and war planes.”
He noted that Putin proposed joint space research, including rocket launching by building sea and land platforms. He further added they could take joint steps regarding shipbuilding and submarines.
There were also talks about building two more nuclear power plants with Russia.
“We spoke to Mr. Putin about building two more nuclear plants, besides Akkuyu. He agreed to work on the issue,” Erdoğan said.
Akkuyu is Turkey’s first nuclear power plant that is being built by Russia’s state nuclear energy firm Rosatom in the southern Mersin province.
The two countries signed a cooperation agreement in 2010 and began the construction in 2018. The initial unit of the plant is aimed to be completed by May 2023.
The three remaining units are due to start operation by the end of 2026, at a rate of one per year to ultimately have a total installed capacity of 4,800 megawatts (MW).
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