Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday threatened to retaliate against any U.S. sanctions imposed over his acquisition of Russian S-400 air defence missiles, a clear escalation of the tension that has dogged relations between the two NATO allies.
Erdoğan told foreign press representatives there would be no turning back from the deal to buy the Russian-built missiles – the message Turkish officials have repeated since the purchase was agreed in December 2017. The United States and other NATO countries say Russia could use Turkey’s deployment of the weapons to glean data on potential defensive weaknesses of its aircraft.
Erdoğan warned the United States should “think very carefully” before imposing sanctions and would face retaliation if it does, Reuters reported on Thursday. The statement showed little room for compromise on a crisis that some have said could deal a lasting blow to the NATO alliance.
The Pentagon set a deadline of July 31 for Turkey to pull out of the estimated $2.5 billion deal or face expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet programme in a letter to Turkey’s defence minister this month.
The U.S. Congress is widely expected to approve sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if it goes through with the deal, an outcome that could severely harm Turkey’s economy, as U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned in the letter.
Trump and Erdoğan are expected to meet at the G-20 summit in Osaka at the end of the month, and the S-400 purchase will be top of the agenda if the meeting goes ahead.
Erdoğan said he was confident Trump would not agree to impose sanctions over the S-400 issue, the Financial Times reported.
“We will of course say: do you find such sanctions against Turkey acceptable? I do believe he will say he does not,” the FT quoted the Turkish president as saying. “I will ask him to do what is necessary. It’s that simple, since we are friends, since we are strategic partners.”
Erdoğan believes his personal relationship with Trump will be enough to persuade the U.S. president to override his subordinates.
“America has a problem, we have very different relations with Trump, but our relations with people working under Trump are totally different. Therefore, I do not believe there will be any sanctions,” the pro-government Sabah newspaper quoted Erdoğan as telling foreign reporters.
But analysts see little chance that Trump could prevent the measures threatened by Congress and the Pentagon over Turkey’s S-400 purchase, given the strong bipartisan agreement on the issue.
In August last year, Turkey’s lira crashed to a record low of 7.2 against the dollar when Trump implemented targeted sanctions against two Turkish ministers involved in the imprisonment of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, on terror and espionage charges.