Ankara (GPA) – Turkey has moved the delivery date for the Russian missile systems forward, despite concerns that the purchase could violate US sanctions.
turkey russia arms sale us sanctions
Credit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin

The delivery of the Russian-made air-defense system was originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2020 but has now been moved up to July of 2019. The deal signed in December of last year marks deepening ties between Moscow and Ankara and has caused tension between Turkey and their NATO allies.

The decision was the result of a meeting between Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.The meeting marked the beginning of Turkey’s first civilian nuclear project – a project being aided by Russia – but also to bring “forward the delivery date in the accord signed with Russia to provide the S-400 system” according to Turkish Undersecretary for Defense Industries, Ismail Demir.

There is, however, an issue with the purchase of these Russian systems that has yet to be resolved: Turkey’s membership in NATO. While NATO was previously only concerned by the fact that these systems aren’t compatible with western-made networks, there is now the new concern that Turkey could be violating the newest US sanctions on Russia.

Related: Turkey Breaks with NATO, Refuses to Expel Russians

These newest concerns were allegedly voiced by an unnamed US official in an interview with Turkish media outlet Hurriyet Daily News. According to the official, although the US does sympathize and “understands Turkey’s desire to improve its air defenses,” but beyond the “implications for NATO interoperability,” Washington is also concerned the purchase could “potentially expose Turkey to sanctions.”

The sanctions, part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which include among the entities sanctioned some of the Russian arms manufacturers that build the S-400s. CAATSA stipulates that countries doing business with these firms could also be subject to potential sanctions and may be prohibited from purchasing arms from the US.

According to the US official, the issue of Turkey’s air defense was last discussed in meetings that took place last month during a visit by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The official stated that during these meetings both parties discussed “how we can find better solutions to help Turkey’s air defense needs,” but now that Tillerson is gone and will likely be replaced by Russia-hawk Mike Pompeo it is unclear how much room for negotiation there will be between Ankara and Washington.

After these meetings, however, Turkey pushed back against the claims by the US that they prioritize Ankara’s needs. The strongest rebuke came from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in an interview with German outlet Zeit, who said that his country has trouble “buying simple rifles from the US due to concerns of the Congress,” let alone advanced missile-defense systems.

Cavusoglu also warned that Washington that they “should not threaten us. We are a NATO ally” but if they do decide “to punish Turkey with sanctions” then Ankara would be forced to retaliate. This position was later reiterated by President Erdogan who said of the US threats that “We are not going to be accountable to you. We will proceed along the right way without any concessions for the sake of achieving our own goals.”

Related: Turkey Breaks with NATO, Refuses to Expel Russians

Turkey has made it clear that they are still willing to purchase US weapons should Washington agree to sell them but in light of the recent decline in US-Turkish relations, this has been nearly impossible. On the other hand, Russia has not placed restrictions on the S-400 purchase, which is why Erdogan has decided to accelerate the delivery process.

Turkey has already found themselves in some hot water recently over allegations that Erdogan was party to a scam to launder Iranian money prior to the lifting of sanctions by the US. This shows that Erdogan isn’t afraid to violate US laws and the fact that the oil-for-gold scheme hasn’t gotten much attention in the US probably leads Ankara to believe they can get past this.

The Turkish government has continuously expressed concerns that they need to improve their air defenses and has grown tired of waiting for the US. Turkey knows their NATO status provides them leverage other US allies don’t have and judging by recent patterns, they intend to keep testing their luck.