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Russia won't object if Turkey does not activate S-400s

Relations between Ankara and Moscow have cooled since the killing of Turkish soldiers in a government attack in Idlib
A Russian military cargo plane, carrying an S-400 missile defence system, unloading at the Murted military airbase, northwest of Ankara (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Russia would have no objections if Turkey decides to keep the S-400 missile systems in a warehouse and not activate it, a senior Russian diplomat said on Wednesday in televised remarks.

“It is entirely the buyer's decision to use the system or not,” Alexei Yerkhov, the Russian Ambassador to Ankara, told CNNTurk. “These systems now belong to Turkey. [Activation] is completely up to Turkey. It is like a car that you own. You can either drive it to the beach, or keep it in your garage.”

Yerkhov’s remarks came as Turkish officials indefinitely suspended the activation of Russian-made S-400 systems in April, saying that the coronavirus crisis was impeding the efforts to set it up.

It was a major shift for Ankara, where officials had long insisted they would press along with their plans and deploy the systems to protect Turkish airspace in April.

Washington views a Nato ally buying Russian arms as a security threat, and Ankara's purchase of the $2.5bn missile systems already had major repercussions. Last year, the US ejected Turkey from the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet programme and suspended the delivery of already purchased aircraft.

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Ibrahim Kalin, a top adviser to the Turkish president, said later that the systems would still be activated, even though the US Congress had been threatening sanctions against Ankara and has a bill to that effect.

Turkish officials have been recently growing cold on their Russian counterparts, especially since the killing of more than 30 Turkish soldiers last month in Syria's Idlib province in a Syrian government air attack backed by Russian warplanes.

The two countries currently also back opposite sides in the Libyan civil war, where Turkish officials think Russia has failed to honour its promise to deliver a ceasefire. 

A Russian defence official this week told Turkish media that the training of Turkish technicians who would run the S-400 systems has been completed. “There is a Russian team of experts in Turkey right now that helps their Turkish counterparts to activate it,” Dmitry Shugayev, Director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, told Ekoturk TV.

Shugayev said there were advanced talks with Turkey on the second delivery of S-400 systems, in which Ankara could be able to have tech and know-how transfer from Moscow, a key demand for Turkish officials. “We are waiting for the final decision of the Turkish side," he said.

The US officials in the past offered several deals to Turkey to prevent sanctions and supply its air defence needs. The officials told MEE earlier this year that any deal to sell US-made Patriot systems to Turkey or its return to F-35 project would be tied to not activating the S-400s.

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