Defense minister says Turkey to use S-400s independent of NATO defense systems

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Despite ongoing calls from the United States and its NATO allies urging Turkey not to use a Russian missile defense system, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said the country will use the S-400s when necessary and independent of NATO’s missile defense systems.

“The S-400 defense system will be used, when a need is felt, against threats and dangers. When there is no intention of an attack on Turkey, it is just harmless. We will use the S-400s independent of the NATO systems,” Akar said at a news conference on Friday.

Despite warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brokered a deal worth $2.5 billion with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the S-400 missile system in 2017.

The S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, is said to pose a risk to the NATO alliance as well as the F-35, America’s most expensive weapons platform.

Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and NATO’s broader defense systems. Turkey rejects this and says the S-400s will not be integrated into NATO.

Akar also said imposing sanctions, mainly those regarding the F-35 program, does not fit with the sprit of the alliance between Turkey and the US.

In a statement earlier this week, the US Defense Department reiterated that there has been no change in the US administration’s policy with respect to Turkey possessing the Russian missile defense system, urging the country once again not to keep the S-40Os.

“… there’s been no change to the administration’s policy with respect to the F-35 and the S-400. Again, we urge Turkey not to move ahead with the delivery of the S-400. We believe it’s incompatible with the F-35, and Turkey remains suspended from that program.  Again, we urge them not to retain it,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in response to question at an off-camera press briefing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Washington imposed sanctions in December on Turkey’s military procurement agency as punishment for its purchase of the S-400 under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which mandates penalties for transactions deemed harmful to US interests.

Turkey’s Presidency of the Defense Industry (SSB), its chief İsmail Demir and three other officials were targeted by the sanctions, which include a ban on all US export licenses and authorizations to SSB as well as asset freezes and visa restrictions on Demir and the other individuals.

The US had also previously removed Turkey from its F-35 stealth fighter development and training program over the S-400 purchase.

At the same news conference, Akar also talked about the number of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) members who have been purged from the military since a failed coup in July 2016 on charges of links to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed putsch.

He said a total of 21,194 TSK members have been expelled since the coup attempt on alleged Gülen links.

The Gülen movement strongly denies the government’s claims.

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