Who Will Call The First Bluff? US Threatens Turkey With Sanctions Over Russian S-400 Purchase

Despite an ostentatious "roll out" ceremony by Lockheed Martin last week in Fort Worth to mark the handover of the first F-35-A Lightning II jet bound for Turkey, the advanced stealth multi-role fighter isn't going anywhere anytime soon as we previously explained after the Senate passed a draft defense bill for FY 2019 that would halt the transfer until the secretary of state certifies that Turkey will not accept deliveries of Russian S-400 'Triumf' air-defense systems.

Following upon previous warnings, the US State Department has again threatened that Turkey will be targeted by sanctions if it receives the S-400 from Russia under a contract finalized between Ankara and Moscow at the end of 2017, said to be worth $2.5 billion.

Image source: US Military Technology/YouTube screengrab

The State Department recalled that this decision is a result of the bill President Donald Trump signed into law last summer, which seeks to punish companies that do business with the Russian defense industry.

On Tuesday a top State Department official — Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell — stated the following at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“We made it clear that if Turkey buys S-400s… there will be consequences. We will introduce sanctions within Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).” 

“We believe that we have existing legal authorities that would allow us to withhold transfer under certain circumstances, including national security concerns,” he said. “We believe that we continue to have the time and ability to ensure Turkey does not move forward on S-400 before having to take a decision on – on F-35. We’re being very clear in our messaging to the Turks that there will be consequences.”

And notably Mitchell also highlighted Turkey's deteriorating human rights record, estimating that about two dozen Americans remain illegally detained in the country, many of them dual nationals (though we should note that Washington only plays the 'human rights' card on allies selectively and when convenient). 

In spite of Lockheed Martin's formal "handover" the US has plenty of time (perhaps years even) to block the F-35 contract while Congress firms up the legal basis for such a maneuver after the Senate Appropriations Committee recently added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 that would put a stop to future deliveries should Ankara refuse to cancel the S-400 deal.

The main argument for blocking the F-35 transfer is the fear that Russia would get access to the extremely advanced Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft, enabling Moscow to detect and exploit its vulnerabilities. Russia would ultimately learn how the S-400 could take out an F-35.

Here's the more bizarre side of the Lockheed Martin ceremony involving US and Turkish officials that most didn't see:

We noted previously that the US government will retain custody of the aircraft while the Turkish pilots and service technicians are undergoing training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. This is a long process that will likely take several years, but the bill is expected to become law this summer, at which point the Trump administration will have no choice but to exclude Turkey from the F-35 program, to remove any parts of the plane produced in that country, and to ban the Turkish F-35s from leaving the territory of the United States.

According to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, no F-35 jets will arrive Turkey until 2020, but by then the transfer's stoppage could be a foregone conclusion.

Meanwhile, other US officials haven't shied away from public statements about their intentions to exert pressure and prevent other countries from buying Russian weapons.

But these latest statements have evoked fierce reactions from both Russian and Turkish officials, with Russian state-run TASS highlighting the following:

Last week, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli slammed the US demand to give up the deal to purchase S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia as ‘blackmail.’ Canikli also said that Turkey "is fulfilling all its commitments" and expected "timely deliveries of F-35 fighter jets" from the United States.

And TASS further emphasizes that Turkey will not bend:

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV channel last week that Turkey will purchase Russia’s S-400 missile systems and this issue is closed. He stressed that Turkey is not planning to give up this deal despite the decision of the US Senate.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy said on May 25 his country could take measures against the United States if Washington refused to supply F-35 to Ankara.

It could become a game of who will call the first bluff, and if Congress has anything to do with the US side will not lose this diplomatic standoff, even as Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced in April that they agreed to expedite the delivery of S-400 systems.

The delivery would theoretically start in late 2019 and early 2020, but this timetable is increasingly looking less likely. 


DownWithYogaPants tmosley Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:04 Permalink

If I were Turkey ( which is difficult because that is a country ) I would use this as an opportunity to not buy the F-35 flying lemon.

125 million dollars a piece. Such a deal! 

Seriously is that insane or what?  Just looked up F22 unit cost:  150 million per unit.

Yikes.  No wonder they kilt Kennedy for wanting out of Vietnam. What a cluster fuck.

In reply to by tmosley

crzkat Joe Trader Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:11 Permalink

NATO is not going to kick out Turkey. It's their southern flank and it controls access to the Black sea. Kick out Turkey and they can say goodbye to Ukraine and Romania. The right question is whether Turkey will kick out NATO, and turn even closer to Russia and Iran. My guess is yes.


BTW: The Russian counter to the F35 is the Su-57, which Turkey has already said they would pursue if they don't get their F-35's.

In reply to by Joe Trader

COSMOS crzkat Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:17 Permalink

You seem to forget that goods can be shipped up the river systems of Europe and avoid the Black Sea choke point.  How do you think the vikings sailed down to the black sea from the Baltic. Romania and Hungary can ship up the Danube.

The Rhine–Main–Danube Canal (German: Rhein-Main-Donau-Kanal; also called Main-Danube Canal, RMD Canal or Europa Canal), in Bavaria, Germany,connects the Main and the Danube rivers across the European Watershed, running from Bamberg via Nuremberg to Kelheim.

The Rhine flows through six countries -Switzerland, Principality of Liechtenstein,AustriaGermanyFrance and the Netherlands before flowing into the North Sea at Rotterdam.

In reply to by crzkat

COSMOS crzkat Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:59 Permalink

Hold on for a sec, Romania has basically no Navy lol and Ukraine had a navy that mostly defected to Mother Russia.  A couple of good batteries of long range surface to surface missiles can keep any navy at bay look at how Russia moved the Bastion system into Crimea to keep NATO ships away.  Also a few good subs can ruin anyone's hopes of controlling the Black Sea.  In this case the river systems of Europe and access to them is far more important for the Black Sea countries than the Black Sea itself.

In reply to by crzkat

OliverAnd crzkat Wed, 06/27/2018 - 23:10 Permalink

Clearly you are a military strategist. . Europe's southern flank is and will always be Greece. Turkey under NATO is a buffer zone preventing the fall of the southern flank in case of war with Russia. Turkey was more valuable during the cold war as it was easy to have spies cross borders. Today while spying does happen, it is done through Georgia and Armenia. The Russians control the Black Sea and NATO controls the Aegean Sea. Nevertheless there are international routes that allow both to access either sea. If Turkey were to close Bosporus it would be an act of war. While it may a question of who has the best boats in the Black Sea for victory, in the Aegean because of the number of islands literally everywhere, it is about who controls those islands. This is why Turkey's aspirations and spending of ships is a complete waste of state funds; every Greek island is an unsinkable aircraft carrier. Not even the Russian or American navy have unsinkable aircraft carriers.

In reply to by crzkat

philipat Joe Trader Wed, 06/27/2018 - 20:29 Permalink

I think that Turkey would call that bluff and then close Incirlik air base to all NATO activity and equipment. Turkey would finish up with better jets and better SAM systems from Russia at a fraction of the cost and would have in the process established an independent, Eurasian-leaning foreign policy. AND, the next time the US wants to sanction Turkey it would cut off spare parts and essential maintenance services (The F-35 needs a LOT of maintenance and remains under the electronic control of Washington) which Turkey can avoid by buying the alternatives from a much more reliable partner, Russia. What's not to like for Ankara?

And incidentally, since when did the US have the right to tell Turkey, or any other country for that matter, how to spend its own money and on what? It is such arrogance that so endears the US to ROW..

In reply to by Joe Trader

Ecclesia Militans rrrr Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:40 Permalink

From a defense contractor?  Absolutely.  It's codified law.

I am not sure why there is any outrage - let Turkey buy the S400s and then we'll get to look under the hood (oh yes we will) just like the F-35s going to India will get analyzed by Russian operatives (oh yes they will) and the beat goes on.

The fact that a majority of the peeps on this Board do not realize how closely Russia and the USA collaborate is hilarious.  To quote good 'ole H. Ross Perot, "That's just Hee-Haw funny right there!"

In reply to by rrrr

Captain Nemo d… Ecclesia Militans Wed, 06/27/2018 - 13:49 Permalink

F-35s going to India

When did that happen? Even if there were talks, India getting S-400 as well.

In the meantime India is worried about the domestic light-weight fighter costing more than Sukhois and Gripen and the F-16. Of course the latter have a lot of research already available and perhaps have economies of scale as well.



In reply to by Ecclesia Militans

pods tmosley Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:07 Permalink

Seriously, Turkey is like Briar Rabbit.

A high maintenance jet that will probably not even hold its own against a Mig-29 is nothing to be proud over.

They call it the Lightning, which is a fitting name. You are more likely to get HIT by lightning then be killed by A LIGHTNING.

This one is gonna be providing content to us for years.


Edit: I would be more scared of a Thunderbolt (II) than a Lightning. 

In reply to by tmosley

gregga777 decon Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:53 Permalink

The Air Force doesn't like it because they don't see ground support operations as being all that glamorous. Of course, I have no idea just where the Air Force thinks they going to find enemy aircraft to shoot down. Maybe they should give the A-10 to the Marine Corps. They aren't too proud to take hand-me-downs. 

In reply to by decon

Rothbardian in… Looney Wed, 06/27/2018 - 11:16 Permalink



You mean the US is pointing guns and petrodollars at folks who make economic decisions they don’t like?


I’m shocked!  Since when does the US try to control every financial outcome on earth?  Since when does the US threaten force against its own citizens or citizens of other countries who exercise free will?



In reply to by Looney