"This is over" — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week as US Congress continues discussion and debate on holding up delivery of Lockheed-produced F-35 stealth jets purchased previously by Turkey due to Ankara's intent to receive Russian S-400 anti-air defense systems from Russia.
Erdogan said emphatically in an interview with Turkish broadcaster Kanal 24. “There can never be a turning back. This would not be ethical, it would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.” He affirmed the Russian deal had already been inked with the first delivery expected in July. Erdogan added as part of his remarks:
"We are an independent Turkey, we are not slaves."
Thus it appears the imminent transfer of the S-400s is a done deal, perhaps also sealing future years of permanently damaged US-Turkey relations, after Washington has for months tried to simultaneously coerce Turkey into spending $3.5 billion on US Patriot missiles over fears Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft could be compromised in the hands of a military possessing both the aircraft and Russia's most advanced anti-air system.
The chief of US European Command, Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, told Congress on Tuesday that delivery to Turkey of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should ultimately be cancelled if Turkey moves ahead with buying the S-400 systems from Russia. But it appears Erdogan's "this is over" comment was directed at the continued congressional debate.
Gen. Scaparrotti noted during his testimony that the the S-400 remains “a problem to all of our aircraft, but specifically the F-35.”
"I would hope that they reconsider this one decision on S-400," Scaparrotti, who also serves as NATO's supreme allied commander, said.
Scaparrotti pointed to several problems the Russian system poses, including a lack of interoperability with NATO systems, and said the S-400 is "a problem to all of our aircraft, but specifically the F-35, I believe.
"My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it, or working with an ally that is working with Russian systems, particularly air defense systems, with one of our most advanced technological capabilities," he said. — Turkey's Anadolu Agency
The advanced Russian-made S-400 air defense system purchased by Turkey has been seen as a threat by the United States, given the potential for compromising the F-35 advanced radar evading and electronics capabilities.
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.
Erdogan further warned Washington during the Turkish TV interview to cease from coercion or "disciplinary measures" in the form of sanctions or restrictive trade measures, noting Turkey has considered potential retaliatory measures.
According to multiple reports, Erdogan also mused about future upgrades to Russian systems still under development, such as the S-500 Prometheus, Russia's next-generation air defense systems set for military service in 2020 or after.
Russian state media reports have recently claimed the S-500 Prometheus has hit targets up to 300 miles away in recent tests, and could reach distances closing in on up to 400 miles.
Erdogan said, as reported by Russian TASS news agency: "The S-400 issue is a done deal, and we will not reject it under any circumstances. We have come to an agreement with Russia, and there will possibly be a joint production. Maybe we will consider S-500 options after the S-400 deal."
But Erdogan's blustering is likely also aimed at pressuring Washington into better concessions, as at this point neither side appears willing to budge. Erdogan's remarks came just as the US State Department warned that transferal of S-400 systems could result in far reaching sanctions against Turkey under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), despite its NATO status.