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Turkey says not giving up on Russian missile deal despite US pressure

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Turkey is not withdrawing from an agreement to buy an advanced Russian missile system, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on April 8, despite increasing pressure from Washington.

“No one can demand that we give it up,” Erdogan told a joint news conference in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is our sovereign right, this is our decision.”

Erdogan’s trip to Moscow, his third this year, came as the United States and other NATO countries continued a dispute with fellow member Turkey over its decision to purchase Russian S-400 air-defense missiles that are not compatible with NATO systems and are seen as a threat to U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets.

Turkey’s relations with Russia have historically been tense.

But Moscow and Ankara have established strong economic ties since the end of the Cold War and have moved closer in recent years as Turkey’s relations with Washington and the European Union have suffered.

The meeting comes as the United States and other NATO countries are at loggerheads with Turkey over its decision to purchase a Russian S-400 air-defense system that is not compatible with NATO systems and is seen as a threat to U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets.

The two sides must “strengthen cooperation in the military-technical sphere,” Putin told Erdogan as they met in the Kremlin.

“These regard first of all the completion of the contract to supply S-400 antiaircraft missile systems to Turkey,” Putin said.

“There are other promising projects on the agenda related to the supply of modern Russian military products to Turkey,” Putin said, adding, “We may reach agreements on the joint development and production of high-tech weapons.”

Washington has demanded that Ankara call off its missile deal with Russia and has suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program..

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on April 3 that “Turkey must choose” whether it wants to “remain a critical partner” in NATO or “risk the security of that partnership by making such reckless decisions that undermine our alliance.”

The U.S. State Department said last week that Ankara could face U.S. sanctions if it goes ahead with the purchase.

On April 8, Putin said the construction of the underwater segment of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline that will carry Russian gas to Turkey crossing the Black Sea has just been completed, adding that it’s set to come online later this year.

Putin and Erdogan also talked about the planned construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is set to start operations in 2023.

In Syria, Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides in the conflict, and experienced a tense period in 2015-16 after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.

Now they say they are cooperating to secure a buffer zone in Idlib, near the Turkish border, which they agreed on in September in order to prevent a massive Syrian regime offensive.

However, Putin said Moscow and Ankara were unable to reach an agreement to set up a monitoring center in Idlib, agreed at a previous summit in Sochi in February.

“We have so far not been able to create the monitoring center,” Putin said. “But I am sure that we will do this.”

Turkey has long been angered by U.S. support for Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria, which Ankara says are linked to a Kurdish insurgency fighting for autonomy within Turkey.

The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week warned Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of “potentially devastating consequences” if Turkey were to launch an offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

The U.S. military has been backing Syrian Kurdish fighters in the north of the country in their battle against Islamic State (IS) extremists.