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Pentagon: Purchase of Russian missile system would be ‘devastating’ for Turkey

A Russian S-400 Triumf air defense system (Vitaliy Ragulin/Wikimedia Commons)

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

A top Pentagon official has again warned Turkey about the consequences of purchasing a missile-defense system from Russia, turning up the pressure despite Ankara’s stated determination to go through with the deal.

Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, on May 30 said the purchase of the S-400 missile system would have a “devastating” effect on Turkey’s participation in the F-35 jet-fighter program and its relations with fellow NATO members

“Completion of this transaction would be devastating, not only to the F-35 program, on which the West has placed its modernized integrated air capability, but it would potentially rupture Turkish interoperability with NATO, a key aspect of the defense of the alliance,” Wheelbarger said during an address to the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“Let’s be clear. The S-400 is a Russian system designed to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35, and it is inconceivable to imagine Russia not taking advantage of that collection opportunity,” she added.

“Once you introduce Russian systems, it really undermines our ability to continue helping them to defend themselves,” she said.

Turkey, as a NATO member, is participating in the production of the fighter jet for use by alliance militaries and has plans itself to purchase 100 of the warplanes.

But the United States has demanded that Ankara call off the deal to purchase the Russian system, and NATO allies have also expressed concerns about the potential threat to U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets.

Washington has warned Ankara that it could invoke the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and impose financial penalties should Turkey go ahead with the deal.

U.S. officials have also said that Turkish firms would also likely be eliminated from production work related to the F-35 program.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to consider backing out of the missile purchase and called it a “done deal.”

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said recently that Turkey has already sent personnel to Russia for training on the missile system.