Turkey delays activating Russian missiles amid coronavirus outbreak: report

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Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile launching system is displayed at the exposition field in Kubinka Patriot Park outside Moscow on August 22, 2017 during the first day of the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2017. / AFP PHOTO / Alexander NEMENOV

Turkey’s plans to switch on its new Russian missile defense system have been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak, but it does not intend to reverse a decision that has raised the threat of US sanctions, a senior Turkish official said, according to Reuters.

Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States over the S-400 air defense system had looked set to reach a showdown in April, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government had said they would be activated.

But the coronavirus outbreak has focused Turkish efforts on combatting the pandemic and ring-fencing an economy that only just pulled out of recession last year. In recent weeks Erdoğan and his government have not raised the S-400 issue publicly.

“There is no going back on the decision to activate the S-400s, [but] due to COVID-19 … the plan for them to be ready in April will be delayed,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It could be several months before the Russian system is activated, the official said, adding that some technical issues remained to be overcome.

The United States says the S-400s, which Moscow delivered to Turkey last July, are incompatible with NATO defenses and would jeopardize US F35 stealth jets which Turkey planned to buy.

Their acquisition by Turkey means Ankara could face US sanctions under legislation designed to punish countries that buy defense equipment from Russia.

Turkey’s presidency made no mention of the S-400s in a statement following a call between Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump on Sunday, which it said focused on cooperation to protect health and the economy from coronavirus.

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