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Turkey Receives First Delivery Of Russian Missile System

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 6:00 pm
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(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS DRIVING)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's the sound of six massive trucks, part of a Russian missile air defense system as they rolled off a cargo jet this morning in Turkey. For weeks, top officials in the Trump administration and the Pentagon have been warning Turkey, a longtime NATO ally, not to take delivery of that Russian S-400 system. Turkey was told there would be big consequences if it defied that warning, and now it has.

Joining me to talk about what may or may not happen next in this standoff is NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Welcome to the studio.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: What kinds of consequences has the U.S. said Turkey could face if it did acquire Russian's - the Russian's S-400 missile system?

WELNA: Well, the most likely immediate consequence is that the U.S. kicks Turkey out of the international consortium that's been manufacturing Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet fighter. It's about the most advanced, sophisticated and versatile jet fighter out there. Turkey's already bought four of these planes, and it plans to buy at least a hundred more. But none of them has actually been delivered to Turkey, and it now appears that none will be.

Turkey's also been making a lot of the F-35's components. It's had dozens of pilots in the U.S. training to fly the plane. And it was supposed to have a major F-35 engine maintenance facility that would have brought a lot of money into Turkey. All that would be cancelled. In fact, the training's already been suspended, and the Turkish pilots have until the end of this month to leave the U.S. And added to that are financial sanctions required by U.S. law for buying major weaponry from Russia.

CORNISH: Why is the U.S. so opposed to Turkey getting this Russian anti-aircraft system?

WELNA: Well, first, Turkey has turned to a major U.S. adversary for a big arms purchase. Turkey repeatedly rejected offers to buy the U.S.-made Patriot missile system, which unlike Russia's S-400's missile system is interoperable with other NATO weaponry in Turkey.

And beyond that, there's considerable concern at the Pentagon that having the Russian air defense system installed in Turkey will allow that system's radars to collect a lot of very sensitive information about the F-35s. And that could be used to undercut the plane's stealth technology, which is both its greatest defense and its biggest selling point.

CORNISH: But now that Turkey has made good on its vows to go through with this purchase, what's the U.S. going to do about it?

WELNA: Well, up to now, as far as we can tell, not much. There does seem to be a lot of conflicting signals going on. Pentagon brass were supposed to have a press conference this morning. They had prepared pre-approved statements responding to Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 system, and that got pushed back to this afternoon. And now it's been postponed indefinitely.

Now, Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper did say this morning that the Pentagon's position on canceling the F-35 for Turkey has not changed, so that cutoff could still happen. The big debate within the administration now appears to be, what happens with the congressionally mandated sanctions against Turkey? A law enacted two years ago requires them for significant transactions with the Russian's armed sector. And the White House's National Security Council would have to certify that's in fact what's happened and then recommend which sanctions President Trump should impose.

And, Audie, there's no time limit for him to do that. Remember - Trump's a big self-proclaimed friend of Turkey. And just two weeks ago in Japan, Trump actually defended Turkey's decision to buy the Russian's defense system. So I guess the question now is, will the U.S. actually blink in the face of Turkey's defiance?

CORNISH: That's NPR's national security correspondent David Welna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.