U.S. condemns Turkey over reported test of Russian S-400 system

A view shows a new S-400 “Triumph” surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. (Reuters)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United States condemned NATO ally Turkey after it reportedly carried out its first test of a highly advanced Russian air defense system in defiance of U.S. warnings.

The pro-government television station A Haber said the Turkish military conducted the test firing of the S-400 missile defense system in the northern province of Sinop by the Black Sea, according to AFP.

Reuters cited a U.S. official as saying that Turkey had tested the S-400 system on Friday but did not provide details.

Turkish Defense Ministry said it would neither deny nor confirm missile tests, Reuters reported.

U.S. State Department’s Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said it had warned Turkey at high levels that the acquisition of the system was “unacceptable” for a Western ally.

She further said the United States had been clear on its expectation that the system should not be operationalized.

“If confirmed, we would condemn in the strongest terms the S-400 test missile launch as incompatible with Turkey’s responsibilities as a NATO Ally and strategic partner of the United States,” said Ortagus.

The Pentagon, separately, said that the S-400 should not be activated.

“Turkey has already been suspended from the F-35 program and the S-400 continues to be a barrier to progress elsewhere in the bilateral relationship,” Reuters quoted a Pentagon spokesman as saying.

The United States also threatened Turkey with sanctions if the S-400s were activated – but had held out hope that Turkey would “keep it in the box”, AFP said.

Ankara defends itself by saying that the United States refused to sell it the coming American Patriots, an assertion disputed by former U.S. officials.

Turkey signed the S-400 deal with Russia in 2017. Deliveries of the first four missile batteries, worth $2.5 billion, began in July last year.

Washington reacted last year by suspending Turkey from its F-35 jet programme and has threatened sanctions.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the test “unacceptable behavior” from a NATO ally.

In a statement, Risch said the move damages the alliance and posed a direct threat to the F-35 and other U.S. and NATO allies’ systems.

“U.S. law requires sanctions against countries that continue to deepen their defense relationship with Russia, and the administration should send a strong signal that Turkey must divest its S-400s,” he said.

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said President Donald Trump’s affinity for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan posed a serious threat to the United States’ national security.

“Turkey must be sanctioned immediately for its purchase and use of this system,” Menendez said in a statement.

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