Turkey won't transfer Russian missile systems to Ukraine – Erdogan
Turkey’s long-planned use of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems will not be reversed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists on Friday as he was flying home from a summit of NATO leaders in Brussels. Western media claimed the US was negotiating a possible transfer of the weapons from Turkey to Ukraine, while offering various defense concessions in return.
“This is a done deal for us. They are our property serving our defense, so it’s over,” the Turkish leader said, when asked about the S-400 systems.
Donald Trump's US government kicked Ankara out of the F-35 program in retaliation for buying Russian military hardware, back in 2019.
Erdogan said his country’s reaction to the transfer idea was well-summarized in a letter from his spokesman, Fahrettin Altun, published by the Wall Street Journal this week. The official said the current US administration should reverse Trump's move without any preconditions, in order to repair relations.
Erodgan claimed NATO has been revitalizated by the Ukraine crisis, remarking that French President Macron, who infamously called the military bloc “brain dead” in 2019, has been proven wrong. Leaders of member states gathered behind closed doors in Brussels on Thursday to discuss their response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Turkey reasserted its role as an essential part of the insitution, Erdogan stated.
Unlike other members, Turkey has refused to impose economic sanctions against Russia and has kept diplomatic channels open with both Moscow and Kiev. Erdogan said his country had no intention of hurting itself by breaking economic ties with Russia, its most important energy supplier.
“I cannot leave my people in the snow in the winter,” the president said, referring to natural gas supplies from Russia. “I cannot completely stop our industry.”
He expects the pragmatic approach to benefit Turkish tourism, saying he anticipates Russian visitors to be a major source of revenue for the industry in 2022. The financial blockade that the West has imposed on Russia has proven that Ankara was right to suggest switching payments between Turkey and Russia to their national currencies, Erdogan added.
Commenting on Turkey’s mediation efforts between Moscow and Kiev, Erdogan announced that he would be talking to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky later on Friday and Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend or early next week.
He said the two sides had found common ground on four out of six principal points of contention during their peace talks.
Kiev is unwilling to relinquish official sovereignty over Crimea and the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, Erdogan explained. Zelensky previously suggested he could put the territorial issues to a referendum, with Moscow replying that the proposal was not feasible under the circumstances.
Crimea was reabsorbed Russia in 2014, following the events of the Kiev Maidan, while the two other regions were recognized by Moscow as sovereign republics days before it launched its attack on Ukraine in late February. Protecting Donetsk and Lugansk from Kiev’s forces has been one of the official goals of the Russian offensive.
Erdogan said the hostilities in Ukraine are a major crisis for the world, both due to the humanitarian damage they were causing and because of the economic impact of the anti-Russian embargoes and Moscow’s counter sanctions.
Turkey was affected indirectly by the potential threat of Ukrainian mines in the Black Sea, which Russia warned may untether and float towards shipping routes through the Turkish Straits. Ankara's navy is working diligently to deal with it, Erdogan outlined.
His government is eager to see a swift peaceful resolution to the situation, he stressed, and is doing its part to make it happen.