Tensions in Syria unlikely to change Turkey’s Russian S-400 plans - Reuters

Escalating tensions between Turkey and Russia over Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib have not shaken Ankara’s plans to deploy Russian S-400 missile defence systems despite a threat of U.S. sanctions, Reuters reported on Friday citing a senior U.S. official. 

The Russia-backed Syrian government’s assault on the country’s last major rebel-held enclave has been testing relations between Ankara and Moscow which have strengthened ties since 2016. 

Turkey accuses Russia of not honouring the terms of a 2018 agreement that aimed establishing a demilitarised zone in Idlib. Thirteen Turkish soldiers and one Turkish contractor were killed in the province in one week by Syrian shelling.

Russia and the Syrian government say Turkey failed to drive jihadist rebel fighters out of Idlib. 

The falling-out has offered the United States an opportunity to mend ties with Turkey, after years of worsening relations which could deteriorate further if Ankara goes ahead with plans to activate its first Russian S-400 missile system in coming months, Reuters said. 

Turkey was defending its interests in Idlib “in a manner that is appropriate and one that the United States supports,” Reuters quoted the senior U.S. State Department official as saying. 

The official, speaking after talks in Turkey, said Russia’s “destructive role” was having an impact on Turkish authorities, but had not led to a change of policy on the S-400s, according to Reuters.

“I have not seen that translate into a rethink of Turkey’s position specific to the S-400s. It is my expectation that Turkey’s course on this is set,” the official said.

Turkey received its first shipment of S-400s in July, prompting Washington to suspend it from the F-35 fighter jet programme, halt its order of 100 of the new-generation jets, and begin procedures to sanction the country under a 2017 legislation designed to discourage countries from arms deals with Russia.

Washington says the presence of Russian systems on NATO-allied territory could leave the F-35 jets open to subterfuge.

Turkey is planning to activate in April the first S-400 system it purchased from Russia. Two countries’ officials were discussing in December a new contract for the delivery of a new batch of Russian air defence missiles in 2020.