Turkey will activate S-400 systems in April – Erdoğan

Turkey will activate its Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems in April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on a flight back from Moscow where he reached a deal with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to call a ceasefire in the northwest Syrian Idlib province.

The purchase of S-400 systems angered Turkey’s NATO allies, who say the presence of a Russian-built system in an allied country’s defences could grant Moscow access to sensitive information on NATO hardware.

The United States suspended Turkey from the programme to build and operate F-35 fighter jets when the first shipment of S-400s arrived last July, and U.S. lawmakers have put together measures to press sanctions over the purchase. Washington has offered to supply Turkey with Patriot missile defence systems if it steps back from the S-400s, but Erdoğan has repeatedly insisted that the Russian systems will be activated.

“The S-400s are already ours,” Posta newspaper quoted Erdoğan as saying. The president said Turkish officers were still receiving training to operate the systems.

“We are in full possession on them, they’ve arrived in full, and they will be activated in April,” he said. “But I’ll say it again, if the Americans want to sell us Patriot systems, we’ll buy them.”

A Syrian government attack that killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib on Feb. 27 led to suggestions that Turkey could finally back out of the S-400 deal in order to secure air defence systems from its Western allies to help its fight in the northwest Syrian province, where Turkish-backed rebels have been forced back by the Russian-backed Syrian government.

But Thursday’s deal in Moscow showed Erdoğan and Putin’s resolve to avoid a direct confrontation in the province.