U.S.-Turkey S-400 row shelved due to pandemic - Reuters

Turkey’s plans to switch to the Russian S-400 missile defence systems have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ankara has no intention to go back on a decision to activate the systems, which threatens U.S. sanctions, Reuters reported on Monday, citing a senior Turkish official.

Washington has threatened Ankara with sanctions and suspended Turkey from the programme to build and operate the latest F-35 jets last year after Turkey bought the S-400s, which the United States maintains are not compatible with NATO systems and threaten the stealth capabilities of the new fighter jets.

Turkey had previously said it would make the Russian missile defence systems operational in April.

“There is no going back on the decision to activate the S-400s (but) due to COVID-19 ... the plan for them to be ready in April will be delayed,” the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

The coronavirus pandemic has focused Turkish efforts on combating the outbreak as the country’s already struggling economy, recovering from a recession last year, took a major hit. 

The official told Reuters that it could be several months before the Russian system is activated, pointing to the need to resolve some technical issues.

Countries that buy major weapons systems like the S-400s from Russia risk U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

The delay in deploying the S-400s gives Ankara more time to consider its next move, Reuters quoted analysts as saying.

“The economic shock is such that Turkey may indeed down the line seek some kind of external financing,” Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat who heads the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies think tank, told Reuters. 

“If and when that time comes, there will be more pressure on the Turkish government to permanently sideline the S-400s,” Ülgen said.