Upping tensions, Erdoğan says Turkey ready to turn to Russia if U.S. blocks F-16 sales

Turkey may turn to countries such as Russia if the United States does not follow through on a pledge to deliver F-16 fighter jets to the country’s air force, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday, in remarks that could increase Ankara-Washington tensions.

NATO Turkey has applied to purchase 40 Blok 70 Viper F-16s and as many as 80 modernisation kits for its existing F-16 fleet after purchasing Russian S-400 air defence missiles. The acquisition of the Russian weapons in 2019 prompted the United States to bar it from a programme to develop and purchase the F-35 stealth fighter jet. 

Washington has also imposed sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, which it maintains poses a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and NATO's broader defence systems.

"The United States is not the only one selling warplanes in the world. The United Kingdom, France and Russia sell them, as well," Cumhuriyet daily cited Erdoğan as telling reporters after Friday prayers at an Istanbul mosque.

"It's possible to procure them from other places, and others are sending us signals," the Turkish leader added.

Talks have been ongoing Washington and Ankara for months in a bid to resolve the fighter jet dispute, including “dispute resolution discussions” that began last year.

In June, U.S. President Joe Biden said that the United States supported the sale of the fighter jets to Turkey and that he is confident the congressional approval needed for the sale can be obtained. But the sale has not been met with approval in Congress, whose support is required for the deal, amid strong bipartisan frustration with Ankara.

Erdoğan’s remarks on Friday arrive as economic ties between Turkey and Russia are intensifying and the Turkish leader in recent days has issued statements in support of Moscow.

Ankara, unlike its NATO allies, has refused to sanction Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and Erdoğan met with Putin on several occasions in recent months in a bid to foster good relations.

Earlier this week, Erdoğan backed Putin in his complaints over a grain deal brokered by Turkey in July, saying he wanted Russian grain to be exported too. The Turkish leader said his Russian counterpart was right to complain that grain from Ukraine under the deal was going to wealthy rather than poor countries.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s exports to Russia jumped to a record high for a single month in August, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday, with sales of Turkish goods and raw materials to the country jumping by an annual 87.2 percent to $738.5 million last month, according to data compiled by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM).

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