US condemns Turkey over reported test of Russian system

ISTANBUL (AFP) – The United States on Friday condemned NATO ally Turkey after it reportedly carried out its first test of a highly advanced Russian air defence system in defiance of US warnings.

The Turkish army conducted the test firing of the S400 missile defence system in the northern province of Sinop by the Black Sea, according to the pro-government television station A Haber.

Other Turkish media have shared an amateur video showing a white streak in the sky.

The defence ministry refused to confirm or deny the test firing.

In Washington, the State Department said that it had warned Turkey at high levels that the acquisition of the S400s was “unacceptable” for a Western ally.

“If confirmed, we would condemn in the strongest terms the S400 test missile launch as incompatible with Turkey s responsibilities as a NATO ally and strategic partner of the United states,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

In response to the delivery of the first battery last year, the United States suspended Turkey from the production programme of F-35 fighter jets.

Washington also threatened Ankara with sanctions if the S400s were activated — but had held out hope that Turkey would “keep it in the box”.

“The United States has been clear on our expectation that the S400 system should not be operationalized,” Ortagus said.

“We have also been clear on the potential serious consequences for our security relationship if Turkey activates the system,” she said.

Despite repeated warnings, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly asserted that the S400s will be deployed.

Ankara defends itself by saying that the United States refused to sell it the competing American Patriots, an assertion disputed by former US officials.

But Erdogan s explanation has appeared to make sense to US President Donald Trump, who blamed the developments on his predecessor Barack Obama and said he may spare Turkey from punishment.

Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed Trump over the reported S400 test and demanded action against Turkey.

The test “is a stark reminder that Ankara is not deterred by simple meek pleas coming from the Trump administration. Erdogan only responds to actions, not words,” Menendez said.

“President Trump s failure to follow the law and his affinity for Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose a serious threat to our national security and that of our NATO allies and partners in Europe,” he said.

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 but has seen rising friction with the West on multiple fronts.

The United States, France and Germany this week all sharply criticised Turkey for sending an energy exploration vessel back to hunt in waters disputed with fellow NATO ally Greece.

Turkey had earlier pulled back the ship and agreed to talks with Greece, leading Washington to accuse Ankara of deliberate provocation.