Turkey ‘to sign new missile defence system contract’ with Russia, in fresh blow to US ties

Turkey is to sign a new contract for S-400 missile-defense systems with Russia, according to Moscow, which would risk further souring ties with the US and could trigger threatened sanctions.

Ankara received the first batch of Russia’s surface-to-air missile systems systems in July, prompting the US to kick Turkey off its F-35 fighter jet programme.

The Trump administration warned Ankara it could face sanctions, but said Ankara could be spared if it does not activate the S-400 system.

But the Nato member yesterday came one step closer as it began testing a newly acquired Russian missile defence system against American-made fighter jets. Footage of the first trial run, which began on Monday and continued into Tuesday, showed the system’s radars rotating over an air base outside the capital.

US-made F-16 fighter jets were used as mock targets during the exercise, which will likely irk Washington.

Initial tests may just be to ensure that the radars are working properly or to see if they can adequately distinguish between friendly and enemy aircraft.

The US, as well as Nato, had been concerned that the Turkish military might conduct exactly these tests, potentially giving Russia insights into Western jets’ capabilities.

A senior US State Department official said last week that Turkey needed to get rid of the S-400s it had already bought to mend fences.

Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, said the tests were "concerning" but said on Tuesday that the US was "still talking to the Turks, still trying to figure out our way through this thing."

Alexander Mikheev, Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, said in an interview on Tuesday that Moscow hopes to seal a deal to supply Turkey with more S-400 missile systems in the first half of next year.

"We hope that in the first half of 2020 we will sign the contract documents," RIA news agency cited Mr Mikheev as saying. "But I want to stress that military technical cooperation with Turkey is not limited to the supply of the S-400s. We have big plans ahead."

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As Mr Mikheev’s comments emerged, President Tayyip Erdogan was cited on Tuesday as saying Turkish and US officials would conduct efforts until April to sort out the dispute between the Nato allies over the S-400s.

"There is a process that is ongoing until April. Our defence and foreign ministers will carry out these efforts. We need to see where we get with these efforts," broadcaster NTV reported him as saying when asked how they would resolve the row.

Turkey’s relationship with the US and Nato has been fraught, over the sale of the defence system and over Mr Erdogan’s offensive in northern Syria.

The US has asked Ankara to show restraint in its operation, which the latter claims is to clear Kurdish militias is considers terrorists.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have been accused of war crimes against civilians in the area.

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