A missile launches from an S-400 missile system at the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia on September 22, 2020.
Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon and State Department issued strong reprimands on Friday after reports that the Turkish military tested a Russian-made missile system, which could further exacerbate tensions between Washington and the NATO member.
In the past few days, Turkey has been preparing to test the Russian-made S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system believed to pose a risk to the NATO alliance and America's most expensive weapons platform: Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter.
Despite warnings from the US and other NATO allies, Ankara signed a deal with Moscow for the S-400 in 2017. Moscow delivered the first of four missile batteries in July 2019. A week later, the US severed Turkey, a finance and manufacturing partner, from the F-35 program after Ankara accepted delivery of the Russian-made system.
Both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the apparent missile test off Turkey's Black Sea coast on Friday, but refused to confirm whether the launch took place.
"The United States has told the Turkish government at the highest level that the acquisition of Russian military systems such as the S-400 is unacceptable," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote in a statement emailed. "The United States has clarified our expectation that the S-400 system should not be operationalized," she added.
"We oppose Turkey's purchase of the system and are deeply concerned about reports that Turkey is putting it into operation. It should not be activated. This has serious consequences for our security relationship," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman repeated in a statement sent by email Friday.
Make a deal with the Kremlin
The S-400, the successor to the S-200 and S-300 missile systems, made its debut in 2007. Compared to US systems, the Russian-made S-400 can attack a larger number of targets. at greater distances and against multiple threats at the same time.
In several efforts to deter Turkey from buying the S-400, the State Department offered to sell the country's Patriot missile system in 2013 and 2017. Ankara passed the Patriot on both times because the US refused to transfer the system's sensitive missile technology.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin last April.
Adem Altan | AFP | Getty Images
In 2017, Turkish President Recep Erdogan signed a $ 2.5 billion deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the S-400, despite the US warning that buying the system would have political and economic ramifications.
Under President Donald Trump's August 2017 Act to Combat America's Adversaries with Sanctions, Turkey could face economic sanctions for accepting the Kremlin's missile system. The United States did not impose these sanctions on Turkey.
"The government's peculiar failure to implement CAATSA as required by law is both a moral hazard and a stark contrast to the 'maximum pressure' attitude used in so many other cases," said Thomas Karako , Director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision to favor Russia over the United States and other NATO allies. There are some tough questions to be raised about what exactly an ally of Turkey is and what future Turkey has in NATO," Karako added .
Despite possible US sanctions, a dozen countries have expressed an interest in purchasing the Russian S-400 missile system.
A Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
Sergei Malgavko | TASS via Getty Images