By Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has informally notified Turkey of the unlikely possibility of sending its Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems to Ukraine to help it fight invading Russian forces, according to three sources known to be with the case.
US officials have raised the suggestion with their Turkish counterparts for the past month, but no specific or formal request has been made, the sources told Reuters. They said it was also briefly mentioned during Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to Turkey earlier this month.
The Biden administration has asked allies that have used Russian-made equipment and systems, including S-300s and S-400s, to consider transferring them to Ukraine as it tries to fend off a Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24 .
The idea, which analysts said would certainly be shot down by Turkey, was part of a wider discussion between Sherman and Turkish officials about how the United States and its allies can do more to support Ukraine and how to strengthen bilateral relations. improved.
Turkish authorities have not commented on any suggestion or proposal from the US regarding the transfer to Ukraine of Ankara’s S-400 systems, which have long been a matter of discussion between the two NATO allies.
Turkish Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
Turkish sources and analysts said such a suggestion would be a no-start for Turkey, citing issues ranging from technical hurdles related to installing and operating the S-400s in Ukraine, to political concerns such as the backlash Ankara is likely to face. would get from Moscow.
Washington has repeatedly asked Ankara to get rid of its Russian-built surface-to-air missile batteries since the first delivery in July 2019. The United States has imposed sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry and has removed NATO member Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program. as result.
Ankara has said it was forced to opt for the S-400s because allies failed to provide weapons on satisfactory terms.
US officials are eager to use this moment to get Turkey back into Washington’s orbit. Efforts to find “creative” ways to improve the strained relationship have gained momentum in recent weeks, although no specific proposal has so far gained popularity, US and Turkish sources said.
“I think everyone knows that the S-400 has been a problem for a long time and maybe this is a time when we can come up with a new way to solve this problem,” Sherman told Turkish broadcaster Haberturk in an interview on March 5. .
It was not clear what exactly she meant and the State Department did not answer questions about her comments. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the suggestion made during her visit to Turkey.
The effort is also part of a wider bid by the Biden administration to respond to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s plea to help protect Ukraine’s airspace. Russian or Soviet-made air defense systems such as S-300s that other NATO allies have and S-400s are in demand.
A source familiar with American thinking said Washington seized the opportunity as a result of renewed efforts to improve ties at a time when Ankara was rocked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Turkish President Erdogan had not received specific information from Russian President Vladimir Putin about his plans for a large-scale attack on Ukraine, another source familiar with the discussions said.
Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good relations with both. It said the invasion is unacceptable and supported Ukraine, but also opposed sanctions against Moscow and offered to mediate.
Ankara has carefully formulated its rhetoric so as not to offend Moscow, analysts say, with whom it has close ties in energy, defense and tourism. But Ankara has also sold military drones to Kiev and signed a deal to co-produce more drones, much to the Kremlin’s anger. Turkey is also against Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as against the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“Turkey has managed to be on the cutting edge and a transfer of a Russian S-400 would certainly spark serious Russian anger,” said Aaron Stein, research director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. “And for Erdogan, the S-400 has become a symbol of Turkish sovereignty, so exchanging it wouldn’t be all roses and flowers.”
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