The United States proposed to Turkey to transfer a Russian-made missile system to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has informally raised with Turkey the possibility of sending Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems to Ukraine to help it fight invading Russian forces, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The sources told Reuters that US officials put forward the proposal to their Turkish counterparts last month, but no specific or official request was made. It was also brought up briefly, they said, during Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to Turkey earlier this month.

The Biden administration has asked allies using Russian-made equipment and systems, including the S-300S-400, to consider moving them to Ukraine as it tries to fend off the Russian invasion that began on February 24. read more

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The idea, which analysts said would almost certainly be brought down by Turkey, was part of a broader discussion between Sherman and Turkish officials about how the United States and its allies could do more to support Ukraine and how to improve bilateral relations.

Turkish authorities have not commented on any US proposal or proposal regarding the transfer of Ankara’s S-400 systems to Ukraine, which has been a long-running point of contention between the two NATO allies.

Turkish Foreign Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

Turkish sources and analysts said any such proposal would not be a start for Turkey, citing issues ranging from technical obstacles related to the installation and operation of the S-400 missiles in Ukraine, to political concerns such as the reaction Ankara is likely to face from Moscow.

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Washington has repeatedly asked Ankara to scrap Russian-made surface-to-air missile batteries since the first shipment arrived in July 2019. The United States has imposed sanctions on a Turkish defense industry and removed NATO member Turkey from the F-35. Fighter plane program as a result.

Ankara said it had to choose the S-400s because the allies had not provided weapons on satisfactory terms.

US officials are keen to seize the moment to bring Turkey back into Washington’s orbit. US and Turkish sources said efforts to find “creative” ways to improve strained relations have accelerated in recent weeks, although no specific proposal is yet gaining momentum.

“I think everyone knows that the S-400 has been a long-standing problem and maybe this is a moment when we can figure out a new way to solve this problem,” Sherman told Turkey’s Haberturk TV in an interview on March 5.

It was not clear what she meant exactly and the State Department did not answer questions about its comments. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal made during her visit to Turkey.

This effort is also part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to respond to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for help in protecting Ukraine’s skies. Russian or Soviet air defense systems such as the S-300s possessed by other NATO allies and the S-400s are being sought after.

One source familiar with US thinking said Washington’s flotation to this possibility was the result of renewed efforts to improve relations at a time when Ankara was horrified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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Another source familiar with the discussions said that Turkish President Erdogan did not receive specific alerts from Russian President Vladimir Putin about his plans to launch a large-scale attack on Ukraine.

Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good relations with both. She said the invasion was unacceptable and voiced support for Ukraine, but also opposed sanctions against Moscow and offered to mediate.

Analysts say Ankara crafted its rhetoric carefully so as not to offend Moscow, with which it has close energy, defense and tourism ties. But Ankara also sold military drones to Kyiv and signed an agreement to co-produce more, angering the Kremlin. Turkey also opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“Turkey has been able to walk on the edge of a razor blade, and the transfer of the Russian S-400 system would almost certainly lead to intense Russian anger,” said Aaron Stein, director of research at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. And for Erdogan, the S-400 has become a symbol of Turkish sovereignty, so selling it away will not be just roses and flowers.

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(Covering Humaira Pamuk). Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland. Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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