President Erdogan to NATO allies: "What were we supposed to do, wait for you forever?"
Turkey on Wednesday dismissed NATO allies’ concerns over its plans to buy a missile defence system from Russia, and said it will continue to take the security measures it sees fit..
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country opted for Russia’s S-400 air defence system because Western companies offered no viable alternative.
However, NATO officials have expressed unease over its purchase of missiles incompatible with alliance systems.
“They’ve gone crazy just because we made a deal on the S-400. What were we supposed to do, wait for you forever?” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.
“We are taking and will take all our precautions and fend for ourselves,” he added.
Strategic ally drifting away?
With the second-largest army in the alliance, Turkey has enormous strategic importance for NATO, due to its geographical proximity to Iraq, Syria and Iran.
But relations have frayed in recent months.
Ankara is particularly furious about Washington’s support to Kurdish YPG fighters battling the Islamic State group in Syria. It sees the YPG as an extension of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.
Meanwhile European criticism of Erdogan’s rule is not going down well in Turkey.
Germany has said it would restrict some arms sales to Ankara, as diplomatic relations grow sour over the Turkish security crackdown following last year’s failed military coup.
Berlin has criticised mass arrests that followed the thwarted coup and demanded the release of around a dozen German or Turkish-German citizens arrested in recent months.
‘Determined to proceed’
The U.S. Pentagon said it had expressed concerns to Ankara about the Russian purchase.
“A NATO interoperable missile defence system remains the best option to defend Turkey from the full range of threats in its region,” spokesman Johnny Michael said in a statement.
Turkey originally awarded a $3.4 billion contract for the defence system to China in 2013, but cancelled that two years later, saying it would concentrate on developing a system domestically.
It later began talks with Russia, and in July Erdogan said the deal had been signed, although negotiations appear to have been drawn out over financing.
Turkish media however quoted Erdogan this week as saying he and Russian President Vladimir Putin were determined that the agreement should proceed.