President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended Turkey's right to strengthen its defense capabilities, saying the decision to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense systems was worth the tensions with Washington.
Erdogan made the remarks in an interview with the New York Times published on Wednesday, reiterating that Turkey has not undermined NATO by buying the Russian air defense units, which proceeded despite the US opposition.
Ankara "would not have had to buy S-400s" had Washington sold Patriot defense missiles to Turkey, the president said, adding, "We buy our own weapons.”
When asked whether Ankara's purchase of the Russian missiles was worth the friction with the United States, Erdogan said, "I think it was worth it.”
"We can strengthen our defense as we please," he added.
This comes as Erdogan said in an interview with CBS News on Saturday that Turkey will proceed with purchasing the Russian systems, stressing that “nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country, at what level.”
Moscow and Ankara signed an agreement in 2017 to deliver the S-400 to Turkey, making it the first NATO member to purchase the air defense missile system from Russia.
The S-400 entered service with the Russian army in 2007 and is considered Russia’s most advanced long-range anti-aircraft missile system.
Capable of engaging targets at a distance of 400 kilometers and at an altitude of up to 30 kilometers, the missile system can destroy aircraft as well as cruise and ballistic missiles. It can also be used against land-based targets.
The United States, which has imposed sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry over the missile purchase, had urged Ankara not to go ahead with the delivery of the missiles.
Ankara had formerly purchased America’s F-35 jets, but in retaliation for Turkey’s S-400 purchase, the administration of former US president Donald Trump halted its delivery.
Washington claims the activation of the S-400s would compromise NATO’s defenses and could give Russia access to intelligence about the American F-35 fighter jets and other military equipment.
The United States and Russia have long been at loggerheads over Ankara’s purchase of the missile system.