Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed ahead Tuesday with the $2.5 billion sale of S-400 anti-air missiles to Turkey in a deal reached over the objections of the U.S. and other NATO allies.
"A priority task in the sphere of military technical cooperation is the implementation of the contract for supplies of S-400 Triumf missile systems to Turkey," Putin said at the start of a two-day visit to Turkey, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
It was not immediately clear whether the deal would put Turkey in violation of recent sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and its allies against sales of military hardware by state-run agencies.
Earlier, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for speeding up the delivery of the S-400 surface-to-air missiles, which Moscow claims would be effective against stealthy U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
"Turkey did raise this issue. As far as I know, steps will be taken to meet Turkey's wish" on the current agreement that would deliver the S-400s in early 2020, Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Monday.
"Naturally, great attention will be paid to international problems and military-technical cooperation" during Putin's visit to Turkey, he said. "The themes are known -- supplies of Russian air defense systems S-400 Triumf and some other aspects of military-technical cooperation."
On Tuesday, Putin joined Erdogan in Ankara, where they remotely signaled the start of the construction of a Russian-built, $20 billion nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean coast at Akkuyu.
Putin said the plant, to be built by the Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom, has a tentative start-up date in 2023 "to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. We agreed with my dear friend [Erdogan] to do everything necessary to achieve that goal."
On Wednesday, Putin is to hold a three-way summit in Ankara with Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to coordinate their next steps in Syria.
Turkey's interest in the S-400s dates back to last May when Erdogan met Putin at the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Shortly after the meeting, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said, "Now we have intensified the talks on some technical details and prices" on the S-400, a mobile surface-to-air defense system dubbed the "Growler" by NATO.
Isik did not name a price, but a single S-400 battery is believed to cost about $400 million for a unit consisting of eight launchers and 112 missiles.
Isik said Turkey is going ahead with the deal because the U.S. and NATO allies had refused help in upgrading the country's air defenses. "They don't agree to the transfer of technologies in the sphere of air defense systems to us" and "do not make price concessions," he said.
The U.S. has generally been opposed to having NATO allies such as Turkey acquire systems that do not mesh with NATO's common defense systems.
"We really, really believe that it's good for each country's defense and greatest defense effectiveness if systems are interoperable, if they can operate with NATO systems," NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller said in March. "And the S-400 is not interoperable with NATO systems."
Gottemoeller said the S-400 deal is a "sovereign decision" for Turkey to make, but it poses a problem for the Trump administration of possibly having to hold Turkey in violation of the sanctions.
The new sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election require the president to sanction any country that strikes "highly significant" agreements with Russia's defense industry.
The latest sanctions followed on the State Department's action in October against more than three dozen Russian companies, including missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey, maker of the S-400. Businesses and nations worldwide were warned that those doing business with the Russian firms could face U.S. sanctions.
At a White House meeting with Erdogan last May, President Trump brought up the subject of the S-400 deal with Russia. But in December, Turkey and Russia finalized the deal for an estimated $2.5 billion.
Iraq has also expressed interest in the possibility of buying S-400 systems from the Russians, which could put Baghdad in violation of the sanctions, but Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft said there was little chance that deal would go through.
"I've seen no evidence that that's going to occur," Croft, deputy air commander for Combined Joint Forces Land Component-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a video briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad last week.
"It's a very expensive, complicated system," he said of the S-400s, "but I've seen no evidence that that is actually going to happen."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.