The Russian technicians who trained Turkish personnel in using the S-400 missile system are returning home, but the question is whether the decision is technical or political, the National Interest said on Sunday.
“It is completely wrong and incorrect to interpret this as some sort of expulsion or something else,” Kremlin Spokesman Dimitry Peskov said, rejecting media reports that the move was a diplomatic goodwill gesture made by Turkey to the United States. Washington and Ankara are at diplomatic loggerheads over the latter’s acquisition of the system from Russia in 2019.
Last week, Bloomberg said Turkey sending the technicians back to Russia was a signal of its willingness to compromise ahead of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in Greece last week that the Russian military experts would not remain in Turkey and that the S-400s would come under Turkey’s complete control.
While the Russian personnel would leave, Turkey would not give up on the S-400 after an acquisition process that cost it close to $2 billion in 2017, Çavuşoğlu said. “It is not possible to accept calls from another country to not use them,” he said.
The United States has excluded Turkey from a programme to buy the F-35 stealth fighter jet and imposed sanctions on its defence procurement agency in response to the purchase.
Since Biden’s inauguration in January, U.S. officials have repeatedly called on Turkey to abandon the air defence system, warning of possible new sanctions.
“All our specialists who were there are returning home according to schedule. They have completed all their work in training Turkish personnel and handing over all key matters,” Peskov said.