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Turkey’s S-400 delay is about more than just the economy and COVID-19

Turkey’s deepening economic woes are widely seen as the prime reason behind its decision to delay the activation of the Russian S-400 systems. But an array of other factors have been at play that are forcing Ankara to think twice.
ANKARA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 15:  (---EDITORIAL USE ONLY  MANDATORY CREDIT - "TURKISH NATIONAL DEFENSE MINISTRY / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----)  The final parts of the second battery of Russian S-400 missile defense system arrive at Murted Airbase in Ankara, Turkey on September 15, 2019.  (Photo by TURKISH NATIONAL DEFENSE MINISTRY / HANDOUT/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

When Russia began delivering the S-400 air defense systems to Turkey last summer, the NATO member country was almost in a festive mood, with television channels broadcasting live the arrival of cargo planes to an air base outside of Ankara from July to August. Around that time, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the systems would become operational in April 2020 — a timetable he would confirm at least seven times thereafter despite US moves to dissuade and penalize Turkey. The missiles arrived by sea in December as Ankara was already testing the systems. In January, air force officers who received training in Russia on operating the systems were officially assigned to their new duties.

With April already rolling along, the S-400s remain unpacked at Murted Airfield Command. The way Ankara chose to disclose the “delay” was a low-key statement to Reuters. “There is no going back on the decision to activate the S-400s, [but] due to COVID-19 … the plan for them to be ready in April will be delayed,” an anonymous official told the news agency April 20. 

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