While Turkey is an important NATO ally, Washington should not supply Ankara with F-35 fighter jets if it accepts Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, the top U.S. commander in Europe said Wednesday.
U.S. European Command (EUCOM) Commander Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, who is also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, made the remarks while testifying at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee alongside Kathryn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.
“I do believe that we shouldn’t provide F-35s if there is an S-400 in Turkey,” Scaparrotti said.
He noted, however, that he is talking to Turkish officials every day on this issue.
“I know their leaders very well. Our intent is to maintain them as an important NATO ally into the future,” he added, referring to Turkey.
After protracted efforts to purchase air defense systems from the U.S. with no success, Ankara decided in 2017 to buy Russia’s S-400 system.
Washington has cautioned that the S-400 system might covertly obtain critical information on its F-35 fighter jets, including their detection range, which could then be relayed to Russia.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, however, has stressed that Ankara purchasing S-400s from Russia is “not a choice, but a necessity”.
Scaparrotti also said in a statement to the committee that the NATO alliance is faced with a significant strategic test at Turkey’s southern border.
He noted that Turkey sees the PKK and its Syrian affiliate the YPG as the same terrorist organization, which poses a problem for the U.S.
However, he said EUCOM works closely with Turkey to help secure its borders and counter the PKK and the threats the terrorist organization poses to Turkish citizens as well as the 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, it has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women and children.
Scaparrotti’s comments follow similar ones made last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Responding to a question on Russian activities, Scaparrotti said Russia’s modernization of its weapons and defense systems could affect regional stability.
“I am concerned about the Balkans. We’ve seen an increased malign influence there in the past year,” he said, stressing that Moscow is involved in many malicious activities, including elections across Europe.
Scaparrotti also stressed the nuclear threat that Russia poses, saying the escalation by Moscow is part of the country’s doctrine and method of warfare.
*Kasim Ileri contributed to this report