Turkey has begun testing Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, according to Turkish media, despite threats of sanctions from the United States.
The low altitude flights were executed over Ankara on Monday to test the S-400s, which are not fully operational yet.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaped backlash from NATO allies for doing business with Russia when the first delivery was received in July this year, and President Donald Trump has previously threatened sanctions if the system were made operational.
“We are aware of reports that Turkey has taken delivery of the S-400,” a senior Trump administration official said at that time, reported the Wall Street Journal. “As the President said at the G-20 ahead of meeting with Erdogan, ‘It’s a problem, there’s no question about it.’”
Erdogan, nonetheless, has stated that the decision to buy the $2.5 Billion defense system—which on paper is superior to its U.S.-made Patriot counterpart, but hasn’t been battle-tested—is a matter of national sovereignty that can not be meddled with by other nations, including the United States.
However, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Friday that Ankara has not completely ruled out the possibility of buying Patriots from the United States. “Regarding this subject, we’re working intensively with our [U.S.] friends,” he said.
The first shipment of a Russian missile defense system initially arrived in Turkey in July, the Turkish Defense Ministry acknowledged. Since then, the country has been moving closer to possible U.S. sanctions and a new standoff with Washington.
The United States has strongly urged NATO member Turkey to pull back from the deal warning the country that it will face economic sanctions if it goes ahead with the purchase. It has also said Turkey won’t be allowed to participate in the program to produce high-tech F-35 fighter jets.
The deal—the first of its kind between Russia and a NATO member—has also raised concerns that Turkey is drifting closer to Moscow’s sphere of influence. NATO was formed after World War II as a defense for European and North American countries against the Soviet Union.
Washington has repeatedly said that the Russian system is incompatible with NATO systems and is a threat to the F-35 and new sanctions would mark a new low in the already-tense relations between Turkey and the United States.
Associated Press contributed to this report