Oct. 10 (UPI) — Turkey is preparing live-fire exercises in the Aegean Sea and has transported its Russian-made S-400 air defense system to the Black Sea.
Turkey, whose military buildup and claims of sovereignty in the Mediterranean Sea have angered Greece, announced it will stage exercises in the Aegean Sea from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28, in Turkish-held and international waters.
The announcement was made Friday in navigational telexes from its naval station in Smyrna, Turkey.
Announced plans for the offensive and defensive tests came on Friday, after accusations this week that Turkey activated its surface-to-air missile-launcher-system radar to track U.S. made, Greek F-16 fighter planes in August.
The alleged targeting prompted U.S. Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo to visit Greece in September, and on Wednesday Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and James Lankford, R-Okla., sent a letter to Pompeo, urging sanctions on Turkey.
“We are deeply concerned with reports that Turkey is continuing its efforts to bring the S-400 into operation,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “We continue to stress at the highest levels that the S-400 transaction remains a major obstacle in the bilateral relationship and at NATO, as well as a risk for potential sanctions.”
The S-400 system was purchased by Turkey, a NATO member, from Russia, despite the urging of NATO and the United States to choose a system compatible with NATO’s defense systems. The first S-400 arrived in Turkey in 2019.
“The issue of the Aegean and the Mediterranean is one that Turkey will never take a step back from,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement. “We will resolutely continue to protect and defend our rights and interests at all times and under all circumstances. States disturbed by the presence of Turkey, in particular Greece, have adopted a stance that causes tension by taking unilateral actions.”
Oct. 28 is regarded as “Oxi Day” in Greece, a major holiday commemorating the World War II rejection of an ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1940, and a Greek counterattack against the invading Italian forces.
Last week Turkey transported the S-400 system to Sinop, a Black Sea port, for tests, as well as 10 Banshee drones, made in Britain, for use as targets. The S-400 was first tested in November 2019, its full activation process delayed by pressure from NATO and the United States.
Turkey specified that the defense system tests will face eastward, away from Greece and the Aegean Sea.
The Turkish economy has been hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic, double-digit inflation, mounting unemployment and a severe financial deficit. On Thursday, its currency dropped to an historic low, of 7.942 lira to the U.S. dollar, on Istanbul markets.