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Trump and Erdogan at a 2018 NATO summit. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The U.S. has formally announced the removal of NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program. The move came after Turkey purchased a Russian S-400 air defense system over vocal objections from Washington.

The big picture: Wednesday's announcement is about military hardware. But it’s also a manifestation of the widening divide between Turkey, the U.S. and NATO. While this breaking point long loomed on the horizon, both U.S. and Turkish officials hoped it could be avoided.

  • Turkey is now banned from buying an aircraft that, until now, it helped build.
  • It’s also receiving a Russian system that was designed to shoot down advanced aircraft, and could gather valuable intelligence on the F-35 and its weaknesses.

Between the lines: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long been warned that the Russian missile system was incompatible with NATO’s security. But he has used the issue to fan Turkish nationalism and hedge his geopolitical bets, while apparently believing he could avoid any harsh consequences.

  • Senior Turkish officials recently told Bloomberg that Turkey was “too vital to U.S. security interests, and too important to Europe as a potential gateway to millions of refugees, for the West to risk forcing a complete break.”
  • Pentagon officials briefing reporters Wednesday attempted to separate this issue from questions about the broader alliance, which is under severe strain. Erdogan is both warming to Russia and increasingly willing to provoke the U.S.
  • President Trump stressed his “very good relationship” with Erdogan on Tuesday, and said he was reluctant to take this step because it would cost “a lot of jobs” and was “not really fair” to Turkey.

Reality check: While Trump repeated Erdogan's claim that Turkey only bought Russian missiles because the Obama administration didn't give it any alternative, that's not the case. The U.S. repeatedly offered to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey, but negotiations fell apart when the U.S. refused to share sensitive technology.

What to watch: The S-400 decision also exposes Turkey to potential U.S. sanctions. Trump is the "wildcard" in such discussions, Foreign Policy reports, in part because of Erdogan's influence with the U.S. president.

Go deeper

9 mins ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

41 mins ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.

Stuck jet stream brings blowtorch December in Lower 48, frigid Alaska

Short-term climate outlook for Dec. 13-19, 2021, from the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA. (NOAA/CPC)

The Lower 48 states have seen record-shattering warmth so far this December, with temperatures running as high as 35°F above average for this time of year. The warmth has been so pronounced that during the weekend, brush fires broke out in a snowless, unusually mild Denver metro area.

The big picture: The jet stream, which is a river of air that rides at about 30,000 feet along the temperature contrast between air masses, steering storms as it goes, has been stuck in a position well north of the continental U.S., keeping storms and cold weather at bay.