WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Monday issued sanctions against the Turkish military acquisition agency to punish the NATO ally more than three years after it bought a missile defense system from Russia.
The travel and economic sanctions against Turkey’s Defense Industries Presidency and four of its top officials were as much a warning to other countries – including India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – that are considering buying weapons and other military equipment in Moscow.
The announcement of the sanctions, in the final weeks of President Trump’s tenure, also showed the eagerness of U.S. officials to move beyond his affinity for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and hold the country to account for potentially allowing the Russia to infiltrate Western defense technology.
Turkey’s refusal to withdraw from its 2017 purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system left us “ultimately no choice,” said Christopher Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security.
“This is not a step that we have taken lightly, or certainly quickly,” Ford told reporters in a briefing shortly after Mr. Trump approved the sanctions. “And this has been very carefully pursued, and we have tried very hard to give Ankara every chance to find a better way forward, and it has not been.”
Mr Trump resisted the imposition of sanctions last year, after Russia handed over the missile defenses to Turkey, angering members of Congress who last week approved their mandatory inclusion in a bill on military spending for 2021. Turkish officials stoked US irritation by testing the defense system in October. on the warnings to keep it dormant.
“After watching President Trump repeatedly refuse to hold Turkey and President Erdogan accountable, I am happy to see this administration finally impose the required sanctions – even if only under the imminent threat of news. congressional action, ”said Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
In Ankara, the Turkish capital, a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry urged “the United States to reconsider this unjust decision announced today and to rectify this serious error as soon as possible”.
“Turkey will take the necessary measures against this decision, which will negatively affect our relations and retaliate in any way and when it deems appropriate,” the statement said. “Turkey will never refrain from taking the necessary measures to safeguard its national security.”
The sanctions will impose economic sanctions on US exports, permits or loans to the Turkish military procurement agency, and freeze the US-held assets of four of its senior officials. The four officials are also banned from entering the United States.
Although the sanctions are limited to the military procurement agency, Turkish analysts said the sanctions would hamper the country’s defense industry and diplomacy with other countries.
“These sanctions are not ‘light’ as expected, but at ‘medium’ dose,” he added. says Asli Aydintasbas, journalist and member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The Turkish government also noted that Mr. Trump personally called the threat of sanctions “not really fair” in July 2019, when he blamed the Obama administration for years of conflict. At the time, Mr. Trump said former President Barack Obama refused to sell US-made Patriot missile defenses to Turkey, leaving him with no choice but to purchase Russian equipment. In fact, the Obama administration has considered selling Patriot missiles to Turkey, but negotiations have been scuttled on several occasions.
As a direct result of the sale of the S-400, the United States canceled its contract to deliver F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey out of fear that the Russians would exploit their sensitive capabilities while operating on them. same defense systems.
It widened a growing rift between Turkey and the United States – if not between their two leaders – over human rights and Mr. Erdogan’s expansionist military operations in Syria, Libya, the Caucasus and the eastern Mediterranean. . The European Union is also considering sanctions against Turkey for drilling gas reserves in disputed Mediterranean waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Although the United States and much of Europe have aligned themselves against Turkey, neither wants the strategically located Muslim-majority state to leave NATO. Despite its purchase of missile defense systems, Turkey disagrees with Russia on most geopolitical issues and largely serves as a bulwark against its advances against the West.
“Turkey is a NATO ally and, in many ways, a very close friend, a long-time partner,” Ford told reporters when the sanctions were announced. “This has been a particularly difficult series of questions to resolve, and that is why it has taken some time. “