Turkey on Monday condemned US sanctions over its purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft weapon systems as a “grave mistake” and threatened to retaliate over a move it said would harm ties between the NATO allies.>>For more stories visit The Media Line
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the sanctions were illegitimate and showed arrogance toward international law.
The US announced the long-awaited sanctions on Monday but analysts say the move is meant as a warning for Ankara, which will ultimately cooperate with Washington.
The State Department cited security threats over Ankara testing the Russian S-400 systems that arrived in Turkey last year.
The Turkish lira strengthened after the announcement due to the sanctions’ limited scope.
The sanctions were imposed on Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (a civil institution the government established to strengthen the country’s national security industry and manage the system and supply of military technology) and four of its officials, including its head, Ismail Demir.
After Turkey received its first S-400 systems in July 2019, the US threatened sanctions and suspended Ankara from participation in the F-35 fifth-generation fighter jet program.
Four batteries consisting of 36 fire units, and 192+ missiles, have been delivered to Turkey.
It is the first time the US has imposed sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act against one of its allies.
Congress had previously tried putting sanctions on Turkey, but US President Donald Trump declined to implement them until now.
“I don’t think the West wants to punish Turkey; it just wants different behavior,” said Turkey-based economist Atilla Yesilada.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The United States made clear to Turkey at the highest levels” its security concerns over the weapons purchase.
Turkey called the sanctions “unreasonable” and “incompatible” with its partnership with the US.
“The strategic partnership between Turkey and the US is far too important to be sacrificed for short-term political goals and to appease anti-Turkey lobbies. We remain hopeful that the United States will reverse this grave mistake without delay,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, who heads the Communication Directorate of the Turkish Republic’s Presidency.
The sanctions come at a bad time. Turkey’s economy has already been struggling since the US imposed sanctions in 2018 over a detained American pastor, sending the lira into free fall. Pastor Andrew Bunson, who had lived in Turkey since the mid-1990s, was arrested in 2016 and released in 2018.
The country’s finances had also been hurt by unorthodox policies, including the appointment of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak as finance minister, although he left the position last month.
In addition, Erdoğan defied economists by insisting the central bank keep interest rates low, in the belief that easy access to borrowing would fuel economic growth, although the bank has recently raised them to fight inflation.
The economy has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, with rising inflation and unemployment, as well as fears that the country’s monetary reserves are running dangerously low.
“The whole situation is really going to hurt the Turkish economy, because the weak underbelly of the Turkish economy is very fragile,” Yesilada told The Media Line. “Even the rumor or allegation of sanctions is usually enough to spook not only foreign investors in Turkey but our creditors, as well as domestic investors who might withdraw their deposits from the bank.”
Much of Erdoğan’s popularity was due to the rapid development of Turkey while he was in office and, in turn, the last two year’s economic hardship has hurt his popularity.
Yesilada believes the Turkish president will cooperate with the US, for example by not activating the Russian weapons, to limit the damage to the country’s finances.
He said Turkish people’s priorities are the economy and the pandemic while Erdoğan’s foreign policy will not help him win votes.
“In the end, [Erdoğan] will concede at least to some Western demands,” said Yesilada.
Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Stratfor research group, told The Media Line that Trump was trying to limit the severity of the sanctions to maintain good relations with Ankara in case he returns to the White House in 2024.
“I think there’s an element of a personal relationship with President Erdoğan that Trump still wants to continue,” Bohl said. “He wants to control the sanctions to make sure they don’t blow up the relationship with Turkey.”
Bohl believes US President-elect Joe Biden would continue sanctions but not hurt Turkey’s economy to the extent the 2018 sanctions did.
“I don’t think Biden is looking for a strategic shift. … I don’t even necessarily think he’s trying to heavily influence the way that the AKP [Erdoğan’s party] governs the country.”
Ankara is also facing sanctions from other Western allies, with the EU threatening it will impose them on officials over Turkey’s gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus.
The bloc has long been at odds with Turkey over its drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, as well as its military interventions abroad.
While Cyprus is a member of the EU, the island is split with Turkish Cypriots who control land and a state that is recognized only by Turkey.
Ankara insists it has a right to explore for gas off the island, with permission from Turkish Cypriots, but the EU said Cyprus owns the rights to the waters there.
Bohl believes the bloc is attempting to pressure Ankara but that there is not a consensus among all EU countries to impose harsher sanctions.
EU countries have their own domestic vulnerabilities, with the migrant wave at the top of the list in relation to Turkey.
Ankara signed a 2016 deal to help stem the flow of migrants to the EU, but leaders worry Turkey will allow them to get to Europe, as had happened in March.
Ankara has warned that migrants in the country would want to head to Europe after the pandemic.
“It’s a major political threat to leaders in places like Paris and Berlin and even places like Rome,” Bohl said.