The Trump administration on Sunday imposed sanctions on its NATO ally Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air defense system, in a striking move against a longtime partner that sets the stage for further confrontation between the two nations that President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to take. office.
The extraordinary step towards a treaty ally comes at a sensitive time in relations between Washington and Ankara, which have been at loggerheads for years over Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, along with Turkish action in Syria, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in the eastern Mediterranean.
The sanctions, which were required under a 2017 US law aimed at ousting Russia if the administration considered it a significant cause, add some further uncertainty to the relationship when Trump ends his term. The move is the first time a team, known as CAATSA, has been used to punish an American ally.
Prior to Monday, the United States had kicked Turkey out of its development and training program for F-35 stealth fighters during the S-400 purchase, but had not taken any further action despite persistent warnings from US officials who have long complained that the system is incompatible with NATO. equipment and a potential threat to Allied security.
“The United States has made it clear to Turkey at the highest level and on several occasions that its purchase of the S-400 system would jeopardize the security of US military technology and personnel and provide significant funding to Russia’s defense sector, as well as Russia’s Russian armed forces and defense industry,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. .
“Turkey has nevertheless decided to proceed with the procurement and testing of the S-400, despite the existence of alternative, NATO interoperable systems to meet its defense requirements,” he said in a statement.
“I urge Turkey to resolve the S-400 problem immediately in coordination with the United States,” he said. “Turkey is a valued ally and an important regional security partner for the United States, and we seek to continue our decades-long history of productive cooperation in the defense sector by removing the obstacle to Turkey’s S-400 possession as soon as possible.”
Despite our warnings, Turkey went ahead with its purchase and testing of the S-400 system from Russia. Today’s sanctions against Turkey’s SSB show that the United States will fully implement #CAATSA. We will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense sector.
– Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 14, 2020
‘Condemns and rejects’
Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it “condemns and rejects” US sanctions, saying that Washington’s unilateral sanctions are incomprehensible.
“Turkey will take the necessary action against this decision, which will inevitably adversely affect our relations and return in a manner and at the time it deems appropriate,” the statement said.
The statement reiterated Turkey’s claim that the S-400 would not affect NATO’s system.
The ministry called on the United States to “return as soon as possible from this bad mistake” and added that Ankara was ready for dialogue and diplomacy.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the sanctions were evidence of US “arrogance” and would harm the US position internationally.
“It is yet another proof of the arrogant attitude (USA) towards international law and a manifestation of the illegal, one-sided and coercive measures that the USA has taken for many decades now all over the world,” he said during a visit to Bosnia. “Of course, I do not think this benefits the United States’ international reputation as a responsible participant in international negotiations, including in military-technical cooperation.”
The sanctions target Turkey’s presidency of the defense industry, the country’s military procurement agency, its chief Ismail Demir and three other senior officials. The penalties block all assets that the four officials may have in US jurisdictions and prevent them from entering the United States. They also include a ban on most export licenses, loans and credits to the agency.
The administration had been imposing criminal sanctions outside the war program for several months, in part to give Turkish officials time to reconsider its deployment, and some are suspected, due to President Donald Trump’s personal relationship with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, Congress became impatient with the delays and had demanded action.
Turkey tested the S-400 in October
Despite US warnings, Turkey has in recent months moved forward with the deployment and testing of the S-400 system, with criticism from lawmakers and others who have called for sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which provides a mandate. penalties for transactions that are considered detrimental to US interests.
Just weeks before Biden takes office, the sanctions pose a potential dilemma for the incoming administration, although the president-elect’s team has signaled that they oppose Turkey’s use of the S-400 and the divisions within NATO it could cause.
“We very much regret that this has been necessary,” said Chris Ford, one of the State Department’s top arms control officials.
“Imposing sanctions on a NATO ally is not something we take lightly,” said Matthew Palmer, a senior official at the State Department’s European Affairs Office.
Last month, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey was ready to discuss with the United States its “anxiety” over the interoperability of the S-400s and F-35s. The United States reacted coolly to the proposal and shortly afterwards Pompeo clearly did not meet any Turkish government officials on a visit to Istanbul.
Turkey tested the missile defense system for the first time in October and drew a condemnation from the Pentagon.
Ankara says it was forced to buy the Russian system because the United States refused to sell the American-made Patriot missiles. The Turkish government has also pointed to what it considers to be a double standard, as NATO member Greece uses Russian-made missiles.