WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on the Turkish Military Acquisitions Agency to punish the NATO ally more than three years after purchasing a missile defense system from Russia.
The economic and travel fines against the Turkish defense industry presidency and four of its top officials have also been a warning to other nations – including India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – that are considering buying weapons and other military equipment from Moscow.
The announcement of the sanctions in President Trump’s final weeks in office also showed the willingness of American officials to break his affinity with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and hold the country accountable for the potential for Russia to infiltrate Western defense technology.
Turkey’s refusal to withdraw from the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system in 2017 “ultimately left us no choice,” said Christopher Ford, deputy secretary of state for international security.
“This is not a step that we took lightly or with certainty quickly,” Ford told journalists in a briefing shortly after Mr Trump approved the sanctions. “And it has been followed very carefully and we have tried very hard to give Ankara every opportunity to find a better way forward and it has not.”
Mr Trump defied sanctions last year after Russia turned over missile defense to Turkey, and angered members of Congress who last week approved their mandatory inclusion in a 2021 military spending bill. Turkish officials fueled American anger by testing the defense system in October over warnings to keep it inactive.
“After watching President Trump repeatedly refuse to hold Turkey and President Erdogan accountable, I am glad that this administration is finally imposing these necessary sanctions – even if it was only threatened by further measures by Congress” said Senator Chris Van Hollen. Democrat of Maryland.
In Ankara, the Turkish capital, a State Department statement called “on the US to reconsider this unfair decision announced today and to correct this serious mistake as soon as possible.”
“Turkey will take the necessary steps against this decision, which will adversely affect our relations and will return the favor in a manner and at a time that it deems appropriate,” the statement said. “Turkey will never fail to take the necessary measures to safeguard its national security.”
The sanctions will impose economic sanctions on U.S. exports, permits or loans to the Turkish Military Procurement Agency and freeze the U.S. assets of four of its top officials. The four officers are also prohibited from entering the United States.
Although the sanctions are limited to the military procurement agency, Turkish analysts said the penalties would limit the country’s defense industry and diplomacy with other nations.
“These sanctions are not” light “as expected, but rather of a” medium “dose,” said Asli Aydintasbas, journalist and fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The Turkish government also noted that Mr Trump personally described the sanctions threat in July 2019 as “not really fair” when he blamed the Obama administration for the longstanding dispute. At the time, Trump said former President Barack Obama had refused to sell American-made Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey and that there was no choice but to buy the Russian equipment. Indeed, the Obama administration contemplated selling Patriot missiles to Turkey, but negotiations were repeatedly halted.
As a direct result of the S-400 sale, the United States canceled its contract for the supply of stealth F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, fearing the Russians could use their sensitive capabilities while operating on the same defense systems.
This widened a growing gap between Turkey and the United States – if not between their two leaders – over human rights and Mr Erdogan’s expansionary 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 contested Mediterranean waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Although the United States and much of Europe have rallied against Turkey, neither of the two strategically located Muslim-majority states wants to leave NATO. Despite purchasing the missile defense systems, Turkey is at odds with Russia on most geopolitical issues and, for the most part, serves as a bulwark against their advances against the West.
“Turkey is a NATO ally and in many ways a very close friend, a long-time partner,” Ford told reporters as he announced the sanctions. “This was a particularly challenging set of questions and so it took some time.”