The United States has slapped sanctions on Turkey over a multibillion-dollar purchase of a Russian missile system.
The move was hailed by a coalition of grassroots activist organizations who have, collectively been pressing Congress and the Administration, as well as waging a public affairs campaign on the issue.
“US policy on Turkey has finally shifted from appeasement to accountability,” said HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides. “These sanctions are a positive first step and a clear signal to Ankara that it is not above the law. Yet they remain a first step. Sanctions are not the end game. Ending Turkey’s rogue state like behavior is. We remain committed to work with our partners at ANCA and IDC to ask the next Congress and the incoming Biden Administration to build on today’s development,” concluded Zemenides in a joint statement from the three organizations.
Turkey has condemned the U.S. decision, issuing a strongly-worded response that claimed, among other things, that U.S. President Trump himself “admitted on many instances that Turkey’s acquisition (of the S-400 system) was justified.”
In 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bought a $2.5 billion missile system known as the S-400 from Russia. The mobile surface-to-air missile system is said to pose a risk to the NATO alliance, of which Turkey is a member, as well as the F-35, America’s most expensive weapons system.
Furthermore, the S-400s are designed to shoot down F-16 fighter jets, which comprise a large portion of the Greek Air Force’s fleet of aircraft.
Despite numerous warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, Turkey accepted the first of four missile batteries in July 2019.
Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017, Turkey faced potential economic sanctions for accepting the Kremlin’s missile system.
“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 defense-sector cooperation by removing the obstacle of Turkey’s S-400 possession as soon as possible,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a statement announcing the sanctions.
In a Tweet, Pompeo added that “We will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense sector.”
What do the sanctions mean?
The new sanctions put a ban on all U.S. export licenses and authorizations to the Republic of Turkey’s military procurement agency, as well as an asset freeze and visa restrictions on the organization’s president Dr. Ismail Demir and other top officers, according to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department.
“Well, it’s about damn time. Strong, well-tailored sanctions are painfully overdue,” explained Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, when asked about the sanctions.
“The details will matter a lot. This could turn out to be a softball. If the sanctions are to be meaningful, they can’t be mere token,” Karako said in an interview with CNBC.
In October, both the departments of Defense and State condemned the apparent missile test off Turkey’s Black Sea coast.
“The United States has expressed to the Government of Turkey, at the most senior levels, that the acquisition of Russian military systems such as the S-400 is unacceptable,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote in an emailed statement at the time.
“The United States has been clear on our expectation that the S-400 system should not be operationalized,” she added.
“We object to Turkey’s purchase of the system and are deeply concerned with reports that Turkey is bringing it into operation. It should not be activated. Doing so risks serious consequences for our security relationship,” echoed chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman in an emailed statement.
“We have repeatedly tried through our diplomatic overtures to find a way to resolve this by means that don’t involve the imposition of these mandatory sanctions,” explained Christopher Ford, assistant secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, during a call with reporters.
“We have also repeatedly offered them military equipment to help meet their operational needs in a way that doesn’t trigger sanctions and that is, in fact, a better answer in terms of the NATO interoperability of the Turkish Defence Forces. Unfortunately, Turkey turned down every single one of these efforts over the past several years now,” Ford said, adding the United States had “no choice.”
Greek American community organizations welcomed the Administration’s sanctions on Turkey.
The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) applauded the news and called the sanctions a “victory for accountability” with a statement from its president, George G. Horiates.
“Turkey has demonstrated it is an unreliable and dubious NATO ally,” Horiates said. “We commend the United States for holding Turkey accountable under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act for its purchase of the S-400s, which is a clear threat to the United States’ national security. Although overdue, this policy measure by the Trump administration, with bipartisan pressure from Congress, sends a strong and pointed message to Turkey. It is a victory for accountability and the community, and we applaud all groups and individuals for their advocacy.”
The Washington DC-based think tank American Hellenic Institute also welcomed the news. In a statement, Nick Larigakis, AHI’s President said that ““AHI welcomes the Trump administration’s decision today to impose long overdue sanctions on Turkey to hold it accountable for its violation of CAATSA,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “Today, the United States took a step in the right direction and sent a clear message to Turkey that Washington is shifting away from the previous failed policies of appeasement toward Turkey.”
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