Political Observation - US & European Sanctions on Turkey

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Political Observation - US & European Sanctions on Turkey

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday 14 December 2020 a bundle of sanctions on the Republic of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) under the pretext of Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The sanctions include a ban on all U.S. export licences and authorisations to SSB and an asset freeze and visa restrictions on Dr Ismail Demir, SSB’s president, and other senior SSB officers. Pompeo added in a press briefing that the sanctions on Turkey had been imposed pursuant to Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which allows imposing economic sanctions on any entity or country concluding arms deals with Russian companies, adding that “today’s action sends a clear signal that the United States will fully implement CAATSA Section 231 and will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors.”

The American action is mainly driven by Turkey’s decision to end her affiliation to the US after America had opted to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that advocates the separation of the Kurds’ areas from the Turkish entity. Speaking on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Head of the US Special Operations Command, General Raymond, revealed in 2017 that the name given to the SDF was requested by America to cover up the activities of the People's Protection Units (YPG) and their link to the PKK which Turkey has been fighting for two years and which is classified as a terrorist organisation in Turkey and the US. 

The Kurdish issue touches on the nationalist foundation on which the Turkish regime is built, and being nonchalant towards it undermines the political future of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and even the future of any Turkish political party adopting a stance leading to compromising the unity of the state, as the nationalist aspect and the unity of the Turkish territory constitute the main source from which Turkish political parties derive their popular support and legitimacy in power, including the secularist nationalist parties affiliated to the US. Hence, political parties in Turkey may differ in their intellectual and doctrinal benchmarks, but they all converge on the nationalist aspect since it is deeply rooted in the awareness of the Turks and because of its impact on the inclinations of the electorate.

The Kurdish issue cropped up as a result of the US project supporting the rise of a Kurdish entity which would have entailed slicing parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; and these countries for their part converged on the aim of preventing the Kurds from establishing their entity, contrary to American volition.

And following the failed coup attempt of 2016, tension between America and Turkey increased and Erdoğan’s trust in the US slumped to its lowest levels. The coup attempt led to widening the rift between Erdoğan and America, who was behind the coup, and resulted in a significant rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, especially after Erdoğan had concluded a peace deal with Putin following the downing of the Russian jetfighter. The purchase of the Russian surface-to-air defence system S400 was Erdoğan’s gesture of goodwill to Putin who deemed widening the wedge between Turkey and the US and heightening the tension between NATO member states a gain at a strategic and nationalist level, as well as a personal gain that bolstered his domestic popularity, and who managed to take full advantage of the collapse of US-Turkish negotiations on the Patriot missile deal as America refused to include the transfer of the technology in the contract.

In this context, i.e., the context of tension between Russia, who is eager to widen the rift between Turkey and NATO member states, and America who was infuriated by the Russian arms deal due to the impact it had on making Turkish armament independent from America’s control over its efficacy, as she would normally do with defence and attack systems manufactured in America, and due to the impact of the Russo-Turkish military cooperation on Turkey’s reliance on the US and NATO in the midst of America’s endeavour to prevent Turkey from achieving independence in full military industrialisation and joining the club of arms-producing countries and bring her back to her stable, sometimes through the carrot and other times through the stick of economic pressure and soft sanctions.

Moreover, and in this context, we can explain why America, Canada, Japan, and Germany suspended their export licences for the equipment Turkey needs for the production of tanks and drones. This resulted in Turkey failing to deliver tanks to Pakistan, losing the $1 billion contract. This embarrassed Erdoğan who has always boasted during party rallies about Turkey’s success in reducing Turkey’s dependence on foreign weapons systems from 80% to 30%. We can also explain in the same context America’s attempt to hamper Turkey’s efforts to achieve independence in military industrialisation and drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia by giving Russia’s arch enemy, Ukraine, the green light to establish closer ties with Turkey and share with her a number of vital military technologies such as turboprop engines, diesel engines, aircraft electronics, radar and surveillance systems, missile engines, and electronic power steering systems. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Reznikov Oleksii, visited Turkey in August 2020 to bolster the alliance between the two countries by selling about 25% of the JSC Motor Sich Public Joint Stock Company to Turkish firms, causing Putin domestic embarrassment in respect of his relationship with Erdoğan due to the Russian people’s resentment towards the Ukrainians.

US and European sanctions on individuals are by and large deemed as diplomatic pressure and soft power reflecting America and Europe’s standpoint. Hence, they are merely specific messages pertinent to specific issues. This applies to the US and European sanctions on Turkey. The US sanctions were imposed following the EU’s sanctions on Turkish officials announced during the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday 10 December 2020 against the backdrop of Turkish gas exploration in Eastern Mediterranean and the tension between Turkey, Greece and the Greek Cypriot government, which France describes as “unilateral and provocative actions”. Hence, the European sanctions on Turkey are designed to shore up the confidence of smaller European countries in the EU and in Europe’s image in general, following the Turkish standoff with France. They are also a warning message to Erdoğan designed to dissuade him from banking unduly on the Europeans differences pertinent to the EU standpoint vis-à-vis his country.

As for the US sanctions on Turkey, they are designed to reassure the European states which felt let down that she has not abandoned them as Macron claimed, and to deter Erdoğan from deepening his relationship with Russia, especially following Putin’s praising of Erdoğan few days ago.

The American standpoint towards Turkey is strategic and unaffected by a change in the administration; the sanctions were approved by the US Congress years ago during the tenure of Donald Trump who deferred their implementation for tactical reasons and for mutual interests, but now the time has come to express the standpoint and send the message through soft sanctions.

These sanctions are also designed to issue a warning to Turkey who issued instructions last week to the Syrian armed groups loyal to her to attack Kurdish positions in Ayn Issa in the northern countryside of Raqqah after the Kurds rejected a Russian proposal to hand that area over to the Syrian regime. The attack on the Kurds was carried out following a Russo-Turkish understanding and coordination.

Erdoğan deemed the recent US sanctions a flagrant infringement of Turkish sovereign rights. He said that the main aim of the sanctions was to hamper Turkey’s progress in defence industrialisation and to keep her dependent on foreign technology. This means Erdoğan has perceived the purport of the sanctions and that Turkey should expect further pressure during Biden’s tenure.

8 Jumada al-Oolah 1442
23 December 2020

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