US to impose sanctions on Turkey over Russian defence purchase
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attacked US plans to sanction his country for its purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defence system as a show of “disrespect” to a Nato member state.
In a sign of the strained relationship between Ankara and its traditional western allies, the Trump administration plans to impose long-awaited punitive measures on the country as soon as Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Responding to news of the impending measures while returning from a trip to Azerbaijan, Mr Erdogan told Turkish journalists that imposing sanctions on Turkey was an act of discourtesy towards “a very important Nato partner”.
“We are an ally of the US and the EU,” he said, according to Turkey’s pro-government Hurriyet newspaper. “What lies beneath this language of threats?”
One of the people familiar with the US plans said the sanctions were being crafted to be “as mild as possible” to neutralise anger towards Mr Erdogan in Congress while avoiding serious damage to the extensive US-Turkey military relationship.
Analysts said that the impact of the measures — and their fallout — would hinge on the details of the package unveiled by Washington.
The Turkish lira, which has lost about 25 per cent of its value this year, dropped further on Friday. The dollar rose as much as 1.8 per cent against the currency, briefly crossing the symbolic TL8 threshold.
Even if the US sanctions are narrowly targeted, they will underline the increasingly troubled relationship between Turkey, a longstanding Nato member, and western countries.
Late on Thursday, EU leaders agreed to draw up further sanctions against Ankara in relation for what they termed its “unilateral actions and provocations” in a Mediterranean dispute over natural gas. The measures are likely to be relatively light, prompting Mr Erdogan on Friday to proclaim that “countries with common sense” had prevailed.
The Turkish president has in recent years intensified his drive to pursue an independent foreign policy unconstrained by the demands of the US or Europe. But his close co-operation with Russia and military interventions in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus — combined with concerns about a crackdown on domestic opponents — have fuelled mounting alarm in Washington and in European capitals.
Turkey’s 2017 deal with Moscow to buy the S-400 missile system should have triggered sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, which aims to penalise nations that engage in “significant transactions” with the Russian defence industry or intelligence sector. But Mr Trump, who boasts of his personal rapport with Mr Erdogan, has shielded Turkey from the requirement.
The first person familiar with the plans said the Trump administration wanted to “pre-empt” measures contained in the defence appropriation bill that is expected to be passed by Congress with a veto-proof majority in the coming days. The bill would require the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey within 30 days of the final vote as punishment for Ankara’s decision to buy the missile system.
A former government official said sanctions were “coming soon”, although they added that opinions were “mixed” on how severe they would be.
Reuters news agency, which first reported that the US sanctions were imminent, said the measures would target not only Ismail Demir, head of Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), but also the institution itself.
Targeting the SSB, which handles all of Turkey’s defence sales and military procurement, would “greatly handicap the development of Turkey’s military industry” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based think-tank Edam. “That would mean that a very critical threshold had been reached in terms of the Turkey-US relationship.”
A state department spokesperson said it did “not preview sanctions or possible sanctions”.
Katrina Manson in Washington and Laura Pitel in Ankara