The European Union and the United States are seeking to impose new sanctions on Turkey. Ankara has been behaving like an adversary and not an ally of the West and now it will feel the consequences.
Why are the EU and US Sanctioning Turkey?
At the EU summit, the Europeans decided to seek sanctions against Turkey due to Turkey’s ongoing illegal oil and gas drilling off the coast of Cyprus and Greece. For the US, meanwhile, Erdogan’s anti-Western conduct has gotten out of hand and led them to pursue sanctions.
The US government meanwhile, wants to impose individual sanctions against Ankara before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and due to the fact that Turkey put its Russian-built S-400 air defense system into operation despite vehement warnings from Washington not to do so.
The US and Europe rely on both individual and targeted sanctions. The EU, for example, is considering punitive measures against Turkish companies involved in the gas drilling, and also against their ships. They could also hit individuals involved in illegal test drilling and include entry bans and property freezes. However, so far, this is only a declaration of intent. Details are to be set out by March in a report from the EU’s foreign representative.
American Sanctions Will Soon Hit Turkey’s Defense Industry Secretariat
Meanwhile, American measures are much more imminent. These will be directed against the Defense Industry Secretariat, which reports directly to the Turkish President, and its chairman Ismail Demir.
After the planned US sanctions became known, the Turkish lira promptly slipped on the stock exchanges. However, both Europeans and Americans remain reluctant to make Erdogan himself a target for sanctions for the time being. US President Donald Trump, like the EU, held back for a long time. However, the Americans had warned Turkey against purchasing the Russian S-400 defense system for years because it could offer Moscow important insights into NATO technology and how to cripple its fighting forces and jet fighters.
Ankara Keeps Crossing Red Lines
Turkey acquired the system last year nonetheless with the result being that the US removed Turkey from the list of countries that are allowed to purchase the modern F-35 stealth bomber from Washington. In October, Ankara crossed another line when they put the S-400 system into operation. This seems to have upset the long-suffering Trump administration in such a way that it wants to react with sanctions.
“We are concerned about Turkey’s behavior,” said the American ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, before meeting the NATO foreign ministers the previous week. “The idea of setting up an air defense system made in Russia in the middle of our alliance is beyond acceptable limits.”
One sees it similarly in the EU. “Unfortunately, Turkey resorted to unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU, against EU member states and European leaders,” said the summit’s final communique. “Turkish unilateral and provocative activities in the eastern Mediterranean continue, including in the special economic zone of Cyprus.”
Turkey Reacts Angrily to Sanctions Announcements
Turkey reacted with sharp opposition to the sanctions announcements and threatened that they would jeopardize US and European relations with Turkey. The punitive measures are also an expression of growing frustrations among Europeans and the US with the Erdogan regime. It has not only become more and more repressive and undemocratic over the years.
While Turkey remains a NATO member and closely linked to the EU, Erdogan has been spreading anti-Western propaganda for many years and boosted Islamist sentiments and policies throughout Turkey. He often acts more as an antagonist than the West’s friend on crucial geostrategic issues such as Syria.
NATO’s Difficult Balancing Act With Turkey
The West has been practicing a tricky balancing act. Europe still needs Erdogan to curb the flow of refugees towards Europe. Simultaneously, the European community does not want to watch as Turkey destabilizes the Mediterranean area, from Greece and Cyprus to Libya, according to a neo-Ottoman agenda.
The same applies to America. There is a non-partisan consensus in Washington that Erdogan must be put in his place. However, due to Turkey’s geostrategically important location on the Bosphorus between Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Washington wants to prevent Turkey from being driven out of NATO and into the Kremlin’s arms.
Erdogan has so far played cleverly with this ambivalence that arises from Turkey’s strategic importance for Europe and NATO, however he has increasingly strained Western partners’ patience. His shenanigans and cynical calculations have now reached the limits of his partners’ patience.