U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Turkey Over Purchase of Russian Air-defenses

Turkey condemns sanctions as 'grave mistake,' threatens to retaliate over a move it says would harm ties between NATO allies

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A rocket launches from a S-400 missile system at the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia, September 22, 2020.
A rocket launches from a S-400 missile system at the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia, September 22, 2020.Credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/ AFP

The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of Russian ground-to-air defenses and targeted the top Turkish defense development body, its president and three employees.

The move, while focused on the defense sector, including Turkey’s Defense Industries Directorate, has drawn a condemnation from NATO-ally Ankara and is likely to further strain Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s relations with Western allies.

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The sanctions, first reported by Reuters last week, include a ban on all U.S. export licenses as well as asset freezes and visa restrictions for SSB’s president, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.

They threaten to damage Turkey’s economy at a time when it is struggling with a coronavirus-induced slowdown and double-digit inflation.

Turkey condemned U.S. sanctions as a "grave mistake" and threatened to retaliate over a move it said would harm ties between the NATO allies. 

Turkey's Foreign Ministry called the decision "inexplicable" given that Washington repeatedly rejected Ankara's offer to form a joint working group to allay U.S. concerns that the S-400s threatened NATO defenses.

"We call on the United States to revise the unjust sanctions (and) to turn back from this grave mistake as soon as possible," it said. "Turkey is ready to tackle the issue through dialogue and diplomacy in a manner worthy of the spirit of alliance."

The sanctions "will inevitably negatively impact our relations, and (Turkey) will retaliate in a manner and time it sees appropriate," the ministry added.

Ankara acquired the Russian S-400 ground-to-air defense missiles in mid-2019 and says they would not be plugged into NATO systems and pose no threat to NATO allies. Washington disagrees and has long threatened sanctions, and last year removed Turkey from an F-35 jet program. The United States says Turkey's determination to use the missiles left it with no choice, given F-35 jets and other shared defenses would be vulnerable to NATO foe Russia.

The strained ties between Washington and Ankara have weighed on Turkey's lira, which hit a series of record lows this year, and on its economy, which is stretched by the coronavirus pandemic, depleted reserves and double-digit inflation.

Just ahead of the U.S. announcement, Erdogan said the sanctions rhetoric was upsetting. “From our NATO ally the United States, we expect support in our battle against terrorist organizations and forces that have plans for our region, not sanctions,” he said after a cabinet meeting in Ankara.

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