How Turkey Managed To Escape Tough Sanctions Amid Confrontation With EU & U.S.

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 20 September 2019
How Turkey Managed To Escape Tough Sanctions Amid Confrontation With EU & U.S.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has succeeded in hitting where it hurts the European Union and the U.S., and those sore spots made it possible for Ankara to deviate from its traditional pro-Western course that Turkey once consistently remained loyal but got nothing in return for loyalty and one of the key NATO ally.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has clearly demonstrated that sooner or later empires collapse. At first, the most daring is a refusal to bow to their threats and meet their substantiated or unsubstantiated demands that often go against own national interests. By turning down requests and then thinly veiled threats, the Turkish leader simultaneously angered Washington and Brussels, in matters of a fundamental nature, but most interestingly, despite all the formidable statements by the Trump administration and the European Commission, Turkey showed no signs of anxiety over threats to harm Ankara economically.

The deal to purchase Russian S-400 systems might seem like an isolated incident, but after it, Turkey began geological exploration in the territorial waters around Cyprus, it became clear that it was the result of rethinking the country’s capabilities that Washington and Brussels have made for themselves for years. Practice shows that in the matter of effective punitive measures in the new geopolitical reality of the multipolar world, the United States and the European Union are far from as rosy as they would like.

The Euronews television channel describes the sanctions that the EU foreign ministers jointly decided to impose against Turkey as a punishment for geological exploration on the Cyprus shelf and according to Ankara, it belongs to Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

"The European Union will reduce its financial assistance to Turkey and stop high-level negotiations with the country under a set of sanctions for drilling off the coast of Cyprus. The EU foreign ministers who met in Brussels on Monday decided to reduce aid for Turkey by 2020 by 145.8m euros. They also suspended negotiations on an aviation agreement and bilateral high-level negotiations between the two countries. And finally they proposed to the European Investment Bank, a non-profit EU credit institution, to reconsider its lending activities in Turkey, which last year amounted to 358.8m euros."

It is easy to see that such sanctions are nothing more than a minor irritant. There are billions of dollars of oil and gas on the Cypriot shelf, while the European Union did not even threaten to sanction Turkish oil companies, did not impose restrictions on ships involved in geological exploration, and did not impose personal sanctions against Turkish officials and entrepreneurs.

With American sanctions for the purchase of S-400, difficulties also arise. As can be seen in the Chinese and Russian examples, Washington is easily introducing restrictive measures and is reluctant to remove them, but in this case, the threats are not yet backed up by real deeds.

There is no doubt that sooner or later some measures will nevertheless be introduced. The problem is that they are likely to be symbolic. The New York Times explains the gravity of the situation, which could turn into a full-fledged NATO crisis: "According to Pentagon strategists, the deal on the purchase of S-400 is part of President Vladimir Putin’s plan to divide NATO. American officials are uneasy when they are asked about the future of the alliance or even about how Turkey could remain an active member of NATO using Russian-made air defense systems."

Amicably, for such an offence, one needs to be expelled from NATO. But the Trump administration is frankly afraid of taking such radical steps - all the more so since it will be very problematic to return everything back, the U.S. president is unlikely to go down in history as the “commander-in-chief, who has ruined NATO.” Moreover: exposing the southeastern flank of NATO, if Turkey withdraws, is a nightmare even greater than the S-400 in the service of the Turkish army.

Probably, it is possible to impose sanctions against Erdogan personally and against his entourage, but this will only strengthen anti-American sentiment among part of the Turkish elite. Of course, Turkey is likely to be denied access to the latest developments, such as the F-35. But judging by the reactions of the Turkish authorities, such a punishment for the manifestation of state sovereignty does not make a special impression on them.

In this sense, the “Turkish precedent” is quite indicative, because it demonstrates that American law, which practically forces the president to impose restrictions against those countries that make major transactions with Russian defense enterprises, is actually not as toothy as it seems.

Consequently, Russian arms exporters may have additional buyers. How did Erdogan, despite the difficult situation in the economy and the defeat of the pro-Erdogan candidate in the repeat Istanbul municipal election, find himself in the position of a leader who can cause trouble for Washington and Brussels with impunity?

The Turkish leader probably managed to find sore spots of the European Union and the United States, and these points made it possible for Ankara to change the pro-Western course that Turkey once consistently demonstrated.

The EU’s weak point is the same “Western liberalism” that Vladimir Putin said recently that it was nearing the end.

Due to the Syrian crisis, and also due to the ongoing flow of economic migrants from Afghanistan and other Asian countries, the Turkish leadership has the opportunity to relatively easily "open the gate to Europe" for migrant flows and even help them logistically and thereby to arrange for Germany, and indeed for the entire European Union, the crisis as a whole worse than it was in 2015. That first crisis, we recall, almost cost Merkel a political career.

And to close the border of the European Union for hundreds of thousands of hungry Asian migrants do not allow the postulates of the very "Western liberalism." Under these conditions, European politicians are simply afraid to introduce truly painful punishments against Ankara.

The vulnerability of the U.S. is in the desire to preserve at any cost 1) NATO (at least in some form) and 2) its active presence in the Middle East. At the moment, with an eye to a very likely war with Iran, which many "hawks" in the Trump administration are after. Again, in these circumstances, the expulsion of Turkey from NATO or any other form of truly serious sanctions is an overwhelming blow to U.S. positions in the Middle East. So, most likely, they will have to limit themselves to symbolic measures.

So if only Turkey does not slide into a full-fledged economic crisis (and there is such a risk and it is associated more with the financial policy of the Turkish authorities, and not with sanctions), then it can become an example of a successful confrontation simultaneously with two "great powers" of our time - the United States and The European Union. Such an example will certainly turn out to be contagious, and it does not predict anything good for U.S.-EU relations with other countries.