BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
After months of uncertainty and controversy, both the European Union and the United States decided to punish Turkey in the same week for two different violations.
The Associated Press reported on July 16 that the EU foreign ministers “approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending” to Turkey.
The EU Foreign Ministers deplored that “despite the European Union’s repeated calls to cease its illegal activities in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey continued its drilling operations west of Cyprus and launched a second drilling operation northeast of Cyprus within Cypriot territorial waters.”
In typical Turkish arrogance, the Ankara government called the EU decision “worthless.” Furthermore, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced: “We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, we will send a fourth.”
The EU Foreign Ministers warned that additional sanctions will be applied against Turkey if it does not back down from its illegal drilling operations around Cyprus.
Meanwhile, after months of indecisiveness, President Trump finally decided to prohibit Turkey from purchasing U.S. advanced stealth F-35 fighter jets, even though Turkey had already paid a billion dollars for the 116 jets it planned to buy and had participated in the program to manufacture parts of the aircraft, which after cancellation would result in the loss of around $10 billion for Turkey’s defense industry.
On several occasions, Trump made excuses for Turkey’s purchase of S-400 Russian missiles by wrongly blaming the Obama administration for refusing to sell U.S. Patriot missiles to Turkey. In reality, Turkey was the one that did not accept the terms of the U.S. proposed sale.
On the other hand, Trump was full of effusive praise for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a time when NATO leaders and the U.S. Congress and security officials were warning Trump that selling the F-35’s to Turkey would compromise the jets’ secrets and violate the interoperability of the Russian missiles with NATO’s military systems.
Given the obvious dangers to U.S. national security posed by Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missiles, Trump had no choice but to cancel the agreement to sell the F-35 jets to Turkey. Otherwise, Trump would have been caught in the ridiculous situation of putting “Turkey First” rather than his favorite slogan, “America First.”
The White House announced on July 17: “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.” It said that Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system renders its continued involvement in the F-35 joint strike fighter program impossible.
Ellen Lord, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, stated: “The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program.”
In his usual arrogant fashion, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu warned the U.S. that if it places sanctions on Turkey, his country would retaliate with its own set of sanctions against the U.S. Besides making big-mouth statements, let us see if Turkey will actually carry out its threats. Clearly, U.S. economic sanctions would cause the complete collapse of Turkey’s fragile economy.
Trump, who often ignores U.S. national interests at the expense of profitable business arrangements, claimed that Turkey was willing to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of F-35 fighter jets. As usual, Trump exaggerated the figures. The reality is that Turkey was planning on spending one billion dollars on the purchase of F-35 jets, not billions. Furthermore, several countries, including the Netherlands, Israel, and an unnamed Gulf country have already indicated that they will make up for the jets not purchased by Turkey—by buying additional jets.
However, banning the Turkish purchase of F-35 jets is not the only punishment that could be applied against Turkey. Trump signed in 2017 the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. He is obligated by this law to implement sanctions on Turkey for purchasing missiles from Russia. Such a decision is not up to Trump. However, Wall Street Journal reported on July 21 that Trump is opposed to placing sanctions on Turkey. The President is scheduled to meet with a group of Senators this week to discuss possible sanctions against Turkey as pressure mounts from lawmakers to punish Ankara. Trump has three options: 1) avoid placing any sanctions; 2) delay the sanctions; and 3) place a milder version of sanctions. Most probably, the U.S. Congress will impose sanctions against Turkey if the President fails to do so!
Even without sanctions, Turkey has already suffered millions of dollars’ worth of negative publicity. Several major U.S. publications wrote editorials last week questioning Turkey’s membership in NATO.
The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board wrote: “The U.S. and NATO don’t have much choice now other than to rethink whether Turkey still belongs in the alliance.”
Bloomberg published an editorial, headlined: “Turkey Has Abandoned the West. Good Riddance.”
Jed Babbin wrote an opinion column in the Washington Times, titled: “Throw Turkey out of NATO.”
With each passing day, Turkey is distancing itself more and more from NATO, in favor of Russia. The combination of EU and U.S. sanctions would be the death knell for Turkey’s economy and its membership in NATO!