U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Turkey Over 2017 Purchase of Russian Missile Defenses

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration issued sanctions against Turkey’s military acquisitions agency on Monday to punish the NATO ally more than three years after it bought a missile defense system from Russia.

The economic and travel penalties against Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries and four of its top officials were as much a warning to other nations — including India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — that are considering buying arms and other military equipment from Moscow.

The announcement of the sanctions, in President Trump’s final weeks in office, also displayed American officials’ eagerness to push past his affinity for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and hold the country to account for potentially allowing Russia to infiltrate Western defense technology.

Turkey’s refusal to back away from its purchase, in 2017, of the Russian S-400 missile defense system left “us with no choice, ultimately,” said Christopher Ford, the assistant secretary of state for international security.

“This is not a step that we have taken lightly, or certainly quickly,” Mr. Ford told journalists in a briefing shortly after Mr. Trump approved the sanctions. “And it’s been very carefully pursued, and we tried very hard to give Ankara every opportunity to find a better path forward, and it hasn’t done so.”

Mr. Trump resisted imposing the sanctions last year, after Russia delivered the missile defenses to Turkey, angering members of Congress who last week approved their mandatory inclusion in a military spending bill for 2021. Turkish officials stoked American irritation by testing the defense system in October over warnings to keep it dormant.

“After watching President Trump repeatedly refuse to hold Turkey and President Erdogan accountable, I’m glad to see this administration finally impose these required sanctions — even if it was only under the imminent threat of further congressional action,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

In Ankara, the Turkish capital, a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged “the U.S. to reconsider this unfair decision as announced today and to rectify this grave mistake as soon as possible.”

“Turkey will take the necessary steps against this decision, which will negatively affect our relations and will retaliate in a manner and timing it deems appropriate,” the statement said. “Turkey will never refrain from taking the necessary measures to safeguard its national security.”

The sanctions will impose economic penalties on U.S. exports, authorizations or loans to the Turkish military procurement agency, and freezes the American-held assets of four of its top officials. The four officials are also barred from entering the United States.

Though the sanctions are limited to the military procurement agency, Turkish analysts said the penalties would curb the country’s defense industry and diplomacy with other nations.

“These sanctions are not ‘light’ as previously expected, but of ‘medium’ dose,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a journalist and fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The Turkish government also noted that Mr. Trump had personally described the threat of sanctions as “not really fair” in July 2019, when he blamed the Obama administration for the yearslong dispute. At the time, Mr. Trump said that former President Barack Obama had refused to sell American-made Patriot missile defenses to Turkey, leaving it no alternative but to buy the Russian equipment. In fact, the Obama administration did consider selling Patriot missiles to Turkey, but negotiations were repeatedly scuttled.

As a direct result of the S-400 sale, the United States canceled its contract to deliver stealth F-35 fighter jets to Turkey for fear the Russians could exploit their sensitive capabilities while operating on the same defense systems.

That expanded a growing rift between Turkey and the United States — if not between their two leaders — over human rights and Mr. Erdogan’s expansionist military operations in Syria, Libya, the Caucasus and the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The European Union is also considering sanctions against Turkey for drilling for gas reserves in disputed Mediterranean waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Although the United States and much of Europe have lined up against Turkey, neither wants the strategically located Muslim-majority state to leave NATO. Despite its purchase of the missile defense systems, Turkey is at odds with Russia over most geopolitical issues and largely serves as a bulwark against its advances against the West.

“Turkey is a NATO ally, and in many respects a very close friend, a longstanding partner,” Mr. Ford told reporters while announcing the sanctions. “This has been a particularly challenging set of questions to work through, and that is why it has taken quite some time.”

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