The US is sanctioning Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 missile system

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan listens to an interpreter while U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a press meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2017 in New York City.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on Turkey for adopting a multi-billion dollar Russian missile system.

The long-awaited move is expected to further exacerbate tensions between Washington and Ankara in the weeks leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s rise to the White House, and send a message to foreign governments considering future arms deals with Russia.

In 2017, Turkish President Recep Erdogan signed a contract with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the S-400 missile system worth 2.5 billion US dollars.

The S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, is believed to pose a risk to the NATO alliance as well as the F-35, America’s most expensive weapons platform.

Despite warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, Turkey accepted the first of four missile batteries in July 2019. A week later, the United States excluded Turkey, a finance and manufacturing partner, from the F-35 program.

A Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

Sergei Malgavko | TASS via Getty Images

Turkey faced potential economic sanctions for accepting the Kremlin’s missile system under the Law to Combat America’s Adversaries through Sanctions, signed by Trump in August 2017. Trump had not yet imposed any sanctions on Turkey.

“Turkey is a valued ally and an important regional security partner for the United States. We are trying to continue our decades-long history of productive cooperation in the defense sector by removing the obstacle to possession of the Turkish S-400 as soon as possible,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement announcing the sanctions.

The sanctions include a ban on all U.S. export licenses and permits for the Presidency of the Defense Industry of the Republic of Turkey, as well as asset freezes and visa restrictions for the organization’s president, Ismail Demir, and other senior officials.

“Well, it’s fucking time. Strong, bespoke sanctions are painfully overdue,” said Thomas Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, when asked about the sanctions.

“The details are going to be very important. This could turn out to be softball. If the sanctions are to be meaningful, they can’t just be a sign,” Karako added.

The timing of the sanctions, more than a year after the missile system was delivered, could have the potential to shake Ankara-Washington relations for a future Biden administration.

State Department officials downplayed the timing, saying the process of implementing sanctions was “very serious” and “considered”.

“It has taken some time to resolve these complex issues, including the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally in particular. So I wouldn’t read too much about the timing and why today and not yesterday or three months ago.” “Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs, said while speaking to reporters.” This is the time it took us to complete this deliberation process. ”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin last April.

Adem Altan | AFP | Getty Images

The latest discovery comes less than two months after reports surfaced that the Turkish military began testing the S-400 system.

In October, both the Ministry of Defense and the state condemned the apparent missile test off Turkey’s Black Sea coast.

“The United States has told the Turkish government at the highest level that the acquisition of Russian military systems such as the S-400 is unacceptable,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote in an email statement.

“The United States has clarified our expectation that the S-400 system should not be operationalized,” she added.

“We are opposed to Turkey’s purchase of the system and are deeply concerned about reports that Turkey is starting it up,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement sent via email. “It shouldn’t be activated. This has serious consequences for our security relationship.”

The S-400, the successor to the S-200 and S-300 missile systems, made its debut in 2007. Compared to US systems, the Russian-made S-400 can attack a larger number of targets. at greater distances and against multiple threats at the same time.

A missile launches from an S-400 missile system at the Ashuluk military base in southern Russia on September 22, 2020.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

In several efforts to deter Turkey from buying the S-400, the State Department offered to sell the country’s Patriot missile system in 2013 and 2017. Ankara passed the Patriot on both times because the US refused to transfer the system’s sensitive missile technology.

“We have repeatedly sought, through our diplomatic overtures, to find a way to resolve this issue by means that do not impose these mandatory sanctions,” said Christopher Ford, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Non-Proliferation, during an interview with reporters .

“We have also repeatedly offered them military equipment to meet their operational needs in a non-sanctioning manner and that is indeed a better answer in terms of NATO interoperability of the Turkish Defense Forces. Unfortunately, Turkey has turned every single one of these efforts over the past few years, “said Ford, adding that the United States had” no choice “.

Despite possible US sanctions, a dozen countries have expressed an interest in purchasing the Russian S-400 missile system.

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