Turkey Faces Threat of Double Sanctions
Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons and drilling off of Cyprus has angered its Western allies
Turkey is facing fresh threats of sanctions from its Western allies as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan moves the country further away from the West’s orbit, but analysts say it is unlikely he will be convinced to change his foreign policy trajectory.
The threats of sanctions come on a tumultuous week for Turkey on the world stage as it holds the first Muslim prayers in the historic Hagia Sophia on Friday after it was converted into a mosque, angering regional rival Greece.
The building was originally built as a cathedral in the sixth century that was central to Orthodox Christianity but was turned into a mosque after Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453. It eventually became a museum in 1935 by the secularist founder of the modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Earlier this month, Erdoğan turned Hagia Sophia back into a mosque as he leads the country in an Islamist and nationalist direction with little public regard for his detractors in the West.
Those detractors got louder this week when the US Congress passed legislation on Tuesday to impose sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian weapons.
“[The] Turkish policy establishment operates under the motto that as long as [Donald] Trump is the president, we really don’t have to pay attention to what the Congress or the courts do,” Turkey-based economist Atilla Yeşilada told The Media Line.
Sanctions have loomed over Turkey since last year’s delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense missile system
Ankara has already been suspended from the United States’ F-35 fighter jet program. Washington asserts that if Turkey uses the jets alongside the Russian air defense system, that could allow Moscow to figure out their secret stealth technology.
“At a symbolic level, I think Ankara sees these [Russian weapons] as a declaration of Turkey’s foreign policy independence,” said Nicholas Danforth, an expert on US-Turkey relations and a fellow at the Washington-based Kennan Institute.
“Whether this is the right battle to pick is an entirely separate question,” Danforth told The Media Line.
President Trump is believed to have a good personal relationship with Erdoğan. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton claimed that Trump assured Erdoğan he would “take care of things” in regards to a case against Turkish state-owned Halkbank, which is accused of violating US sanctions.
However, the US did put sanctions on Turkey in 2018 over a diplomatic crisis involving a detained American pastor in Turkey.
The sanctions led to a currency meltdown, rising food prices, unemployment, and eventually, a recession.
Erdoğan paid a high price with his party losing control over Ankara and Istanbul during mayoral races in 2019.
That led to high-profile defections in his party, showing his grip on power was not as strong as once perceived.
Two days after the sanctions bill passed in the US Congress, French President Emmanuel Macron alleged Turkey was violating the sovereignty of EU countries Greece and Cyprus with its drilling off their coastlines and that the European bloc should impose sanctions in response.
While Turkey’s economy is once again in bad shape with the pandemic, Yeşilada said Erdoğan would not be scared off from France’s threats of sanctions because the EU has not provided a lot of money to Turkey.
“Turkey really doesn’t care much,” Yeşilada said. He added that he believed Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean seemed to be legitimately in the country’s interests.
Turkey along with some analysts accuse Macron of backing the insurgency against the government in Tripoli, which France denies.
Turkey has been drilling for oil off the island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus is divided between Greek Cypriots who are part of the EU, and Turkish Cypriots who are allied with Ankara.
Countries including Israel and Egypt joined an international gas forum in an effort to create a regional energy hub to sell their gas to European markets.
Last year, Turkey signed a deal with the UN-recognized government in Libya claiming to have an exclusive economic zone across the sea that would block other regional powers from sending their gas across the Eastern Mediterranean to the EU.
Muzaffer Şenel, a political scientist with Istanbul’s Şehir University, told The Media Line that some kind of military clash will probably take place between Greece and Turkey but it would not likely lead to a major conflict.
“American and other international actors [will] intervene in the issue to stop the clashes,” Şenel told The Media Line.