ATHENS – American sanctions on Turkey – which the European Union wouldn’t impose – were explained by US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt to Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, penalties for Turkey buying Russian S-400 missile defenses.
The American action was tied to Turkey barred from acquiring US-made F-35 fighter jets and was taken in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration after he had become friendly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The move came days after the EU backed away from imposing sanctions on Turkey for planning to drill for oil and gas in Greek waters which had brought the countries to the edge of a conflict.
The US, for the first time penalized an ally – Greece, the US and Turkey are all in NATO, whose defenses would be undermined by the S-400 bought from an ideological enemy of the alliance.
The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) was the tool that was used, the sanctions exempting Erdogan while targeting the Directorate of Defense Industries (SSB) which is under his control.
That could put a cripping dent in that sector as the country’s economy is taking a hit during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and as incoming President Joe Biden – a Hellenophile – is expected to take a harder line against Turkey.
Dendias got the word from Pyatt, said Kathimerini, as Greece has been trying to build an international alliance against Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean which saw a Turkish energy vessel and warships in and out of waters around the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Two months earlier, Canada banned the export of critical weapons systems to Turkey, resulting in the Bayraktar TB2 losing access to target and surveillance systems and sensors that were supplied by the Canadian L3Harris WESCAM, a subsidiary of the American L3Harris.
But Germany, which holds the rotating symbolic EU Presidency, blocked sanctions against Turkey, to which it supplies submarine components that could take away Greece’s biggest advantage in a conflict. Germany is also home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage.
While Turkey is being sanctioned by a fellow NATO member in the US, it is being supported by Russia and Iran, raising worries that getting too tough on Erdogan will push him toward Moscow and even China and away from the west.
Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join the EU since 2005, its prospects worsening under Erdogan’s near dictatorial rule and especially after he purged civil society, the military, judiciary, education system and jailed dozens of journalists in the wake of a failed 2016 coup attempt against him.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who refused to intervene over Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters and then tried a failed so-called “deconfliction mechanism” to ratchet down tension, warned against provoking Erdogan.
He expressed his “regret that we are in a situation where NATO allies have to impose sanctions on each other,” urging all those involved to find a “positive solution,” which has always failed in dealing with Erdogan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who wouldn’t see him on a visit to Turkey – said he was unhappy the US is cracking down after four years of Trump going easy.