Defense Bill Calling for Sanctions on Turkey Over S-400 Missile Purchase Passes Overwhelmingly

S-400 Missiles. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The United States, with or without the blessing of President Trump, may be soon lowering the boom on fellow NATO ally Turkey over its purchase last year of the Russian S-400 missile system.

On Friday, the gigantic $741-billion defense bill — which included clear stipulations that Turkey will be sanctioned — finally passed the Senate. This means that with or without the President’s approval, the isolated Mediterranean nation will most likely face measures for its rogue behavior within NATO, since the bill won by a veto-proof overwhelming majority of votes.

The near-unanimous 335-78 bipartisan vote would mean the first veto override of Donald Trump’s entire presidency. The margin far surpassed the two-thirds majority both the House and Senate would have needed in order to be veto-proof.

Early warnings that purchase would not be tolerated

Before Turkey bought the missile system, in July of 2019, the US had spoken out publicly, urging that country to not finalize the weapons purchase, stating that its use would violate NATO’s common defense system. In response, Turkey had pledged not to integrate the weapons into its NATO framework.

The European Union, during a meeting of its leaders in Brussels on Friday, backed off from imposing its own sanctions on the country despite the heavy lobbying of Greece and Cyprus  on the grounds that Turkey had engaged in a pattern of aggression and provocations in the Mediterranean, including violations of their territorial waters.

While European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell will draw up a list of Turkish individuals who will face financial repercussions, it was reported that any major sanctions may be put off until after the EU is able to consult with the incoming Biden administration in the US.

Missile test a provocation to NATO

This past Spring, Turkey had set off a missile along the Black Sea coast, with its white plume of smoke visible for many miles around. Although the country did not announce which weapons system was used in the trial, it was generally understood that missiles from the S-400 system were launched at that time.

Reuters had learned from three US officials and two other sources that the American sanctions were in the offing on Thursday. The move would further worsen the already-strained relationship between the US and Turkey over Turkish President Erdogan’s repeated provocations in the Mediterranean.

President Trump had held off on sanctions ever since the purchase, which was completed in July of 2019 — and now it appears they will be coming into effect during the next administration under Joe Biden.

According to Reuters, the sanctions would be focused on the defense industry in Turkey, including the president of its defense industries himself, Ismail Demir.

Trump may also give official approval for sanctions

One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, disclosed to journalists on Thursday that President Trump had given his approval for the new sanctions.

After the news broke on Thursday, Turkey’s already severely-weakened economy took another hit, with the lira falling another 1.4%. Already grappling with inflation in the double digits, the many economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic and a dearth of foreign reserves, Turkey is seen as badly shaken economically.

On its part, a Turkish official was quoted as saying that the sanctions would be counterproductive.”Sanctions would not achieve a result but be counter-productive. They would harm relations,” he is quoted as saying.

“Turkey is in favor of solving these problems with diplomacy and negotiations. We won’t accept one-sided impositions,” he added.

The sanctions will be a long time in coming, if they do in fact materialize, but will send a message to nations with which the United States has ties that repeated violations of the trust between them and the US will not be tolerated.

Turkish President Erdogan, with whom Trump in the past enjoyed an effective working relationship, had apparently hoped to bank on that relationship and avoid any repercussions for its brazen purchase of the Russian weapons.

Pompeo says Turkish missiles a “gift to Russia” 

Earlier in December, a rare reprimand was issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the meeting of the NATO foreign ministers.

In a rare blunt message to the nation of Turkey, Pompeo had harsh words for the nation’s recent behavior, saying that it opposed the principles and operation of NATO and undermined its cohesion during the alliance’s Foreign Ministers’ teleconference on December 1.

Diplomatic sources said that during the teleconference, Pompeo used unusually blunt language to refer to not only Turkey’s recent “provocative” activities in the eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh; he added that last year’s Turkish acquisition of the S-400 missile system was a “gift to Russia” from a NATO ally.

He also reportedly said that the military “deconfliction mechanism” which had been agreed upon between Athens and Ankara in October is not working because of Turkey’s continued behavior.

US officials had recommended that the country levy sanctions against Ankara as early as July of 2019, when the S-400 was first delivered, according to Reuters reports.

Even if Trump dithered, sanctions were in the offing after they were made part of the $740 bullion defense bill, which is expected to come up before the Senate very soon. If the bill passes, the US would have to impose punitive measures within 30 days.

According to one anonymous official, the president is eager to impose the sanctions himself, making the related provisions in the defense bill moot, which would make it appear that he was being forced to take the actions.

Clearly, Russian president Vladimir Putin would like ultimately to weaken and destroy the unity of NATO and saw the sale of the S-400s as a way to successfully drive a wedge between its member nations.

The United States earlier this year announced that it was removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program over the purchase of the Russian missiles.