U.S. imposes sanctions on Turkey for acquiring Russian missiles

(This article has been updated to include new developments)

The United States announced on Monday that it imposed sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of a Russian missile system last year. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States would ban all export licenses and authorisations for the Turkish Defence Industries (SSB) while issuing asset and visa restrictions against Ismail Demir, the body's president, and other Turkish defence industry officials. 

"Despite our warnings, Turkey moved ahead with its purchase and testing of the S-400 system from Russia. Today’s sanctions on Turkey's SSB demonstrates the U.S. will fully implement #CAATSA. We will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia's defense sector," Pompeo said in a statement on Twitter. 

Pompeo urged Turkey to "resolve the S-400 problem immediately" and that the U.S continued to see Turkey as a valuable ally. It was for this reason that the U.S took 18 months to impose any CAATSA sanctions, an official said.  

"Precisely because Turkey is a NATO ally and a long standing partner, it posed particular set of challenges to work through to ımpose sanctions," said one U.S official in a conference call with reporters to outline details of the sanctions.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry was quick to condemn the U.S decision, calling the sanctions a "grave mistake". It recalled statements made by President Donald Trump following the S-400 purchase as a justification for its argument that the missiles posed no threat to NATO. It said that Turkey would retaliate as it saw fit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov derided the measures as  "another manifestation of an arrogant attitude towards international law, a manifestation of illegitimate, unilateral, coercive measures that the U.S has been using for decades, left and right".  

The sanctions selected under CAATSA all fall under Section 235 of the law. According to a factsheet provided by the State Department detailing the sanctions, Pompeo selected the following five options included among twelve available under Section 235. 

"The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Treasury, has selected the following sanctions from CAATSA Section 235, as implemented by Executive Order (E.O.) 13849, to impose on SSB:

  • a prohibition on granting specific U.S. export licenses and authorizations for any goods or technology transferred to SSB (Section 235(a)(2));
  • a prohibition on loans or credits by U.S. financial institutions to SSB totaling more than $10 million in any 12-month period (Section 235(a)(3));
  • a ban on U.S. Export-Import Bank assistance for exports to SSB (Section 235(a)(1));
  • a requirement for the United States to oppose loans benefitting SSB by international financial institutions (Section 235(a)(4)); and
  • imposition of full blocking sanctions and visa restrictions (Section 235(a)(7), (8), (9), (11), and (12)) on Dr. Ismail Demir, president of SSB; Faruk Yigit, SSB’s vice president; Serhat Gencoglu, Head of SSB’s Department of Air Defense and Space; and Mustafa Alper Deniz, Program Manager for SSB’s Regional Air Defense Systems Directorate."

Demir, the SSB president, said on Twitter that the sanctions would not alter Turkey's plans for an independent arms industry. 

"Any decision taken abroad towards me or our institution will not change the stance of me or my team," Demir tweeted after the sanctions announcement. "It will not be able to prevent the Turkish industry in any way." 

The Trump administration's move to go ahead with sanctions on a major NATO ally comes a little more than a month before president-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office. A spokesperson for the Biden-Harris transition team said they had no comment on the measures when contacted by Ahval.