ANKARA: The US National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday designated Turkey’s controversial purchase of a Russian-made defense system as a significant transaction, mandating sanctions within 30 days.
Experts believe that Turkey will get hit by the new and overdue sanctions, as members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee finally reached agreement on the $740 billion defense bill that is set to pass Congress this month.
After the months-long reluctance of outgoing US President Donald Trump to act, Congress is now expected to initiate the process and hold Turkey accountable for the purchase of the S-400 system by compelling the White House to sign the 4,517-page document before Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.
The defense bill, within 30 days of becoming law, requires the president to impose at least five out of 12 sanctions listed under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) “with respect to each person knowingly engaged in the acquisition,” including a ban on US banking and property transactions, the denial of US visas and obliging US lenders to refuse giving loans to any sanctioned firms.
The president of Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee, Ismail Demir, could be sanctioned for supervising the purchase of the S-400 as a move to deter countries from doing business with Russia’s defense sector.
Sanctions are also expected to undermine the already fragile balance of a Turkish economy that is trying to cope with a chronic recession, high rates of inflation and depleted foreign reserves against a backdrop of the lira hitting record lows against foreign currencies.
“One of the worst options in these sanctions’ list would be the imposition of sanctions on exporting Turkey's defense goods and technology, which would seriously damage the Turkish defense industry,” Emre Caliskan, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre in the UK, told Arab News.
Under CAATSA, the US president may order the government not to issue any specific license and not to grant any other specific permission or authority to export any goods or technology to the sanctioned person and any other statute that requires the prior review and approval of the government as a condition for the export or re-export of goods or services.
“While Turkish companies rely on Western countries for some key components, including engines, optical sensors, and camera systems for assembling the drones, any possible sanctions would directly impact Turkey's ambitions to export its defense products,” Caliskan said.
Turkey has to give guarantees that it no longer possesses the Russian defense system within its territories or has operationalized it in order for the sanctions to be lifted once they are imposed.
“Incredibly proud to have helped secure inclusion of a provision in the NDAA to do what Trump refused to do: Officially determine on behalf of the US government that Turkey took delivery of Russian S-400 defense systems and therefore will be sanctioned under existing law,” Sen. Bob Menendez tweeted.
But Turkey has not walked away from the S-400. It tested the system on Oct. 16 in the Black Sea coastal city of Sinop despite US concerns.
Turkey considers the S-400 issue to be a matter of sovereignty. “We are not a tribal country, we are Turkey,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month regarding the US request to send the S-400 back.
“The whole ordeal is a culmination of Trump refusing to comply with the law,” Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “Congress got fed up and sought to bind the hands of the president. Trump may simply ignore the law, again, but he is a lame duck. He’ll be gone on Jan. 20 and President-elect Joe Biden will inherit this issue. Either way, I don’t think the outcome is in doubt: Sanctions will be levied on Turkish individuals for the S-400 purchase.”
Stein said that Turkey would do what it always did - blame others and pretend this was about a refusal to sell it US-made Patriot missiles or suggest the issue could be resolved with a technical working group.
“This moment is grim, precisely because it can’t be solved very easily and will take Turkey sending some sort of signal that it’s willing to compromise. To date, that hasn’t happened. But without a compromise, the Biden administration won’t be able to make the case for lifting sanctions,” he added.
The responsibility of signing the bill is on the Trump administration, but otherwise it will be signed by Biden.