News & Politics

U.S. Sanctions Turkey For Purchase of Russian Anti-Aircraft System

(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)

The U.S. has imposed long-anticipated economic sanctions on Turkey for their purchase of the Russian S-400 mobile surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile system.

A NATO ally, Turkey’s action undermined the alliance’s defenses. The S-400 may be the only weapons platform outside of NATO that could shoot down America’s most advanced fighters, including the F-35.

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan made the purchase to better protect itself from wars raging on its borders and to make the country’s defense industry more self-sufficient. But clearly, the decision to make the purchase was political. Turkey is making a statement about its sovereignty within NATO and other NATO nations are listening.


“Turkey is a valued ally and an important regional security partner for the United States, and we seek to continue our decades-long history of productive defense-sector cooperation by removing the obstacle of Turkey’s S-400 possession as soon as possible,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a statement announcing the sanctions.

The sanctions put a ban on all U.S. export licenses and authorizations to the Republic of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries as well as an asset freeze and visa restrictions on the organization’s president, Ismail Demir, and other top officers.

There was some question about the timing of the sanctions announcement, given that Joe Biden will take office in a little more than a month. But the state department says the reason why the sanctions weren’t announced sooner was the complexity of the issues involved.

“It took time to work through this complex set of issues, including, in particular, the fact that Turkey is a NATO ally, so I would not read too much into the timing of this and why today and not yesterday or three months ago,” said Matthew Palmer, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, during a call with reporters. “This is the time that was necessary for us to conclude that deliberative process.”

Some experts think the delay in applying the sanctions will water them down and make them less meaningful.

“Well, it’s about damn time. Strong, well-tailored sanctions are painfully overdue,” said Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, when asked about the sanctions.

“The details will matter a lot. This could turn out to be a softball. If the sanctions are to be meaningful, they can’t be mere token,” Karako added.

The U.S. twice offered to sell the Patriot Missile system to Turkey but was rebuffed both times. Not only is the Patriot system twice as expensive as the S-400, but the U.S. refused to transfer the missile technology that goes with it. Obviously, Washington was worried the technology would end up in Russia’s hands.

Now the rest of NATO has to deal with a supposed ally that could shoot down any plane they can fly. If Turkey is trying the blow up the alliance, they’re making a good start.