The United States is poised to impose sanctions on Turkey over its acquisition last year of Russian S-400 air defence systems, a move likely to worsen already problematic ties between the two Nato allies.
Separately, European Union leaders have decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets for sanctions in response to Ankara’s prospecting for gas in Greek and Cypriot waters.
President Donald Trump has signed off on a package of US measures recommended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to two people familiar with the matter. The people didn’t say what the sanctions would include.
The sanctions would be imposed under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, known as CAATSA. Trump, who has long highlighted his personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had resisted bipartisan calls from Congress to punish Turkey for the deal with Russia.
Ankara has argued that the air defence system is an urgent need given the military conflicts surrounding it, and said allies including the US failed to offer it any alternatives – such as the Patriot missile defence system – on terms acceptable to Turkey.
Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 did have one cost: the country was essentially expelled from the US-led F-35 programme. The country had planned to buy about 100 of the next-generation fighters built by Lockheed Martin, and while Turkey continues to manufacture some key components for the jet, that is expected to wind down in 2022.
US sanctions could harm a Turkish economy struggling with a coronavirus-induced slowdown, double-digit inflation and badly depleted foreign reserves.
But a senior Turkish official said sanctions would backfire and hurt ties between the two Nato members.
The two are also at odds over US support for Syrian Kurdish militants that Turkey considers to be terrorists.
“Sanctions would not achieve a result but be counterproductive. They would harm relations,” the official said. “Turkey is in favour of solving these problems with diplomacy and negotiations. We won’t accept one-sided impositions,” he said.
The decision will have repercussions far beyond Turkey, sending a message to US partners around the world that might consider buying Russian military equipment and have been warned repeatedly about US sanctions.
Turkey has also clashed with the US and EU in its conflict with Cyprus and Greece over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
EU leaders on Thursday agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over Ankara’s energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus, postponing any harsher steps until March.
Shying away from a threat made in October to consider wider economic measures, EU leaders agreed a summit statement that paves the way to punish individuals accused of planning or taking part in what the bloc says is unauthorised drilling off Cyprus
The steps did not go far enough for Greece, with envoys saying the country expressed frustration that the EU was hesitant to target Turkey’s economy over the hydrocarbons dispute, as Germany, Italy and Spain pushed to give diplomacy more time.
France, angered by Turkish foreign policy in Syria and Libya, has sought to push the EU to consider sectorial sanctions on Turkey’s economy, but did not have wide support.
Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights. President Erdogan said on Wednesday he was not concerned by any sanctions the bloc might impose.
The EU asset freezes of as-yet unnamed individuals and companies will be in addition to two officials already on a sanctions list set up in November 2019.
In 2011, the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government began exploring for natural gas with a US company despite warnings from Turkey, which does not recognise the divided island’s status and claims exploration rights.
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent a seismic exploration ship into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and also in waters claimed by Greece. The EU, led by Germany, has been trying to negotiate a settlement but without success.