The Trump administration’s decision to sanction NATO ally Turkey for purchasing a Russian missile system drew rapid condemnation from Turkey. For now, however, Ankara appears to be holding back any retaliation, a move analysts suggest is a sign Turkey is already considering the new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.

“We are strong on the ground and at the table,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday in response to the sanctions.

“We condemn this decision and call on the United States to reverse this mistake as soon as possible,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter.

Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system in 2017 triggered Trump’s sanctions because he violated the Law on Fighting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions or CAATSA. Along with Turkey’s other NATO partners, the United States claims the S-400 compromises NATO’s defense systems, a charge Ankara denied. It has been reported that the S-400 is capable of shooting down planes such as the F-35, the last American fighter jet.

Turkey has already paid a heavy price for the purchase of Russian missiles. He is now prohibited from purchasing and building the F-35. Turkey started taking possession of parts of the S-400 in 2019.

The latest sanctions mainly target Turkey’s military procurement agency, banning US export licenses and loan credits. Several senior executives working at the agency were also targeted.

Under CAATSA law, however, penalties are considered the least punitive.

“They are symbolic,” said analyst Atilla Yesilada of the consultancy group Global Source Partners. “They are not harmful at all; as far as the individual involved is concerned, it has no impact. For me, this is a preventative first round, and more are to come.”

Ismail Demir, head of Turkey’s military procurement agency and prime target of US sanctions, was quick to reverse the sanctions.

“No decision taken abroad towards myself or our institution will change the position of my team or me,” Demir tweeted. “The sanctions will in no way hinder the Turkish defense industry.”

On Ankara’s side, at least for now, the answer seems to be rhetoric.

“Turkey will take the necessary measures against this decision, which will negatively affect our relations and retaliate in the manner and when it deems appropriate,” read a statement from the Foreign Ministry on Monday.

Bordering Syria, Iran and Iraq, Turkey is a crucial ally of Washington in the region.

“Turkey is a regional power of inescapable geopolitical importance, especially given the current context of international affairs,” said former Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served in Washington.

The United States has a vital radar base near Iran, while US forces have used Turkey’s Incirlik air base, one of the largest in the region, for decades.

Turkey’s NATO membership also gives it influence over the United States.

“I don’t think Turkey needs to declare right away that it will veto any NATO decision that happens to it,” said Selcen, who is now an analyst. “Still, all members are aware that Turkey cedes the full veto if need be, and this is a factor they must take into account.”

Observers suggest Trump’s decision to sanction Turkey just before stepping down may work in Ankara’s favor. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have for months been calling on Trump to enforce CAATSA legislation against Turkey for purchasing the Russian missile system.

“Trump has done his mate Erdogan a favor,” analyst Yesilada said. “He really gave Biden leeway to negotiate with Mr. Erdogan. Before (Trump’s move) he was legally compelled to impose sanctions.” Yesilada was referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020.

Ankara has reportedly stepped up its representations to the new US president, employing new political lobbying firms with close ties to the future Biden administration and sending high-level party officials to Washington to coordinate the efforts.

“On the Biden administration, this won’t be the first time Erdogan has worked with a Democratic president,” Aydin said. “America’s priorities of drawing a line with both Russia and Iran speak for themselves.”

Turkey’s geographical position makes it well placed to counter Russian and Iranian regional ambitions. Ankara’s current close ties with Moscow and Tehran are major points of contention with its Western allies.

Turkey’s diplomatic reorientation away from Iran and Russia and concessions on the S-400, analysts say, are among Erdogan’s most powerful cards for dealing with Biden.

In an effort to keep Turkey close, Iran and Russia quickly condemned the US sanctions.

“This is yet another manifestation of an arrogant attitude towards international law and the use of illegitimate unilateral force measures,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday at a press conference at a visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The United States’ reliance on sanctions and disregard for international law is once again coming to light. We strongly condemn the recent US sanctions against Turkey and stand alongside its people and its government, ”Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.


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