US might be punishing Turkey for its position on Ukraine, Russia: RS
A Responsible Statecraft report argues that Washington is increasing pressure on Ankara to adopt the West's stance on Russia and the Ukrainian conflict amid Turkish rejection.
In recent years, relations between the United States and Turkey witnessed a series of face-offs as Washington constantly criticizes Ankara's relations with Russia, while Turkey considers that this matter is subject to its sovereign decisions.
It all started off with former US President Donald Trump's crackdown on the NATO country for purchasing the Russian S-400 system, which saw him then imposing a wave of tariffs on Turkish goods and stalling the delivery of pre-paid F-16s to Ankara. The administration of President Joe Biden today is continuing down the same path.
Following the commencement of the war in Ukraine, Biden urged Ankara to align with Western stances, including imposing sanctions on Russia, reducing bilateral trade with Moscow, and curtailing mutual engagements.
Nevertheless, Turkey opted not to follow this course of action. Instead, it has seen an expansion of relations with Russia across various fronts. This shift is particularly noteworthy because Ankara aspires to assume a mediator role in the conflict between Moscow and Kiev.
Since then, Washington has implemented sanctions against five Turkish corporations and one Turkish individual, alleging their involvement in assisting Russia in circumventing sanctions and providing support to Moscow during its war in Ukraine.
The series of actions practiced by Turkey increased Western pressure on the country due to its neutral stance in the Ukraine conflict, a Responsible Statecraft report said.
“For the past 18 months, we’ve shared our concerns with the Turkish government and private sector and informed them of the significant risks of doing business with those we’ve sanctioned who are tied to Russia’s war,” a senior US Treasury official said, as cited by Reuters. “These designations reflect our ongoing commitment to target individuals and entities who provide material support to sanctioned entities.”
In the latest round of designations, which is part of a broader sanctions initiative targeting various Russian entities, Turkish firms Margiana Insaat Dis Ticaret and Demirci Bilisim Ticaret Sanayi have been accused of aiding the transfer of dual-use goods to Moscow.
“Margiana’s shipments to [Russian-based entities] SMT-iLogic and Saturn EK have included High Priority Items of the kind recovered in multiple Russian weapons systems used against Ukraine, including the Kalibr cruise missile, the Kh-101 cruise missile, and the Orlan-10 UAV,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
As per Reuters' earlier report in 2023, Turkey witnessed a remarkable 262 percent year-over-year surge in its exports to Russia. This significant increase underscores the substantial economic gains Ankara has made due to the void left by Western economic entities retreating from Russian markets.
Furthermore, the two countries have reached an agreement for the establishment of a new gas hub within Turkish territory, which would offer Russia alternative routes for exporting gas to Europe among other regions. However, this ambitious project appears to be delayed due to ongoing disputes over its management.
Russia's economy has demonstrated robust resilience in the face of consecutive waves of Western sanctions. A main contributing factor to this resilience is Moscow's ability to sustain and strengthen trade connections with a great portion of the non-Western global community. Notably, this includes Turkey, major West Asian players, and other BRICS nations.
Washington has pursued a strategy of increasing pressure on the Kremlin by implementing secondary sanctions against entities from China, the UAE, Turkey, and other regions. These entities stand accused of aiding Moscow in obtaining advanced technology and other hardware and material, which US officials argue could potentially assist Russia's military efforts in Ukraine.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has established a distinct political identity, solidified well before the start of the war in Ukraine in 2022. For example, his decision to procure S-400 missile defense systems exemplified his role as a "swing player" between Russia and the Western world.
Erdogan skillfully leveraged Turkey's strategic location as a Eurasian crossroads, swiftly navigating between Moscow and Western capitals to pursue a pragmatic foreign policy that occasionally even contradicted broader NATO goals. He also refused to follow the West's approach regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
In a recent interview for PBS broadcaster, Erdogan affirmed that Ankara's stance toward Moscow is not subjected to European pressure, stressing the strong relations between the two countries.
"Are we supposed to do what the EU members are doing [imposing sanctions on Russia]? Turkey has a different position in the world. And the EU member states have their different positions. Russia happens to be one of my closest neighbors. And we have a common history," Erdogan was quoted as saying by the PBS.
The Ukraine conflict has allowed the Turkish President to showcase his distinctive style of diplomacy. Ankara, capitalizing on the absence of Western diplomatic efforts towards Moscow, has solidified its position as a significant mediator in the war. This is evident through its hosting of the Spring 2022 Russia-Ukraine peace talks and the implementation of the grain deal, formally called the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Moreover, Erdogan's nonaligned position is unlikely to be swayed by the recent secondary sanctions, which come after a similar set of designations in April 2023. Furthermore, there is no indication that the Biden administration is considering more direct punitive measures against Ankara at this time.
Turkey is set to continue benefiting from increased trade with Russia. However, the grain deal has been terminated by Moscow, and Erdogan has admitted to a lack of promising peace prospects between Russia and Ukraine. Following an unproductive meeting with President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, Ankara is facing challenges in maintaining its desired role as a mediator in a protracted conflict between Moscow and Kiev, which both sides believe could endure for years.
The recent designations come amid heightened tensions in US-Turkish relations. The United States is urging Turkey to promptly approve Sweden's NATO membership application, while Ankara is looking to finalize the sale of the F-16 fighter jets. Erdogan has objected to what he perceives as Biden's attempt to link the F-16 sale to Turkey's endorsement of Sweden's NATO bid. He asserts that the decision should be made by Turkey's parliament and blames Sweden for not taking more action to extradite PKK militants labeled as "terrorists" by Turkey.
However, the timeline for both decisions remains uncertain as Erdogan clings to his position as a middle player between the West and Russia to seize the best of both opportunities.
Earlier this week, the Turkish leader accused the European Union of maintaining a distance from Turkey, whose ambitions to join the organization have stagnated due to criticism of Ankara's efforts to resolve democratic and rule of law issues.
In exchange for dropping its opposition to Sweden's effort to join NATO, Erdogan obtained a guarantee from Brussels to resuscitate the membership discussions that were initially launched in 2005.
"The European Union is trying to distance itself from us," he told reporters this week ahead of his trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
"We will carry out our own assessment of the situation and we also could take another direction," he said earlier today, explaining that Turkey could part ways with the Union.
In the same context, Erdogan said during his PBS interview that Turkey is not passively waiting for Europe's decision on its access to the union, confirming that the country achieved self-sufficiency regardless of Europe's position.
"If the EU would take such a step forward by making such a decision, we would welcome it. Turkey has been lingering at the doorstep of the EU for the last five decades, and we were always self-sufficient. We never relied on contributions or support we received from the EU, so it's not even necessary for us."