US promises sanctions if Turkey acquires Russian weapons

As it did in December, Washington will once again sanction Erdogan's side if they go ahead
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AP/PATRICK SEMANSKY  -   President Joe Biden at the Pentagon

The Biden administration is firm on Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government's intentions to reacquire Russian air defence systems. Despite many differences, Erdogan, who is considered an ally and friend of the White House, does not seem to have any intention of changing his roadmap and is prepared to complete the purchase of Russian s-400 anti-missile systems, as he did last December. Ankara sees no justification for sanctions as it says it has not been able to reach an agreement with any NATO country.

With the meeting between the Turkish president and his Russian Vladimir Putin and Iranian counterparts Ebrahim Raisi on the horizon, the US warnings do not seem to worry a calm Erdogan, who assures that "in the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defence systems we acquire, from which country and at what level". He believes that this is a decision that external actors should not be able to interfere in and even says that "they are the only ones to make such decisions", further widening the gap opened up by the new Aukus agreement in NATO.

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AP/ALEX BRANDON - Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Washington.

Alexander Mikheyev, head of Rosoboronexport, Russia's largest import-export company, announced in August that Turkey was finalising a deal with Putin's government for a second batch of defence systems. Nearly two months later, and with the US threats becoming more and more present, the Turkish government has not changed its mind. It seems logical that it has not, since Ankara already knew what it was being exposed to, and even more so when sanctions had already been imposed on it in December 2020 for the purchase of the first Russian s-400s.

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The office of the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, Robert Menéndez, has reminded through his Twitter account that sanctions will be imposed on "any entity that does significant business with the Russian military or intelligence sectors". In addition, he was adamant that "any new purchase by Turkey must mean new sanctions". The sanctions four years ago show that this is not a warning that the US is unwilling to heed. Turkey's Defence Industry Directorate, its chief Ismail Demir and three other employees were sanctioned for the purchase of the first batch, and if all goes well, as Erdogan claims, they will not be the only ones.

Pentagon spokesman Joh Kirby accuses the Turkish president of lying about the impossibility of acquiring weapons other than those from Russia: 'Turkey has had multiple opportunities over the past decade to purchase the US Patriot defence system, and instead chose to buy the S-400, which provides Russia with revenue, access and influence'. On the other hand, Ankara is blaming Washington for not having received the F-35 aircraft for which the Turkish government had paid nearly $1.4 billion.

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REUTERS/EDDIE KEOGH - An RAF F-35B Lightning fighter jet.

The accusations from one side are not ceasing - and do not seem likely to cease any time soon - in a situation in which Turkey is facing a key moment when it meets with Russia and Iran. The meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) will bring to the table key issues that Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is obliged to address. The Syrian conflict is one of the issues that keeps tensions between the Turks and Russians high, and will most certainly be addressed at the meeting in Sochi.

Precisely with regard to the situation in Syria, despite the ceasefire agreement reached between Turkey and Russia in March 2020, tension is at an all-time high. Both the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) - an offshoot of Al-Qaeda - have escalated violence in recent weeks. Putin's side has accused the Turks of not respecting the ceasefire on several occasions. In this context, there is no doubt that much of Syria's future may depend on tomorrow's meeting in Sochi.