This is something unheard of. A NATO country has imposed personal sanctions on senior officials of another member of the bloc! The White House has announced that the US Treasury Department is imposing sanctions on two Turkish officials, Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, because of what has happened to Andrew Craig Brunson, a detained American pastor who was tried on espionage and terror-related charges. He faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. Brunson is one of 20 Americans who were charged after the coup two years ago. The US has refused to extradite Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is wanted in Turkey for allegedly organizing the 2016 coup d’état attempt.
Turkey’s private citizens and companies have been sanctioned before, but imposing punitive measures on top government officials is a game-changing move. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to bow. He warned that the US may lose a “strong and sincere ally” in Turkey. No doubt the bitter diplomatic spat is at risk of escalating further. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is willing to meet with his Turkish counterpart in regard to Brunson’s fate, but a compromise is not on the horizon, as Ankara has taken a firm stand. The US Congress has just finalized the fiscal 2019 defense bill, which contains restrictions on weapons sales to Ankara. The idea to hit Turkey with punitive measures over alleged “human rights violations” and its purchase of the Russian S-400 Triumf missile-defense system has substantial support in Congress.
Actually, Russia and Turkey are in the same boat now that both are under sanctions from the US. Washington is angry about its citizen who has been detained in another country, but what about its own record? For instance, Russia’s citizens have been arrested in the US and forced to face unfair trials. Some of them have been detained outside of the United States. They are kept behind bars and sentenced by kangaroo courts. Marina Butina was arrested in the US on July 15. The charges are absurd: a student is being accused of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent without registering as one. The US has so far refused to let Russia interrogate Americans who could shed more light on the Bill Browder case.
The deterioration of US-Turkish relations may lead to a standoff in northern Syria, due to American support for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It may affect the status of America’s military aircraft stationed at the Incirlik air base. Ankara may not allow the US to use Incirlik against Iran if a conflict ignites, which would significantly restrict US air power in the region. The United States Air Force may have to leave the base completely, like the German aircraft did some time ago.
Turkey’s disappointment with the US and NATO is deepening. The talks on joining the EU are in limbo. During the recent BRICS summit, Ankara said it wanted to join that organization, which is positioning itself as a global pole of power that is independent from the West. Turkey doesn’t look ready to ditch NATO for good just yet, but it won’t be a US partner if push comes to shove and a US-Iran conflict is triggered.
At the moment Iran is readying a large-scale military exercise in the Persian Gulf, which is generally perceived as a step to block oil exports. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. “We will make the enemy understand that either everyone can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one,” declared the IRGC’s commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, on July 5, 2018.
Ankara can spoil things for the US by refusing to take part in its anti-Iranian sanctions. The Turkish government has already said it will continue to trade with Tehran. Turkey imported three million tons of crude oil from Iran in the first four months of 2018, comprising 55% of its crude supplies and 27% of its total energy imports. Ankara could create free-trade zones at border crossings and resume gold exports to facilitate money transfers to Tehran.
It all has gone too far. Even if President Trump turned a blind eye to Turkey’s S-400 deal and its fruitful energy cooperation with Russia, the US Congress would not. A Senate committee has approved the Turkey International Financial Institutions (TIFA) bill, restricting loans to that country. The House is to follow suit. The process is unstoppable. The lawmakers will go on introducing new measures against Turkey as well as Russia, making the two nations natural allies in opposition to the US global domination.
The US will tighten the screws on Turkey, and President Erdogan has no choice but to resist. The American pressure will provoke a backlash. The US refusal to comply with its obligations and deliver F-35 jets to Turkey will inevitably make Ankara consider buying Russian aircraft. There is little the US could do for Turkey in Syria but the Astana process offers a chance to reach its goals through political compromise with those partners.
Actually, there is little the West can offer Turkey that would be in its best interests. The differences are irreconcilable, which will shift Ankara’s foreign-policy priorities from the West toward the East. Eurasian integration is much more promising for Turkey than the continuation of futile attempts to find its place in the West as an equal partner. For instance, Turkey’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) would pave the way for a role in lucrative economic projects. It would also bring together the Shanghai Pact and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) — an international organization of Turkic countries, consisting of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey. Moving in the direction of Eurasia is a natural choice for Ankara, and the current rift with the United States is just another example confirming this fact.
Photo: Hürriyet Daily News