Turkey will not abandon its rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean because of possible European Union sanctions or criticism, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Monday (14 December), the day when the US effectively sanctioned Ankara on another account.
At a summit on Friday, EU leaders agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over a row with Greece and Cyprus about offshore energy exploration, but postponed discussions on any harsher steps until March.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that EU leaders planned to discuss weapons exports to Turkey with allies in the NATO military alliance following a Greek push for an arms embargo on Ankara.
According to the latest official data of the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI), Turkey’s main weapons suppliers in 2015-2019 were the US (38% of imports), Italy (24%) and Spain (19%).
Answering questions in parliament as part of annual budget talks, Çavuşoğlu said: “It is out of the question for us to abandon our rights and interests in the eastern Mediterranean because we will face sanctions or the EU will criticise us.”
Earlier on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was upset by the United States and EU moving forward with sanctions processes against Turkey, saying Turkey expected the EU “not to sanction it but rather to realise its promise of full (EU) membership.”
US imposes sanctions
Washington imposed on Monday the long-anticipated sanctions on Turkey’s top defence procurement and development body, its chairman and three other employees over its acquisition last year of Russian S-400 air defense systems.
The US Congress required sanctions for significant military purchases from Russia under a 2017 law known as CAATSA.
“Today’s action sends a clear signal that the United States will fully implement CAATSA Section 231 and will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
The US sanctions also would block specific US export licenses for any goods or technology transferred to the Defence Industries Directorate (SSB), which is Turkey’s top defence procurement and development body.
Analysts said the targeted move would mostly spare the broader Turkish economy.
Turkey condemned the US sanctions as a “grave mistake” and threatened to retaliate over a move it said would harm ties between the NATO allies.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called the decision “inexplicable” given that Washington repeatedly rejected Ankara’s offer to form a joint working group to allay US concerns that the S-400s threatened NATO defences.
“We call on the United States to revise the unjust sanctions (and) to turn back from this grave mistake as soon as possible,” it said. “Turkey is ready to tackle the issue through dialogue and diplomacy in a manner worthy of the spirit of alliance.”
The sanctions “will inevitably negatively impact our relations, and (Turkey) will retaliate in a manner and time it sees appropriate,” the ministry added.
In the recent past, Turkey has warned that the United States could be barred from using two strategic air bases in retaliation to possible US sanctions.
The United States says Turkey’s determination to use the S-400s, acquired from Moscow in 2019, left it with no choice given F-35 jets and other shared defences would be vulnerable to NATO foe Russia. Turkey has said the ground-to-air missiles would not be plugged into NATO systems and pose no threat.
The S-400 technology makes it easier for Turkey to fight a NATO ally, such as Greece.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the US sanctions on Turkey “another manifestation of an arrogant attitude towards international law” by Washington which pursues its own “illegitimate, unilateral coercive measures.”
Turkey has voiced hope for a fresh start next month when President-elect Joe Biden takes over, but Biden has indicated he will take a firmer approach than Trump.
Biden during his campaign called Erdoğan an “autocrat” and vowed to work to empower the opposition.