This column has often argued in the past that Erdogan’s Islamist Turkey has long forfeited it’s right to be considered part of the western family of free nations and should be booted out. Although Erdogan’s rule has been demonstrably brutal and undemocratic, there have always been some western excuses for not doing so. Perhaps most decisive of late has been the EU’s delusion that Ankara would prevent another migrant wave, given Brussels willingness to pay the Turkish dictator a lot of money for that. This delusion maintained by Chancellor Merkel and other migration facilitators in the EU has now been punctured by the above EU report showing not only a 20% increase of migrants (30% in the first 3 months of 2019) coming from Turkey in 2018, but also that 90% of them used criminal smugglers to get to Greece. Thus, the EU migration policy vis a vis Turkey appears realistically to have helped only the smugglers at the cost of the billions provided to Erdogan.
Nonetheless, there is now real hope that Erdogan will finally get his long overdue comeuppance because of his provocative anti-NATO gambit in acquiring Russian anti-ballistic missile defense. To put it simply, buying S-400 from Moscow cannot be described other than as an anti-NATO provocation. Especially because Turkey is also a key partner in the production and acquisition of the F-35 fighter, which the S-400 radar endangers the stealth feature of the NATO fighter.
More to the point, the quarrel over F-35 is not a bilateral US-Turkey argument, but involves seven other co-producer countries and becomes NATO against Turkey issue, which could have dire consequences for Ankara. If Turkey persists in buying the S-400, American sanctions would automatically be triggered as required by the sanction legislation (CAATSA) signed by Trump and even the president cannot stop them, as Erdogan vainly hopes.
There are numerous other negative consequences that are likely to hit Turkey if Erdogan continues the anti-NATO course he has firmly embarked on. The economic damage that Turkey will sustain from being removed from the F-35 program is estimated at a minimum of $10 billion, not counting the inability to modernize its air force with the 5th generation fighter. In anticipation of just such an outcome, the United States has already stopped delivery of parts for the F-35 to Turkey. Recently, Erdogan has dismissed these real threats by claiming that the US had already transferred 4 F-35 to Turkey at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. What he did not tell the Turkish correspondents traveling with him, was that those F-35s were transferred for training purposes only and remain in US custody until the S-400 issue is resolved.
More serious politically are two proposed legislative acts in the US Senate. A bipartisan bill by Senators Rubio (Florida) and Menendez (Maryland) will terminate the US arms embargo on Cyprus and authorize Trump to deal with Cyprus, Greece and Israel on gas deals. A second proposed legislation by senators Wicker and Cardin will impose Magnitsky Act sanctions on Turkish officials with respect to the illegal imprisonment of US employees in Turkey and dual citizens.
Finally, perhaps the greatest possible impact of US sanctions on Turkey is likely to be in the political-economic realm where Ankara is highly vulnerable at present, as indicated by the fact that Erdogan’s party AKP lost virtually all major cities in the recent local elections. Economically speaking, following two quarters of negative growth last year (2.4% decline in the fourth quarter and 1.6% decline in the third quarter in 2018) Turkey is now officially in a recession. When you add the official lira depreciation of 30% last year and the country’s need of ever greater foreign financing to cover growing deficits, Turkey is in very serious trouble economically. A serious conflict with the United States, which now looks unavoidable, could only exacerbate these troubling trends.
By Alex Alexiev