New sanctions have been imposed on Turkey by the EU and the US. Whilst the European sanctions have been defined “a bit bland”, Ankara will find it hard to deal with the US penalties. Which implications and feasible future for EU-US-Turkish relations.
The current year is negatively closing for Turkey since both the EU and the US are imposing new sanctions on Ankara. Yet, the EU and the US have different motivation at the base of their moves against Ankara, although the EU is keen to more coordinate with the Biden’s Administration.
The EU had already discussed on possible penalties against Turkey during Summer, at the time when the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean seemed to escalate between the parties. However, in October the EU Council did not decide to impose any sanctions, delaying the decision to the following meeting of the Council in December.
After hours of strong and intense discussion, leaders opted for penalties targeting the energetic entities involved in gas drilling offshore claimed waters of Cyprus and an unprecise number of Turkish officials.
Greece, Cyprus and above all France did not like the European decision, since they hoped for stronger and harder EU policy against Ankara. But the implications of possible harder penalties would be much more arduous for other countries, in a delicate geopolitical situation such as this. Germany and Italy are the most moderate countries, due to their interests in Turkey. Their “weight”, in Europe, is as relevant as Greece and France’s ones.
Furthermore, we must not forget that the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean also involve other States that are not European: e.g. Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, not to mention the Gulf States, all countries with which the EU and single European Sates have different and divergent relations.
Nevertheless, the EU reserved the possibility to further toughen its sanctions in the next future, right after Biden’s inauguration.
Several days after the European penalties, Trump Administration too imposed punitive measures on the Republic of Turkey. Reason: the Turkish purchase of military defence systems S-400 from Russia (2017). According to the US Administration, Turkish manoeuvre poses a severe risk for NATO defence and the US F-35 programme, in which Turkey was involved and then removed in 2019.
The US sanctions will pose a heavier burden on the Turkish defensive system than the European’s ones since they specifically target the Turkish Defence Industry and the national military procurement agency. Indeed, Washington has imposed economic penalties on its exports, authorisations and loans towards those two Agencies. Furthermore, the access in the US has been denied for four Turkish top officials.
Trump’s move certainly has different reasons, as we explained previously: indeed, whilst the European penalties attempt to stop (or persuade) the dangerous behaviour of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US has several purposes, which are mostly focused on third targets (thus not explicitly Turkey).
Firstly, Trump’s activism in the last months aims to create a partial turmoil in the most intricate international theatre, namely the MENA region, to make things more difficult for the incoming Biden’s Administration. In this regard, Trump is moving in a partially known field of the future Biden’s foreign policy: perhaps, either for the Western Sahara and Ankara, Trump has only accelerated the possible Biden’s moves in those fields. Of course, the initiatives had sharply accelerated. That will not ease US and Turkey relations.
Secondly, the US penalties against Turkey are merely an admonition for several States, which are interested in a closer and tighter military cooperation with Russia. Egypt is amongst those States, although it has recently supported Morocco on the Western Sahara dispute and consequently aligned with the US.
Sure, the current sanctions have a different taste for Turkey, in comparison with the hypothetical penalties against other States. That mostly derives from the Turkish NATO Membership and from the fact that the Turkish Armed Forces are the NATO second largest standing military forces. In this way, the removal from the F-35 programme and the recent sanctions will worsen the Turkish defence system.
The outcomes of the Turkish foreign policy in an American and European perspective.
This year, which has been signed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, has surely marked a passage for Turkish foreign policy, not only in the Eastern Mediterranean.
This specific zone merely concerns the EU, since it marks its borders and ultimately is also part of European sovereignty. Despite the Turkish request to enter the EU, Ankara and Brussels are moving in two different directions since 2016. Italian and German support for Turkey, shown on various occasions, and their moderation will not be enough to “support” the good image of Turkey in Europe.
Furthermore, both the EU and Turkey are aware that the Turkish manoeuvres could not last forever, due to their high expenditure, and to the fact that they are negatively affecting the process towards the EU membership. These are the reasons why only recently Turkey has toned down its rhetoric and lowered its pressure on the Eastern Mediterranean, showing moderate words for the EU (since Turkey is part of Europe).
However, Turkey has proved its power not only in the Eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, Ankara has been active in other important fields, above all in Northern Syria. Its active role was not hampered by the US since the Trump administration opted for a softer reaction (or even for no reaction) .
However, very differently from France, which openly exposes itself as an ally of Egypt, the UAE and Haftar, the US strongly remains distant from any geopolitical alignment and regional support, maintaining a neutral-super partes profile (perhaps aiming to play an arbitrage role in case of a possible escalation). The main aim of the US is to avoid an allies’ disconnection from its regional policies. Another threat is the allies’ plausible turn towards Russia, which the US does not see as desirable.
This possibility does not seem to fit Turkey’s case since Ankara has only convenience relations with Moscow. Indeed, Turkey considers itself independent and detached from any local and regional foreign power policy (including the European’s one).
A possible future.
In International Relations, various things seem sure: one of them is that no policy and no leader are endless. This decade will sign radical changes for the future of many Mediterranean countries: Turkey is one of them and perhaps the one to be strictly monitored, given its international position as an applicant for the EU, its NATO Membership and its geographic position.
Additionally, once solved Brexit-related issues, the EU will concentrate more on other internal problems, which mainly concern cohesion among the States and their position in the European institutions; the “Turkish issue” will follow, as the energy transition will increase over the years and the centrality of the Mediterranean region will rise.
Turkey well knows that its iron fist in the Mediterranean could not last forever. Hence, it is feasible to assume that Ankara will ease and moderate its position in favour of dialogue and that something will substantially change with the Biden’s Administration, which promises to be tougher than its predecessor.