A new sphere of foreign relations: Living with sanctions

A new sphere of foreign relations: Living with sanctions

As I try to follow Turkey’s relations with the world, a pattern of behavior of some countries towards Ankara draws my attention. These countries, which calculate their leverages and the suitable opportunities they have, are actualizing methods such as sanctions and embargoes against Turkey. In some cases, they use the threat of sanctions as a bargaining tool overtly or in the form of making it felt.

The table of embargo I came across while examining the search for normalization in relations with Saudi Arabia was really thought-provoking in this respect. Last year, Saudi Arabia nearly halted Turkish contractors from undertaking new projects in this country. Moreover, in the first quarter of this year, Saudi Arabia cut its imports from Turkey by nearly 90 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

There lie problems experienced at the political level behind this attitude of Saudi Arabia. It is also not difficult to guess that Turkey’s strong international response to the Saudi officials’ killing of its own citizen, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 and disposing of his body was an important factor here. In addition, it is known that Saudi Arabia has long been uncomfortable with Turkey’s closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood, which it sees as a threat to itself in the region – such as Egypt.

Relations with Egypt

When we look at Turkey’s efforts to normalize its relations with Egypt, it should be noted that economic relations have not been seriously affected by political problems. However, the deterioration of bilateral relations after the coup d’etat in Egypt in 2013 brought along Cairo’s counter maneuvers to keep Turkey out of the institutional structures in the eastern Mediterranean energy.

The method Egypt used before Turkey is to condition the normalization process to certain political requirements. In the roadmap Cairo drew for normalization, demands such as the discipline of the broadcasts of opposition TV channels broadcasting in Turkey against the el-Sissi regime and the extradition of some dissidents in Turkey, which the regime in Cairo declared as terrorists, to Egypt are included.

Balance of sanctions with EU

It is possible to say that the rhetoric of sanctions against Turkey is fully established on the European Union front. The EU has made its sanction card an official policy against Turkey, especially after the high tensions between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean after warships came out to the field during last summer’s end and September due to the seismic research and drilling activities.

The first step of this EU policy was taken with a decision made at the EU Summit on Oct. 2, 2020. According to this decision, it was announced that “all tools and options within the framework of the relevant articles of the EU treaties will be used against Turkey in case of repeated unilateral actions and provocations violating international law.” The means and options meant here offer a wide range of sanctions for the EU to impose.

The EU then based its progress on a positive agenda in its relations with Turkey on this sanctions balance based on the conditions of the Oct. 2, 2020 decisions. In the next summits in December 2020 and March, this line was fully drawn. This action’s result on the field was that Turkey has been halting seismic research and drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean since last fall, while the diplomatic option has come into play between Turkey and Greece, as demonstrated by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Athens earlier this week.

US announced sanctions in December

When we look at the U.S. front, we see that the sanction method is actualized when certain crises break out. For example, when U.S. priest Andrew Brunson, who was detained in İzmir on charges of espionage in the summer of 2018, was not released, the U.S. Treasury Department on Aug. 1, 2018, added Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül, who it held responsible for Brunson’s detention, to its sanctions list with the decision of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump also imposed restrictions on Turkey’s exports that would negatively affect its economy. Three weeks after Brunson was released on Oct. 12, 2018, the sanctions against Soylu and Gül were lifted.

About a year later, the Trump administration decided to impose sanctions again on Soylu, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez on Oct. 9, 2019, over the “Operation Peace Spring” Turkey launched in Syria. While the U.S. administration announced this decision on Oct. 15, 2019, it also announced that it could impose economic sanctions. The threats that Trump made to Turkey in those days are still remembered. However, when an agreement was reached between Turkey and the U.S. regarding the operation on Oct. 18, 2019, these sanctions were lifted some three months later.

In addition, shortly before Trump left office, on Dec. 14, 2020, the U.S. approved the sanctions decisions against Turkey that directly target the Presidency of Defense Industries and prohibit export permits to this institution because Ankara has purchased S-400 air defense systems from Russia.

These measures, which were implemented within the framework of the U.S.’ “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” are still in effect, and the Biden administration, which took office last January, says that additional sanctions may be imposed on Turkey if it buys new systems from Russia.

Troubles on Russian front

In the meantime, although there is no sanctions decision announced by Russia, the difficulties experienced in the field of tourism also raise serious question marks. With a decision taken last April, Russia restricted flights to Turkey until June 1. Despite Ankara expressing its expectation for a review of this decision by stating that the tourism season is about to commence, this restriction was extended until June 21 last Monday. The Russian authorities justify this decision due to the increase in the COVID-19 cases in Turkey. In return, there is also widespread suspicion that the Kremlin is creating these troubles because of its dissatisfaction with Turkey’s arms sales to Ukraine.

In addition, there was also a development that caused some discomfort for Russia when Maria Zaharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, responded to Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç’s remarks for May 18 for the anniversary of the Crimean Tatar and Circassian Exiles.

“Turkey also has unresolved ethnic, linguistic and religious problems... If such a rhetoric continues, we should also pay attention to Turkey’s similar problems,” she said.

Why didn’t China fulfill its vaccine commitment?

In this context, another issue that we should draw attention to is the difficulties experienced in obtaining vaccines from China. Despite the fact that China’s Sinovac company committed 100 million vaccines to Turkey until the end of last April - under two separate contracts - it sent only about a quarter of this amount so far, upsetting Turkey’s plan to kick off the summer season with 50 million people vaccinated. Thereupon, Turkey also turned its face to the BioNTech option.

Chinese officials explain this by prioritizing the need for vaccines within their country. On the other hand, there is a widespread belief that the dissatisfaction with Turkey’s statements about the Uighur Turks also plays a role in China’s failure to keep these commitments.

Finally, when we put them all together, we can determine that Turkey is experiencing sanctions problems or similar difficulties in different ways with a number of countries and the EU.

P.S.: The difficulties experienced in the procurement of various military materials from some Western countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada are beyond the scope of this article.