Turkey's Russian missile deal strains ties with Washington: Other factors affecting relations

A Russian millitary cargo plane believed to be carrying parts of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system purchased from Russia at the Akincilar airbase in Ankara, Turkey, on July 12, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ISTANBUL (REUTERS) - Russia started delivering advanced missile defence equipment to Nato member Turkey on Friday (July 12), the Defence Ministry in Ankara said, setting the stage for likely US sanctions on Ankara.

The dispute over the S-400 air defence missiles, which the United States says are incompatible with Nato military systems and could threaten US F-35 stealth fighter jets which Turkey has also ordered, is one of several issues which have frayed ties between the two allies.


Friday's delivery of the first parts of the S-400s to a military air base outside Ankara is likely to trigger US sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Under the CAATSA legislation, which targets purchases of military equipment from Russia, US President Donald Trump should select five of 12 possible sanctions ranging from banning visas and denying access to the US-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the US financial system and denying export licenses.

Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's assurances after meeting Trump last month that Turkey would not face sanctions, Washington plans to remove it from the programme to produce the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and plans to buy.


Turkey is furious about US support in Syria for the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group.

Washington is coordinating with Ankara and the YPG to establish a safe zone on Turkey's southern border.

Ankara wants YPG fighters to withdraw from the area to secure its border, and Washington wants guarantees that the US-backed YPG forces which helped defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants will not be harmed.


The US reimposed sanctions on Iran last year, barring countries from importing its oil. In May, Washington scrapped a six-month waiver granted to Turkey and seven other big importers to step up attempts to isolate Teheran and choke off its oil revenues.

Turkey, which complained but fully complied with the sanctions, is dependent on imports for almost all of its energy needs and Iran is a leading gas and oil supplier.


A Turkish court in June refused to release Metin Topuz, a translator and fixer for the US consulate in Istanbul, who will be held at least until his next appearance on Sept 18.

His arrest in October 2017 led to a diplomatic dispute and suspension of visa services by both countries.

Topuz is one of three US consulate employees who have been charged over criminal cases that have been major irritants relations with Washington.


Erdogan has bitterly criticised US support for Israel. He said its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital meant Washington had forfeited its role as a mediator in the region, while Trump's support for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in a 1967 war, could trigger a crisis.


When Trump gave his public backing to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido earlier this year, Erdogan said he was shocked by the US President's move, and responded by calling President Nicolas Maduro to tell him: "Stand tall."


Last year, a US court sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish citizen and banker at Turkey's state-controlled Halkbank, to 32 months in prison after he was convicted of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.

Washington is also considering a fine against Halkbank.

Federal prosecutors accused Atilla of conspiring with gold trader Reza Zarrab and others to elude US sanctions using fraudulent gold and food transactions. Zarrab pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecutors.

Zarrab described a scheme that he said included bribes to Turkish government officials and that was carried out with the blessing of Erdogan. Erdogan has condemned the case as a political attack on his government.

Attila is due to be released on July 19.


Turkey demands that the US extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara has said orchestrated a failed 2016 military coup against Erdogan.

US officials have said the courts would require sufficient evidence to extradite the elderly Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the coup.

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