The US withdrawal of military support for the Syrian Kurds and the subsequent operation of the Turkish army have exacerbated relations between Ankara and Washington. As one of the deterrence measures, the US authorities imposed sanctions against three Turkish ministers and two ministries by including them in the Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN List). On the one hand, the measure looked rather painless for the Turkish economy. On the other hand, it was a serious political signal and indicated the prospect of more serious restrictions. The very fact that the US was imposing sanctions against a major ally is an extraordinary event. However, there have been similar precedents in history. They ended mainly with the solution of controversial problems. A similar scenario is playing out now.
The use of sanctions in relations between the US and Turkey can hardly be called a new development. In response to Ankara’s purchases of Russian S-400 air defence systems, the Americans excluded their Turkish partners from the international programme for the production of F-35 fifth-generation fighters. Sanctions were also applied due to human rights concerns. On August 1, 2018, the Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül and the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu appeared on the SDN list of the US Treasury Department. The reason was the detention in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson. However, by November both ministers were removed from the list after the pastor was released. At that time, no special sanctions decree was issued regarding Turkey. The Treasury Department blacklisted Turkish cabinet ministers on the basis of the 2016 Magnitsky Global Act, or rather, Trump’s executive order 13818 of December 21, 2017, titled “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption”.
The situation will be much worse for Turkey if Congress adopts its legislative initiatives against the country. Altering the congressional sanctions will be much more difficult than changing or rescinding the executive order. After the aggravation of the situation in Syria, a whole scattering of resolutions and bills appeared in Congress. On October 11, a resolution criticising the position of the US executive on Turkey and the Kurdish issue was drafted by Democrat Eliot Engel, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair. A similar joint resolution was proposed by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. Turkey’s unprovoked invasion is described in a resolution proposed by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. At the same time, Congressmen offered several proposals for sanctions against Turkey. In particular, Senator Lindsey Graham proposed Bill S. 2644, which would impose severe restrictions on the Turkish military-industrial complex, personal sanctions against members of the Turkish government, the punishment of Turkey for the S-400 deal using the provisions of the CAATSA law, a report on the income sources of Turkish President Erdogan and other measures.
The meeting between Turkish President Erdogan and US Vice President Pence somewhat defused the situation. After a series of diplomatic manoeuvres from both sides, the Turkish leadership convinced the Americans of their willingness to compromise. On October 23, Turkish ministers and ministries were excluded from the SDN list, although the executive order on the state of emergency remains in force.