The Turkish military offensive against Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria – dubbed ‘Operation Peace Spring’ – continues unfolding in its sixth consecutive day with more civilian casualties reported.
Washington threatened earlier to impose “tough” economic sanctions against Ankara for its military incursion, an operation which Turkey said, denying any territorial claims, will create a safe border zone to return millions of Syrian refugees back to their home country.
US President Donald Trump vowed Sunday to impose “powerful sanctions” on its ally over the military invasion into Syria. Turkey has vowed to retaliate for any restrictions.
Abdullah Bozkurt, president of the Stockholm Centre for Freedom and author of ‘Turkey Interrupted – Derailing Democracy’ shares his views on the issue.
Sputnik: President Trump said on Sunday morning that he is in talks with members of Congress to impose “powerful sanctions” on Turkey. In your opinion, what is the essence of these sanctions? How destructive will they be?
Abdullah Bozkurt: Turkey’s economy is very much dependent on outside trade, investment, and commerce ties.
The sustainability of these highly valuable ties relies on maintaining Turkey’s free trade with its partners and allies and unhindered access to financial sources.
Furthermore, this is absolutely crucial for rolling over debts that will be mature and Turkey needs to tap into fresh cash to subsidize public and private enterprises. If the US eventually decides to impose crippling sanctions on the Erdogan government, it will very well bankrupt the Turkish economy.
Sputnik: What exactly is Trump trying to achieve by withdrawing troops from northern Syria and then declaring that he will impose sanctions on Turkey?
Abdullah Bozkurt: It appears Erdoğan and Trump have reached some sort of rough agreement on how far Turkey should go before the US gave a green signal to Turkish military incursion.
It helps Trump during the election campaign that he is bringing US troops back home. In exchange, he dumps ISIS* [Daesh] problem in Erdoğan’s hands.
However, terms of the agreement may not be so specific that paves the way for different interpretations and understandings on both sides. For sure, Turks have broader ambitions than the one they are originally willing to let Americans know about it.
Furthermore, conditions on the ground in Syria and pressure from different stakeholders, — domestically, regionally or globally — may have changed the dynamics in this deal. As a result, Trump is holding unto card of the punitive sanctions to keep Erdoğan in line and using them as a stick in what appears to be a sweet carrot deal.
Sputnik: Trump noted that there is a “big consensus” when it comes to these sanctions. In your opinion, how likely is it that the Democrats support the initiative?
Abdullah Bozkurt: I think there is a bipartisan support already to punish Erdoğan for not only much-criticized Syria offensive but also for pivoting Turkey to Russia with purchase of S-400 missiles, unrelenting crackdown on various sectors in Turkish society including journalists, imprisonment of the US nationals and US consulate employees on dubious charges and promoting jihadist radicalism in Turkey, in the region and in the world.
It would be fair to say that Democrats, as well as Republicans, would be on board for sanctions on the Erdogan government.
Let’s remember how both sides of the aisle came together and condemned Erdoğan very strongly when Turkish president’s bodyguards violently beat down peaceful protesters in DC during Erdogan’s visit in May 2017.
Sputnik: On Friday, the Pentagon said that US troops in Syria “came under artillery fire from Turkish positions”, while Turkey’s Ministry of Defence has denied intentionally shelling US positions. Should we expect tensions between Turkey and the US (two NATO allies) to escalate?
Abdullah Bozkurt: I think so. Erdogan may be seeking a pretext to create a rupture point to take Turkey out of NATO and drop the alliance with the US.
Americans are not willing to give him such excuses by clearing the field and moving US troops to safe locations in Syria.
What is more, the Turkish army is very much controlled by neo-nationalists and Islamist figures after the mass purge since 2016.
Almost 70 percent of all generals and admirals were dismissed, forced to retire and/or jailed since then, leaving a big vacuum in senior leadership. Many ranks in the Turkish army are now filled with anti-US and Islamist zealots.
They may very well decide to take the matter on their own hands on the ground even if Erdoğan is not willing to risk such an escalation with the US. On Sunday, Turkey’s deputy chairman of the ruling party AKP Numan Kurtulmus admitted on a TV interview that Turks knew all the coordinates of the US posts, lending credence to allegations that this was a deliberate rather than accidental strike.
Sputnik: Could the pressure from the US somehow prevent Ankara from further buying S-400s from Russia?
Abdullah Bozkurt: If push comes to the shove, Erdoan would yield to the mounting pressure from the Americans that have a lot of leverage to convince Erdogan to opt-out on further deals with Russia and even keep the one already purchased as unpacked.
It depends on how far Washington is willing to go. So far, we have not really seen a hard come down on the Erdogan government from the US that simply chose to engage with Turks rather than punish Turkey, possibly out of concern to not antagonize all the Turks.
This may change very quickly, however. If it happens and the US resorts to shock and awe tactics, that would be a whole lot of different ballgame.
Sputnik: What steps in relation to Turkey could be expected in the near future from the Trump administration?
Abdullah Bozkurt: Trump administration may decide to go after Erdogan, his family members, his business and political associates instead of punishing average Turksto lay the blame on the leadership.
We may see targeted sanctions that will drive a wedge between his support base and Erdoğan’s inner circle, which may, in turn, embolden internal dissent within his own party.
It may come down in the form of the asset freeze, travel ban, and sanction designations that will portray them as international pariah which will have ramifications within Turkey.
In the end, Erdogan can become a huge liability for Turkey in general and even his own party in particular.
Designations of Erdogan’s crony circle of businesspeople who support Turkish President financially in exchange for lucrative contracts and tenders from the government may very well scare finance and business elites who will then be shying away from being associated with the regime.
The restrictions or prevention of Turkey’s access to critical financial resources will be a death sentence for Erdogan’s government.