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The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions against the Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu. These Turkish citizens are the heads of government agencies responsible for the imprisonment of American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. In accordance with the decree of the US President No. 13818, the assets of Gül and Soylu will be frozen on American territory. American citizens are prohibited from participating in deals with these Turkish officials. Brunson was arrested in October 2016 on suspicion of cooperating with the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party, espionage in favor of the FETÖ community ("Parallel State") of the Turkish Islamist and oppositionist Fethullah Gülen. Turkish President Recep Erdogan considers Gulen involved in organizing an unsuccessful military coup in the summer of 2016 and carries out repressions against Turkish citizens suspected of having links with the said figure. American-Turkish relations are in such a bad state as one can imagine. The United States imposed sanctions against the country-member of NATO, which indicates the readiness to take more stringent measures to correct the behavior of Turkey.
The American hostage of Erdogan
Brunson is an unusual prisoner. He is rather a hostage in the hands of the Turkish authorities. After all, before his arrest, he lived 23 years in Izmir, held worship services in a small church and for some reason did not attract the attention of local law enforcement. In September 2017, Erdogan offered the US authorities to release Brunson in exchange for the extradition of Gulen, who is in the United States. According to White House spokesman Sarah Sanders, there is no evidence of Brunson's guilt in any crimes. The Turkish president uses the Brunson case as an instrument of blackmailing the Trump administration on the eve of the upcoming midterm elections to the US Congress.
The release of Brunson would be a serious political dividend for the Republican Party during the election campaign. Brunson is an evangelist in the faith, as the vice-president of the United States Michael Pence, and supporters of this Protestant current represent the basis of Trump's electorate. It is not without reason that in June US senators Lindsey Graham and Jenna Shahin visited Turkey and held talks with Erdogan on the release of Brunson. However, the Turkish court postponed consideration of this issue for October. Erdogan is not going to let Brunson go until Gulen is returned to him. Erdogan borrows Russian methods of psychological influence on the leadership of other countries. The case of Brunson is very much like the arrest of a Ukrainian citizen, director Oleg Sentsov in 2014 in the annexed Crimea on suspicion of terrorism.
The US authorities are not in a hurry to extradite Gulen, as he is the object of their interest. The FBI conducts an investigation into the network of schools under FETÖ for criminal activities, including fraud, forgery of documents, illegal income and violation of law. According to Erdogan, Gulen schools earn 700-750 million dollars a year at the expense of the US budget. Also, at the level of conjectures and statements of some Turkish officials, Gulen could be connected with the American special services. According to the former head of Turkish intelligence, Nuri Gundesh, the Gulen movement covered the activities of 130 CIA agents in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan since the mid-90s. Although the US denies this kind of version. Sanctions against two Turkish officials is a primer for US voters before the elections so they can see what actions the Trump administration is ready to take to protect them.
Refusing to release Brunson from custody, Erdogan creates an argument for the Americans to impose sanctions against Turkey. One of the vital national interests of any state, including the United States, is the protection and security of its citizens. The Brunson case is an illustrative example of how an ordinary American citizen can become a hostage to a political game in a foreign land. Turkey violated the national interests of the United States, illegally depriving him of his freedom.
An attempt to return Turkey to US foreign policy direction
The states used the Brunson case as an excuse to impose sanctions against Turkish ministers when the problem moments in the US-Turkish relations reached the boiling point. The Americans let Erdogan understand that they will continue to exert pressure on Turkey if its state policy does not return to the US foreign policy channel. Under Erdogan, Turkey began to distance itself from the US. Turkey extrudes American interests from the Middle East and tries to position itself as an independent center of power, to restore the sphere of influence of the Ottoman Empire in the Muslim countries of the region. Since January 2018, Erdogan is conducting the military operation "Olive Branch" in the Syrian border region of Afrin against the armed formations of Syrian Kurds who are allies of the United States in the armed conflict in the territory of this country. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu has made statements about the possibility of closing the US airbase Incirlik.
Ankara conducts rapprochement with Moscow in various spheres in order to reduce Washington's influence on its foreign policy. Turkey participates in the implementation of Russian project of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Erdogan recently expressed a desire to join the BRICS organization (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) - a Russian geopolitical project that includes some of the most dynamically developing countries in the world that support the idea of a multipolar world, reducing US influence on international processes. Turkey has deployed military-technical cooperation with Russia. In December 2017, a loan agreement was signed for the supply of Russian anti-missile systems S-400 to Turkey, which go beyond the standards of NATO. In 2020, it is planned to conclude another agreement for the supply of this type of weapons. The US froze the delivery of fighter-bombers of the fifth generation F-35 to Turkey in protest. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell believes that Ankara's plans for the purchase of S-400 are a reason for sanctions.
Erdogan's Strength Test
Sanctions against two Turkish ministers are sweet cakes compared to what Turkey can expect in the near future. The US has made it clear to Erdogan that his country can be affected by Russia's fate, if it does not change the foreign policy line. Anti-Russian sanctions that apply to a significant number of high-ranking officials, state-owned and industrial enterprises of strategic importance, large businessmen and their assets, began with restrictive measures against individuals involved in the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Americans are testing Erdogan for strength and want to solve the Brunson case and other problematic issues. If Erdogan is not agreeable, the US will continue to undermine the foundations of his regime with new restrictive measures to provoke opposition sentiments in Turkish society.
Trump promised to impose large-scale sanctions against Turkey in the event of prolonged imprisonment of Brunson. In April 2018, Senators Jenna Shaheen and James Lankford proposed imposing sanctions against Turkish officials. A group of 66 senators sent Erdogan a letter stating that other measures should be taken to compel the Turkish government to respect the right of American citizens to travel, reside and work in the country without threat of persecution. Under the "other measures" we understand the sanctions. Recently, US senators proposed a bill restricting Turkey's access to loans from international financial institutions as a response to the illegal prosecution of US citizens. The US share in the IMF is 17.08%, and in the World Bank - 20%, which allows it to block decisions. If desired, the US can cut off international financial assistance from other countries.
The USA occupies the fourth place among the trade and economic partners of Turkey. For 11 months of 2017, the trade between the US and Turkey grew by 17%. Last year, Turkey's exports to the United States increased by 32.4%. As a restrictive measure, the US can impose sanctions on export-oriented Turkish enterprises. After increasing US import duties on steel to 25% and aluminum to 10% from January to May, Turkish steel exports to the US declined by 56%. Similar duties may be applied to other types of Turkish products. In addition to metal, Turkey supplies the US with machinery, marble and agricultural products. Turkey is dependent on the purchase of arms abroad. In 2013, the country was among the five largest importers of weapons. The Turkish Air Forces mainly use American aircraft. The basis of the tank forces is German and American technology. All this equipment requires spare parts in the course of modernization and planned repairs.
Still, the options for US pressure on Turkey are not unlimited. Ankara has already threatened with retaliatory measures if the Americans do not cancel the sanctions against the Turkish ministers. Over the years in power, Erdogan has achieved diversification of export-import directions and has headed for the development of the national defense-industrial complex. The EU, China and Russia remain the largest trade and economic partners of Turkey. The Turkish government is pursuing a policy of reducing dependence on arms imports and turning the country into a key supplier of defense products in the region. Turkey plans to increase its exports of defense products to $ 25 billion by 2023. Although these plans may seem excessively ambitious. In 2016, Turkey's arms exports amounted to 1.7 billion dollars. Turkish manufacturers will need a lot of time and money to press the United States and the EU in the arms market of the Middle East. US sanctions against Turkey will be effective if they are joined by European partners in NATO.