Winner takes all: What are the US’ real motivations for new sanctions on Turkey?

Winner takes all: What are the US’ real motivations for new sanctions on Turkey?

The United States, under the pretext of “exporting democracy”, has carried out military interventions in numerous countries, primarily Iraq and Afghanistan. Its’ aggressive actions have provoked large-scale military clashes and left thousands of people dead. Despite its ostensible motivation, not only are there still no hints of democratic institutions in these countries today, the military actions have been continuous for years with no end in sight. Of all the casualties of war, the most heartbreaking has been the toll it has taken on tens of thousands of civilians.

On October 9, Turkey launched a military operation against terrorist organizations in Northern Syria, where the US and Russia currently the main forces involved. 


On the second day of operations, the US began to threaten Turkey with the imposition of sanctions, the list of economic penalties having been made public the day before. Why were sanctions not imposed against America for its illegal occupation and unsanctioned military operations across the region? Why does the United States feel it is entitled to impose sanctions against Turkey for actions taken in a country where they have no claim to authority? 

It is well known that sanctions regimes are currently applied to countries like Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Cuba, China, Venezuela and Russia, all of which happen to be Washington’s geopolitical opponents.

The question is: by what right does America impose sanctions against countries that it opposes? Are other countries afforded this right? 

Let us turn to the analysis of the decision to impose sanctions on Turkey which was published last week. We asked the experts to comment on this issue to further our understanding of the ongoing conflict.


Defense policy expert Turan Oguz, in commenting on Trump’s decision, noted an important detail: “The list includes the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. This leads us to the conclusion that this decision is not just about the operation,” he said.

Turkey has not yet officially reacted to the imposition of economic sanctions by America in connection with Operation Source of Peace in northeastern Syria. The sanctions list posted by Trump on his Twitter page contains the following points: “Freezing and confiscation of property of former and current members of the Turkish government in the United States. The increase in customs duties on imports became up to 50% and became effective in May. Immediate cessation of negotiations under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce to conclude a trade agreement with Turkey in the amount of $100 billion.”

In addition, the U.S. Treasury has included Secretary of Defense Hulusi Akar, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez in the sanctions list, along with the Ministry of Defense and Energy and Natural Resources.


According to the White House’s statement, despite Trump’s signing of a decree given to the Treasury and the US State Department to impose sanctions against several individuals and organizations in Turkey, no further signatures have been put on the document as of yet. 

Oguz also said that the US government did not expect such strict sanctions lists in the defense corridors. According to him, the sanctions against the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources indicate that the decision is also a reaction to the geological exploration work being carried out in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

“Despite the fact that these sanctions appear to the general public to be insignificant, I did not expect such a strict sanctions list. If we look at its provisions, we see that the issue of increasing customs duties to 50% has already occurred since May. Bringing the level of mutual trade turnover to $100 billion was a long-term goal. In such a chaotic environment, decisions are unlikely to change in the long run, but adding three ministers and two ministries to the sanctions list is not a serious decision and not an easy one.”


Economic threats being posed by one member of NATO against another is an unprecedented situation that goes beyond protocol. The US is not taking into account that their decision is being made in spite of Article 5, which stipulates the protection of NATO members, considering the sanctions will undoubtedly weaken the defense pact’s south-eastern wing.

The decision on sanctions has not yet come into force, but its signing is expected after US Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming visit to Turkey. The situation is still very uncertain. Generally, when sanctions are imposed, they are accompanied by a decision not to interact with the affected country’s ministries. 



The sanctions list includes the Defense Ministry and its head, Hulusi Akar. Will Pence meet with Akar during his visit? What should Turkey do, say “well you don’t like Akar, you can meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry?” It is critical to note that there is coordination with the US on the situation in Syria and that the Americans have not yet left the territory. Will the US maintain contact with the Ministry of Defense given the ongoing necessity of coordination with Turkey? Washington has put itself into a position that seems utterly senseless.

On the other hand, the list also includes the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Is the Interior Ministry connected with the operation in Syria? No, the operation is being carried out exclusively by the forces of the Turkish Armed Forces units subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. In the future, such special units as the gendarmerie and special forces will be involved in the operation, at which point the Interior Ministry may also be involved… but there is still a third ministry on the list.


What is the relationship between the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and the operation in Syria?

The accusatory language in the sanctions decree against Turkey, which relates not only to Syria but also to the Eastern Mediterranean and Iran, is completely outrageous. It makes it evident that the decision is connected not only with Syria but also with the ongoing geological prospecting in the Eastern Mediterranean. There are two areas of activity of the Turkish Ministry of Energy that have an impact on the US: exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean and the purchase of oil from Iran. After all, Turkey does not have any oil fields in Syria.


Another unacceptable factor in the US’ position toward Turkey is the manner of conversation between officials. In their recent statements they spoke about the intention to “organize a meeting of the Turkish side with the protégé of the terrorist Ocalan, who is called the commander of the Democratic Forces of Syria”– this is unacceptable. Turkey has strongly stated that “it is not going to bargain with terrorists”.

Nurettin Kurt
Journalist, specialist in criminology, recipient of the EU Prize for Journalism and Turkish Journalists' Association’s press freedom award , and the author of “Journalist-wolf in the stressful triangle - Incident-police proceedings-lawsuit”,  Sedat Simavi Journalism Award - 2007 (Turkey) 32 yıllık gazeteci, polis ve adliye uzmanı, Sedat Simavi Gazetecilik Ödülü başta olmak üzere, 2011 ve 2017 TGC Başarı ödülü, Avrupa Birliği Araştırmacı Gazetecilik Ödülü, iki kez Çağdaş Gazeteciler Derneği haber ödülü, yedi kez Barış Selçuk Gazetecilik Ödülü ile birlikte çeşitli Sivil Toplum Kuruluşları tarafından ödüle layık görülmüştür, ‘Olay-Polis-Adliye- Gerilim Üçgeninde Kurt Gazeteci’ isimli kitabın yazarıdır

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September 2022