Just weeks before Trump is scheduled to leave office,  the president sanctioned Turkey, a NATO ally, over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system.  The new sanctions include a ban on all U.S. export licenses and loans to Turkey’s defense procurement agency and an asset freeze on its president, Ismail Demir, among other government officials. 

U.S. officials have long warned that Ankara’s purchase of the Russian system could jeopardize U.S. and European security.  It’s not clear why the Trump administration waited until now to impose the penalties.  Turkey finalized its acquisition of the Russian military system more than a year ago.

Lawmakers in both parties welcomed the administration’s action, while saying it was long overdue.  Some critics in Congress have accused Trump of being soft on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and questioned his refusal to respond more aggressively to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system in July 2019.

“We very much regret that this has been necessary,” Christopher Ford, a top State Department nonproliferation official, told reporters during a briefing Monday.  Matthew Palmer, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs also said, “the move reflects some of the fundamental challenges in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, as Turkey has made important contributions to NATO, but its purchase of the S-400 is “fundamentally inconsistent with its obligations as a NATO ally.”

“The United States made clear to Turkey at the highest levels and on numerous occasions that its purchase of the S-400 system would endanger the security of U.S. military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia’s defense sector,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday. 

“Turkey nevertheless decided to move ahead with the procurement and testing of the S-400, despite the availability of alternative, NATO-interoperable systems to meet its defense requirements.”  The Trump administration was required by law to mete out some sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 transaction. But it had flexibility in determining what penalties to impose and when. 

In its statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry called on the U.S. to “turn back as soon as possible from this bad mistake” and said Ankara was ready for dialogue.

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