The Trump administration is reportedly moving forward with sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of the SA-21 Growler (S-400 to amateurs. Professionals use the NATO designation) SAM systems. According to a US official the announcement will be made later today. Sanctions have long been threatened for the Turkish decision to buy the Russian air defense system, but the US was reluctant to pull the trigger. Instead, Turkey’s part in the F-35 Lightning II program was minimized. Further, it was prohibited from purchasing the advanced warplane as a further penalty instead.
Now the Trump administration is apparently ready to pull the trigger on sanctions, a move that will almost assuredly add more pressure to US-Turkey relations and affect the floundering Turkish economy. The coming set of sanctions, according to administration sources, will be specific in its targeting. Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, and its head are expected to bear the brunt. When news of possible sanctions started to circulate, the Turkish lira felt the effect and weakened by 1.4%. Turkey’s economy is already on the ropes now. The COVID-19 related slowdown, inflation, and depleted foreign reserves.
This move also puts the Biden administration in a position where it will almost certainly have to keep the pressure on Turkey through the coming months. That might not be an issue for the incoming president since he has spoke in the past about adopting a harder line with regards to Turkey and its leadership.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his nation’s largest ever natural gas discovery today. It is a 328 billion cubic meter field in the Black Sea that could be part of a bigger reserve. Erdogan has hinted that the gas could start being extracted by 2023. The field, if as large as Turkey claims, will also give Ankara the advantage when the time comes to renegotiate its existing natural gas import agreements. Turkey presently relies on imports to cover almost all of its energy needs. Energy import bills have been a consistent drag on its currency for years. In 2019 Turkey paid out $41 Billion on energy imports, these payments putting a large dent in the nation’s currency reserves.
Most importantly, the find will have a positive effect on the Turkish economy down the line. The Turkish Lira is responding positively to the news, a marked contrast from the unprecedented slide it has endured lately. It won’t last, however. Turkey’s economic troubles are too broad to be solved by a major natural gas find. Rising inflation, and interest rates, record unemployment, and a recession are some of the obstacles the Turkish economy is trying to overcome right now.
Erdogan also said today that Turkey will increase exploratory operations in the Mediterranean. There are presently ongoing territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus concerning Turkish operations in contested waters. Last week’s collision between Turkish, and Greek warships seems to have cooled tensions for the time being, and forced all of the involved parties to take a deep breath.
It has been around thirty hours since the ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut devastated parts of the city. The initial of the investigation now underway strongly suggests that the explosion was the result of negligence, and a number of variables coming together at the most inopportune time. The investigation is nowhere near complete yet though and this should be kept in mind. A final verdict will not be rendered for some time. It is worth noting, however, that as Lebanese officials and authorities continue their investigation, at the same time the intelligence services of many Middle Eastern, and Western nation-states are conducting their own investigations of the incident.
Accident or otherwise, the explosion has come at a very delicate time for Lebanon. First there is the COVID-19 pandemic. Infections are on the rise, and the nation’s healthcare system and hospitals are struggling to cope. Economic conditions are another factor. Lebanese are dealing with an economic crisis worse than any since the 1975-1990 civil war. Brownouts are a part of daily live, and clean drinking water is not readily available on a consistent basis. Large scale street demonstrations against the government were a regular occurrence until the pandemic arrived, and the mood of many Lebanese has turned decidedly anti-government, and anti-Hezbollah.
The explosion occurred at Beirut’s port and caused an immense amount of damage. Significant quantities of stored grain have been destroyed, leading to worries about a possible food crisis in the near future. To exacerbate matters, the destruction caused to the port is leading to questions about its operational capacity. The Lebanese government is releasing 100 billion lira in emergency funds to help offset any economic consequences, but there is a growing consensus among economists, and geopolitical analysts that the impact of the blast on Lebanon’s economy will be long-lasting.
Turkey’s reach has been exceeding its military, and diplomatic means in recent months. Erdogan’s efforts to deepen its footprint in the Mediterranean, and Middle East is placing his nation in real danger of becoming overextended at some point in the not-too-distant future. The occupation of northern Syria, decisive intervention in Libya’s civil war, and seeking economic advantage in the natural gas-rich waters of the Eastern Mediterranean are the better-known Turkish adventures of late. There are others going on in places like the Horn of Africa, and in the Persian Gulf region too. Erdogan has been assertively going after perceived threats and enemies to Turkey, while simultaneously prowling after economic interests that hold the prospect of a jackpot level payout down the road.
Unfortunately for Erdogan, there are two factors coming into play which threaten to hinder, or perhaps entirely derail Turkey’s ambitions at some point. As mentioned in the above paragraph, Turkey is running a very real danger of overextending itself in the near future. The Turkish armed forces are stretched thin. Since the failed coup in 2016 Turkey’s military has lost thousands of capable officers to show trials, and purges. Operations in Syria and Libya are costing billions of dollars, and Turkish troops are taking losses in both places. In short, the Turks cannot afford a new military commitment now or in the near future.
The second factor working against Turkey’s regional ambitions is the absence of a clear vision. Ankara’s moves certainly haven’t been guided by ideology, or political alliances on the international front. This is where Turkish actions, and ambitions become confounding as it is working with its allies and friends on some fronts, while directly opposed to them on others. Syria and Libya are two prime examples. Turkey’s military incursions into Syria were frowned upon by many of its NATO allies. However, many of those same nation-states fully support Turkey’s intervention in Libya. In recent years Ankara has deepened the relationship between Turkey and Russia at a time when tensions between Moscow and the West has skyrocketed. The Turks committed to buying SA-21 surface-to-air missiles from Russia which forced the United States, to cancel the sale of F-35 Lightnings to Turkey.
Compounding Turkey’s burgeoning issues on the foreign front is the current state of the Turkish economy. Turkey is working to prevent a currency crisis in the face of economic turbulence brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. That topic will be touched on later in the week as we hopefully have the opportunity to expand the discussion on Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suffered a major setback at the polls. The results of Sunday’s municipal balloting indicate the candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has won the mayoral election in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and most famous city, appears as if it will be won by the opposition candidate. It has yet to be officially decided, but as of this morning, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu was ahead by a thin margin.
For Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) the results were a major blow. Although AKP candidates won 51% of the municipal elections across the nation, it wasn’t enough for him to declare the results a victory. If the Istanbul race is officially called for Imamoglu, it will be a catastrophe for Erdogan and AKP.
Going into Sunday, the elections were regarded as a barometer for Erdogan’s. He’d campaigned endlessly, calling the vote a matter of “national survival.” In a sense, his words ring true. The Turkish economy has been mired in a recession and the lira has required constant propping up. The nation is also engaged militarily in Syria and despite growing involvement there, and the returns have been less than Erdogan was hoping for.
The election results could be a turning point for the opposition which has been relegated to the shadows in recent years. With Erdogan and his party controlling much of the nation’s media outlets, CHP and other parties opposing Erdogan have not had the ability to spread their message far and wide. With Ankara, and perhaps Istanbul about to be led by CHP candidates, that could be about to change.
Of course, economic performance motivates people to vote more often than not. Right now, with Turkey’s economy looking shaky, it bodes well for the opposition, and less so for Erdogan and AKP.