Ankara Defies Washington: Implement CAATSA Sanctions on Turkey Now!

The Trump administration has stalled the implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey, which prohibits any nation from purchasing military hardware from Russia, North Korea and Iran.

In July, Turkey defied Washington’s warnings by taking delivery of Russian S-400 missiles, a defense system incompatible with NATO systems.

Prior to delivery of the weapons, Turkey was given an alternative to purchase the US- made Patriot missile system. A $3.5 billion deal was presented to the Turkey in hopes of convincing the once-reliable NATO ally to change course. However, Turkey rejected this offer, too.

Evicted From F-35 Program

The Department of Defense (DOD) quickly removed Turkey from participation with the US-made F-35 fighter jet program, a venture the country has been a part of since 2002. The decision was unsurprising. Congress and the DOD were not going to allow Turkey to risk NATO and US national security interests. Last month at the Pentagon, Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord stated, “At this point, the Turks have made a decision. We have said the F-35 and S-400 are incompatible.” The removal of Turkey from the F-35 program will cost the Turkish economy an estimated $9 billion.

S-400 Deal

Russia convinced the Turkish government that it would offer something the Americans would not, technology transfer of the S-400. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly offered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joint production of the S-500 missiles, the next generation defense system. “There is absolutely no question of [Turkey] taking a step back from the S-400 purchase. That is a done deal,” Erdogan said. “There will be joint production of the S-500 after the S-400.”

On Tuesday, the RIA Novosti news agency published reports Turkey and Russia will sign a new arms contract in 2020 that will extend beyond the S-400 missiles and may include co-production and technology-sharing agreements Ankara has sought in effort to bolster its domestic defense industry.

The news comes as Turkish leaders have expressed interest in purchasing Russian Su-35 fighter jets to substitute the F-35s as the Turkish air force remains with an aging fleet of F-16 and older NATO aircrafts. The Turkish defense industry is also working to build its first domestically produced fighter jet, the TF-X, but Stein said initial production tests are at least a decade away.

Turkey Tests S-400

Turkey received the second shipment of a battery for the Russian S-400 missile defense system in September and said that it would be active in April 2020.

On November 11, Turkey tested its new Russian S-400 missile defences despite Washington’s opposition, Turkish media reported.

Turkish F-16 warplanes were reportedly flown over the capital Ankara on Monday and Tuesday to test the illumination radar of S-400 which have strained relations between the two NATO allies Turkey and the United States.

Political Response

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who introduced a sanctions bill with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), tweeted Monday, “Two weeks after his WH visit, Erdogan is thumbing his nose at Trump, the U.S. + NATO, and crossing another red line on S-400s. Existing law requires Trump to impose sanctions.”

The testing of the S-400 radar system against F-16 Fighter Jet is widely seen as a challenge to Washington. Analysts claim it will likely add to calls in Congress to impose CAATSA sanctions and other measures against Turkey.

Sweeping new economic and political sanctions against Turkey are currently in Congress awaiting ratification.


On August 2, 2017, the President signed into law the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (Public Law 115-44) (CAATSA), which among other things, imposes new sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea.  

The CAATSA Sanctions represent the implementation of multiple legal authorities.  Some of these authorities are in the form of executive orders issued by the President.  Other authorities are public laws (statutes) passed by The Congress.  These authorities are further codified by OFAC in its regulations which are published the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). 

What Happens Now?

Turkish entities are only exposed to sanctions because they choose to do business with primary targets of U.S. sanctions. The Turkish government’s actions represent a sovereign decision to acquire defense capabilities from a Russian source that is widely known to be sanctioned by the United States. The impending secondary sanctions triggered by the S-400 delivery in Turkey are intended to deter additional transactions with entities on the LSP, like Russia’s main defense export entity Rosboronexport (which is on the Sec. 231 LSP).

Bloomberg News reported in October that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made repeated entreaties to Trump to avoid charges against Halkbank, one of Turkey’s largest lenders. Trump assigned Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr to look into the issue after an April phone call with Erdogan.

The United States has multiple defense and aerospace licensing agreements with Turkish entities to co-produce components of or locally produce export versions of the F-35, T-129 helicopter’s Engine and armament, SOM cruise missile integration onto F-35, F-16, CH-47, and UH-60. Losing this military-economic cooperation would increase the severe penalty to the Turkish industry and military capabilities.

The President Trump must strongly consider imposing CAATSA sanctions on Turkey, sanctions would be a fair deal as President Erdogan had an opportunity to purchase the Patriot missiles at a discounted price and Congress issued countless warnings and statements far before the delivery of Russian weapons took place. The president Trump should know that this is a fair situation, Turkish actions should bear some consequences.

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