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Turkey’s Luck Runs Out Over Russian S-400 Purchase

Sanctions have been threatened for months but may amount to only a slap on the wrist for Turkey’s president.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks past  during a Peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin, on January 19, 2020.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks past during a Peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin, on January 19, 2020. Odd Andersen/ AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. government prepares to sanction Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air defense system, the Trump administration recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara as part of an Israeli-Moroccan normalization deal, and Bhutan decriminalizes homosexuality.

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U.S. to Sanction Turkey over Russian Air Defense System

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. government prepares to sanction Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air defense system, the Trump administration recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara as part of an Israeli-Moroccan normalization deal, and Bhutan decriminalizes homosexuality.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


U.S. to Sanction Turkey over Russian Air Defense System

The Trump administration is set to sanction Turkey over its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The move was threatened for months but now appears imminent, and likely to be announced as soon as today. The decision was first reported by Reuters.

The move would represent a further deterioration in relations between two NATO allies, and provide President-elect Joe Biden with more bridges to build as he inherits the White House on Jan. 20. The move was reportedly suggested by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who pointedly did not meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a recent trip to Turkey.

The measures are to be imposed under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which includes a provision that allows for sanctions on entities that do business with Russian defense companies. The United States fears that Russia will gain access to the F-35 fighter jet’s stealth technology if paired with the Russian system.

As FP’s Jack Detsch reports, the sanctions are a way of pre-empting a demand in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that calls for sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase within 30 days. They are likely to be a “softer package of sanctions that include penalties against Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries but spare … Erdogan and his family or harder retribution against Turkish banks,” Detsch writes.

The price of friendship. As recent U.S.-brokered peace deals between Israel and Arab nations have made clear, weapons purchases are a sure way to curry favor with the Trump administration. The United States announced a $23 billion weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates following its normalization deal with Israel, and just yesterday it was reported that the U.S. was negotiating a sale of advanced drones to Morocco—the same day U.S. President Donald Trump announced the North African country had signed a normalization deal with Israel. By buying from Russia, Turkey diluted the favor it had gained in purchasing 100 F-35 fighter jets—ultimately having its pilots kicked off the program as a result.

A fraying alliance. The move also comes as Western nations adopt a more aggressive posture against Turkey: European Union ministers are said to be preparing sanctions against the country over alleged unauthorized drilling activity tied to energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.


What We’re Following Today

U.S. recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. In exchange for the normalization of ties between Morocco and Israel, the U.S. government has reversed its stance on one of the world’s longest-standing territorial disputes in Western Sahara. As Barak Ravid notes in Axios, “While the normalization deal is a win for Israel and a significant achievement for Trump, recognition of Western Sahara as part of Morocco is a big shift in U.S. policy—and a major diplomatic achievement for Morocco.”

The U.S. move effectively legitimizes Morocco’s controversial occupation of what the U.N. considers a “non-self-governing territory,” just as the Polisario Front renews its armed struggle for independence from Morocco and the creation of a Sahrawi Republic. (Polisario had agreed in 1991 to suspend its armed struggle in exchange for a U.N. supervised referendum that Morocco has never permitted to take place.) A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated that the “the solution to the question can still be found based on Security Council resolutions,” characterizing the U.N. position as “unchanged” despite Washington’s shift.

The day before the announcement, Stephen Zunes warned in Foreign Policy that much more is at stake than a conflict in a sparsely populated corner of Africa. “Washington must recognize the importance of upholding international legal norms, even if the violator is a U.S. ally,” he argued. “Failing to do so not only has the potential to prolong the bitter conflict in Western Sahara, but to upend the liberal global order in its entirety.”

Ghana challenger rejects presidential result. Ghanaian presidential challenger John Mahama has rejected the results of Monday’s election as “fraudulent” after official results showed he lost to President Nana Akufo-Addo, receiving 47 percent of the vote to Akufo-Addo’s 51.5 percent. Mahama, who preceded Akufo-Addo as president, described the results as “fictionalized” and said he would “take all legitimate steps to reverse this tragedy of justice.” Mahama’s claims are a reversal of roles from 2012, when Akufo-Addo rejected Mahama’s victory.

Media tycoon charged in Hong Kong. Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong pro-democracy figure and founder of the popular Apple Daily newspaper, has been charged under the new Beijing-imposed national security laws. Lai was arrested in August and now faces formal charges of colluding with foreign forces, although authorities did not state specifics. Lai has been outspoken about Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, and brought the issue up to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a visit to Washington last year. After that meeting, a mainland representative said Beijing “resolutely opposes foreign forces’ intervention in Hong Kong affairs.”


Keep an Eye On

Gay rights in Asia. Bhutan has decriminalized homosexuality after a vote in the country’s bicameral parliament to scrap a law criminalizing “unnatural sex,” widely believed to mean homosexuality. The change now goes to Bhutan’s king in order to pass into law. The move is the latest relaxation of laws against homosexuality in some countries in Asia and follows India’s decision to decriminalize gay sex in 2018.

War crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh. The human rights group Amnesty International has called for an investigation into possible war crimes committed during the brief conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Amnesty said it was able to verify a number of videos filmed on both sides of the battlefield that show “extrajudicial executions, the mistreatment of prisoners of war and other captives, and desecration of the dead bodies of enemy soldiers.” On Nov. 2, United Nations Human Rights chief Michele Bachelet expressed concern over videos coming out of the conflict that appeared to show war crimes being committed.


Odds and Ends

Dye or don’t. A Chinese university’s soccer team was forced to forfeit a game with a rival school after its players were deemed to have the wrong color hair, the New York Times reports. The game between Fuzhou University and Jimei University was almost abandoned over disputes over some of the players’ dyed hair, which goes against intercollegiate rules. Coaches from both teams attempted to rectify the situation by buying hair dye and fielding a seven players per side, only for a Jimei player to argue that her opponents hair was not “black enough.” The player was ejected and Fuzhou forfeited the game.

China’s commitment to decorum on the soccer field goes right up to the national team: In 2019, players were forced to wear long sleeves while playing in the heat of Abu Dhabi in order to stay on the right side of a ban on the display of tattoos.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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