Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan: EU relations have sunk to new lows in past three years (Photo: Flickr)

EU states have agreed to stop arms sales to Turkey over its invasion of Syria.

They also agreed to impose visa bans and asset freezes over its gas drilling in Cypriot waters, marking a nadir in relations with their Nato ally.

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EU countries "commit to strong national positions" on Turkey arms sales based on rules that forbid exports that harm "regional stability", they said after a foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (14 October).

"Restrictive measures targeting [Turkish] natural and legal persons responsible for or involved in the illegal [gas] drilling activity" would also go ahead "swiftly", they said.

The wording on the "national" arms ban made it different to existing EU-level arms embargoes on countries such as China and Russia.

It was different because the EU did not want to "enter into a zone of conflict with Turkey" and because an EU-level ban might have created legal complications for Turkey's fellow Nato members, EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini, said.

But it was still "their [EU states'] national legal responsibility to do it," she added.

"We do not wish to support this war and do not want to make arms available," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said in Luxembourg the same day.

"In the next few hours, Italy too will sign a ban on the export of arms to Turkey," Italian foreign minister Luigi di Maio added.

All 28 EU states "have unanimously decided to 'condemn' - that is the verb, not concern, not worry - but to 'condemn' in strong terms what in the end is a military attack," the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, who is due to take over from Mogherini in her EU post in November, also told the Associated Press news agency in an interview.

European states issued licences for €2.8bn of arms sales to Turkey in 2017, EU records show.

Spain led the way with almost a billion euros of licences for aircraft equipment in 2017. France issued permits worth €736m for mostly military vehicles and electronics. The UK was ready to sell €660m of "miscellaneous equipment" and Italy issued licences for €266m of mainly small arms and ammunition.

But for its part, Turkey mocked the decision.

'Joke'

The arms ban was a "joke" because "we have enough of an industrial base to substitute them with our much better systems", Turkey's envoy to the UN in Geneva, Sadik Arslan, told press on Monday.

EU leaders were acting on the basis of "serious disinformation pressure", Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Ankara the same day.

"We are a Nato ally. Please note that these countries are all Nato countries," he added.

The EU decision came six days after Turkey invaded northern Syria, a stronghold of Kurdish forces who had fought alongside a European and US coalition trying to destroy Isis, an Islamist militant group responsible for several attacks in Europe.

Erdogan made his move after US president Donald Trump gave him the green light by phone.

The EU is concerned the fighting could end up freeing Isis captives being held in Kurdish jails.

And Trump himself said in a tweet on Monday that "big sanctions on Turkey coming" because Erdogan's military offensive had gone too far.

But he added that the "Kurds may be releasing some [Isis captives] to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European nations from where many came".

Nato's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at an event in London von Monday, also warned that "we risk undermining the unity we need in the fight against Daesh [another name for Isis]".

"Turkey is important for Nato. It has proven important in many ways, not least in the fight against Daesh. We have used, as Nato allies, the global coalition, all of us have used infrastructure in Turkey, bases in Turkey in our operations to defeat Daesh," he added.

The EU measures on gas drilling come six months after Turkish vessels began operations in Cyprus' economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey is an EU membership candidate.

But the accession talks were put on hold in 2016, following Erdogan's mass-scale crackdown on people he accused of having supporting a failed coup against his rule.

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