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Turkey-US Relations: Trump’s Turkey sanctions are all about the midterms and the Evangelical vote, may help Russia

The Donald Trump administration announced Thursday that it would impose sanctions on Turkey over its continued detention of American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested in 2016 on charges of spying and involvement in a failed coup to overthrow the government, allegations he denies.

While the sanctions are not, in fact, a hammer blow to the economy and will only affect a few individuals, they send a powerful and potentially irreversible message to Ankara: that its alliance with the U.S. and NATO membership is far from sacrosanct.

And while the move could be seen as simply an escalation of simmering tensions between the two countries following fall outs over Syria policy and Turkey's controversial purchase of Russian weapons systems, the focus on the Brunson case signals domestic political strategy at play.

The U.S. is now less than 100 days from the November midterm elections, and Trump is working hard to galvanize his voter base in order to fend off Democratic wins in the House and Senate.

For many on the right, the Brunson case has become a rallying cry for the religious freedom of Christians around the world — something of high importance to the evangelical voter.

"It's pretty remarkable how far the Trump administration is willing to go — putting at jeopardy the relationship with a NATO ally over a preacher," said Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management. "It just shows the importance of the evangelical vote in the U.S. as it heads to midterms."

Read more: Trump’s Turkey sanctions are all about the midterms, may help Russia

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