Western capitals are increasingly alarmed by deepening economic cooperation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, warning of the growing risk that the NATO member state could be hit by punitive retaliation if it helps Russia avoid sanctions.
Six Western officials told the Financial Times they were concerned about a pledge by the Turkish and Russian leaders on Friday to expand their cooperation on trade and energy after a four-hour meeting in Sochi.
An EU official said the 27-member bloc was monitoring Turkish-Russian cooperation “increasingly closely”, expressing concern that Turkey was “increasingly” becoming a platform for trade with Russia
Another described Turkey’s behavior towards Russia as “very opportunistic”, adding: “We are trying to get the Turks to pay attention to our concerns.”
Washington has repeatedly warned that it will hit countries that help Russia evade sanctions with “secondary sanctions” aimed at violations outside US legal jurisdiction; however, the EU has been more reluctant to do so.
US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo met with Turkish officials and bankers in Istanbul in June to warn them against becoming a conduit for illicit Russian money.
A senior Western official suggested countries could ask their companies and banks to pull out of Turkey if President Erdoğan follows through on commitments he made on Friday, a highly unusual threat against another NATO member state that could paralyze the country’s 800 billion dollars. economy if foreign companies agree to comply.
The official said that nations that have imposed sanctions on Russia could act against Ankara “by asking Western companies to abandon their relations in Turkey or to reduce their relations with Turkey, in light of the risk it would pose if Turkey expanded its relations with Turkey”. relationship with Russia”.
However, this suggestion was rejected by several Western officials, who questioned how it would work in practical and legal terms and whether it would be a good idea.
Turkey is deeply integrated into the Western financial system, and brands from Coca-Cola and Ford to Bosch and BP have long-standing and often highly profitable operations in the country.
“There are very important economic interests that would probably fight hard against these negative actions,” said one European official.
But the official added that he “would not rule out any negative action [if] Turkey is getting too close to Russia”.
While he admitted that a formal EU decision on sanctions against Turkey would be challenging given the divisions within the bloc, he suggested that some individual member states could take action. “For example, they could ask for restrictions on trade financing or ask the big financial companies to reduce financing to Turkish companies,” he said.
Three European officials said there had not yet been any official discussion in Brussels about possible repercussions for Turkey. Several others cautioned that the full details and ramifications of the discussions in Sochi were still unclear.
The warnings come a day after Putin and Erdoğan, who has pursued what he calls a “balanced” approach to Kyiv and Moscow since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, engaged in a long standoff that culminated in a joint . commitment to increase bilateral trade volumes and deepen economic and energy ties.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, Moscow’s top energy official, told reporters that Turkey had agreed to start paying for Russian gas in rubles, according to Interfax. Putin and Erdogan discussed developing banking ties and settlements in rubles and liras, he added.
Speaking on his plane back from Russia, Erdoğan told reporters that there were also “very serious developments” in the use of Russia’s MIR payment card system, which allows Russians in Turkey to pay by card in a at which time Visa and Mastercard have suspended operations in Turkey. your country of origin.
Erdogan said the MIR cards would help Russian tourists pay for shopping and hotels. Western officials fear they could also be used to avoid sanctions.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and the West are already strained. Washington hit Ankara with sanctions in 2020 in retaliation for its purchase of an S-400 air defense system from Moscow, although the measures targeted the country’s defense industry rather than the wider economy.
Erdogan, who has repeatedly threatened to veto the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO, is seen in many Western capitals as an increasingly unreliable ally. However, Turkey is a vital partner for Europe in the fight against terrorism and refugees. The country hosts about 3.7 million Syrians as part of a 2016 deal with the EU that helped stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has highlighted Turkey’s strategically important location, controlling access to the straits that link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
Erdogan also played a key role in securing the grain deal signed by Russia and Ukraine last month that was aimed at averting a global food crisis.