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Alarm is rising in Western capitals over deepening ties between Turkey and Russia




Western capitals are increasingly alarmed by the deepening ties between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan and Vladimir Putin, raising the prospect of punitive retaliation against the NATO member if he helps Russia evade sanctions.

Six Western officials told the Financial Times they were concerned about the Turkish and Russian leaders’ pledge to expand cooperation on trade and energy after the two men met in Sochi on Friday.

An EU official said the 27-member bloc was monitoring Turkish-Russian relations increasingly closely. A senior Western official also suggested countries could call on their businesses and banks to pull out of Turkey if Erdoan follows through on the intentions he outlined on Friday, a highly unusual threat against another NATO member state that could seriously damage its already fragile $800 billion economy. .

Three European officials said the EU had not yet held formal discussions on the possible repercussions for Turkey. Several others warned that it was unclear what Erdoan and Putin had agreed on and that a formal EU decision on sanctions against Turkey would be difficult given divisions over the issue within the bloc.

But even without an agreement with the EU, some member states could take action. For example, they could ask for trade finance restrictions or ask big financial firms to cut funding for Turkish companies, an official said. I wouldn’t rule out any negative action [if] Turkey is getting too close to Russia, he added.

Hints of potential retaliation against Turkey come after Ukraine intercepted a document from Moscow that outlines ways to help Russia evade sanctions through Turkish banks, according to a Ukrainian intelligence official and diplomat western.

Washington has repeatedly warned that it will hit countries that help Russia evade sanctions with secondary sanctions targeting violations beyond US legal jurisdiction. US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo met with Turkish officials and Istanbul bankers in June to warn them not to become a conduit for illicit Russian money.

After last week’s meeting in Sochi, Moscow’s top energy official, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, told reporters that Turkey had agreed to pay for Russian gas in rubles, according to Interfax. Putin and Erdoan discussed the further development of banking relations and settlements in rubles and liras, he added.

Speaking on his plane back from Russia, Erdoan told reporters that there were also very serious developments regarding the use of Russia’s Mir payment card system, which allows Russians in Turkey to pay by card at a time when Visa and Mastercard suspended operations in their home countries. . Erdoan said Mir cards would help Russian tourists pay for shopping and hotels. Western officials fear they could also be used to help circumvent sanctions.

Turkey is deeply integrated into the Western financial system, and brands ranging from Coca-Cola and Ford to Bosch and BP have long-standing and often highly profitable operations in the country.

The senior Western official suggested that governments could act against Ankara by calling on Western companies either to withdraw from relations in Turkey or to reduce their relations with Turkey, in light of the risk that the widening of the relationship between Turkey and Russia.

Such a move would create thorny legal and practical issues and would likely face outright opposition from several European governments wary of such harsh measures against a close neighbour.

It would also clash with commercial interests. There are very important economic interests that would likely fight hard against such negative actions, a European official said.

Erdoan has pursued what he calls a balanced approach in Kyiv and Moscow since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

Its diplomatic relations with the West are already strained. Washington hit Ankara with sanctions in 2020 in retaliation for buying an S-400 air defense system from Moscow, though the measures targeted the country’s defense industry rather than the broader economy.

The Turkish president holds significant leverage. He has repeatedly threatened to veto Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership, and is a vital partner for Europe in the fight against terrorism and refugees. The country hosts around 3.7 million Syrians under a deal struck with the EU in 2016 that has helped stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has highlighted the strategic importance of Turkey, controlling access to the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Erdoan also played a role in securing the grain deal signed by Russia and Ukraine last month aimed at averting a global food crisis.




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