U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told Turkish Deputy Finance Minister Yunus Elitas that Russian entities and individuals were attempting to use Turkey to bypass Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s war in Ukraine, the Treasury Department said.
In a phone call, the two also discussed ongoing efforts to implement and enforce the sanctions against Russia, the department said in a statement, reports Reuters.
In its own readout of the call, the Turkish finance ministry said Elitas had stressed Turkey’s deep economic and political relations with both Russia and Ukraine but also assured Adeyemo that Ankara would not allow any violation of the sanctions.
“Elitas confirmed that Turkey’s position has not changed regarding the current processes and sanctions, but that it would not allow the breaching of sanctions by any institution or person,” the ministry said.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Gareth Jones)
What is the background?
Turkey is facing accusations of being a war profiteer, or rather what sanctions experts call a “black knight” — a nation that helps in the evasion of international embargoes for its own benefit. A surge in Turkey-Russia trade and the adoption of a Russian payment system by Turkish banks since the outbreak of the war has triggered speculation that Ankara has spotted the advantages of giving Moscow a helping hand as its own mismanaged and inflation-crippled economy lurches out of control.
Trade is increasing between Moscow and Ankara. Turkey’s exports to Russia jumped from $417.3 million in July 2021 to $730 million in July 2022. Imports from Russia jumped from $2.5 billion dollars in July 2021 to $4.4 billion in July 2022. Cutting through the noise created by spikes in oil and gas prices, it is still clear that Russia has now overtaken China as the largest single source of Turkish imports. Russia represented a 17 percent share of imports into Turkey between April and June 2022, compared with a 10 percent share a year earlier.
A former senior sanctions official at the U.S. Treasury said Turkey, which benefits from privileged access to the EU market via its virtually tariff-free customs union with Brussels, had developed a reputation as a front line for sanctions evasion. He warned, however, that real evasion was often not captured in formal trade figures, which mostly show just the redirection of above-the-board trade, according to Politico.
If the West can prove Turkey is evading sanctions, Washington could even go a step further by cutting off Turkey from the dollar via secondary sanctions.
But when it comes to sanctions rules, the interpretation is sometimes just as important as the actual law, said Shagina from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. And that’s where the fear of not wanting to alienate Turkey too far comes in.
Erdoğan, for his part, also knows he shouldn’t overstep. The Turkish official said Ankara is aware of the “risks of secondary sanctions,” but also warned about overreach, especially from the U.S. side.
“If Turkish companies are targeted, we will react and this would be counterproductive,” the official said.
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