The US has told the United Arab Emirates and Turkey that their economic and financial ties to Russia are hampering efforts to curb Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Brian Nelson, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US Treasury, met with Turkish officials on Thursday and Friday to discuss US concerns about the rising exports that include US goods, according to people with knowledge of the matter. It was part of a regional tour that included the UAE earlier this week.
US officials told Turkey to clamp down on a flow of goods to Russia. They warned their counterparts that tens of millions of dollars’ worth of export-controlled goods were reaching Russia and could be used by the defense industry to extend the conflict, the people said.
Between March and October of last year, dozens of Turkish exporters sent about $800 million worth of goods to Russia, including $300 million in machinery and another $80 million in electronics, they said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
Officials at Turkey’s trade and finance ministries were not immediately available for comment.
Nelson is the third senior official from the US Treasury to visit Turkey in a year, ratcheting up pressure to comply with US sanctions. More visits from the EU and the US on the topic are expected to take place in the coming weeks, the people said.
The UAE and Turkey have emerged as havens for Russian wealth over the past year, complicating US efforts to muster a unified front against President Vladimir Putin. The UAE has maintained ties with both Ukraine and Russia, as the war splits large world powers. The Gulf state’s ruler traveled to meet Putin in October amid an upsurge in the conflict.
In the UAE, Nelson discussed steps to clamp down on sanctions evasion, people briefed on those discussions said. The US told officials that the UAE’s deepening financial ties with Moscow were hindering its efforts to isolate Russia.
The US released a statement on Thursday saying the UAE talks focused on “coordination on illicit finance and other regional issues.”
Drones and Oil
The US officials raised concerns over the role that UAE businesses have played in the transfer of Iranian drones to Moscow and enabling Tehran to skirt sanctions on oil exports, the people said.
The UAE said during the visit “US officials recognized the UAE’s efforts to strengthen its policies and enforcement mechanisms in the fight against financial crime and illicit money flows,” a foreign ministry statement said. The officials also discussed more cooperation on combating money laundering and terrorist financing, it added.
In Turkey, other areas of concern included Russian vessels either sanctioned or subject to export controls making port calls in Turkey.
Turkey has deepened its economic and trade ties with Russia, which have benefited from a strong personal relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin. Erdogan, seeking another term as president in elections slated for May, has sought financial support from Russia to help manage a turbulent time in the economy.
Erdogan has well-established ties with Kyiv too, and has sought to position Turkey as a mediator in the war. He has helped secure deals to resume grain shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and facilitated prisoner exchanges.
Some of Washington’s warnings have prompted action. All five Turkish banks that participated in the Russian Mir payments system withdrew from it following a US warning last year. Turkish aviation companies are working on ending services to Russian companies, following similar warnings.