Western countries are increasingly concerned about growing ties between Turkey and Russia, heightening the possibility of punitive action against the NATO member state if it assists Russia in avoiding sanctions, Financial Times (FT) reported, citing anonymous officials.
Following their four-hour meeting in Sochi on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to increase their collaboration in commerce and energy.
Six Western officials told FT that they were concerned about this promise.
According to the FT report, an EU official said the 27-member bloc was monitoring Turkish-Russian relations “more and more closely.”
Western nations could ask their banks and companies to leave Turkey if Erdoğan follows through on the plans he announced on Friday, a senior official told FT.
The EU has not yet conducted any formal conversations regarding potential consequences for Turkey, according to three European sources cited by FT.
Even though it would be difficult for the EU to officially decide to impose sanctions on Turkey due to disagreements on the subject within the organization, some individual member states could still take action even in the absence of an EU consensus.
“For example, they could ask for restrictions on trade finance or ask the large financial companies to reduce finance to Turkish companies,” FT quoted one official as saying.
According to a Ukrainian intelligence official and a Western diplomat cited in the FT report, the indications of potential reprisal against Turkey come after Ukraine intercepted a document from Moscow outlining ways to help Russia evade sanctions through Turkish banks.
Washington has regularly threatened to impose “secondary sanctions” that target transgressions outside the purview of US law on those who aid Russia in evading sanctions. Wally Adeyemo, the deputy secretary of the US Treasury, met with Turkish authorities and bankers in June to caution them against acting as a conduit for illegal Russian money.
After their meeting in Sochi last week, Erdoğan confirmed that Turkey agreed to pay for Russian natural gas imports in roubles.
Speaking to reporters on his flight home from Russia, Erdoğan mentioned that there had been “very serious developments” regarding the use of the Mir payment card system, which enables Russians living in Turkey to make purchases using their credit or debit cards at a time when Visa and Mastercard have ceased operations in their home country.
Mir cards will enable Russian travelers to pay for lodging and shopping, Erdoğan said. Officials in the West fear that they might also be used to evade sanctions.
The Western financial system is strongly ingrained in Turkey, and companies like Coca-Cola, Ford, Bosch and BP all have long-standing and profitable operations there.
Governments, according to the senior Western official who spoke to FT, could retaliate against Ankara by “calling on Western firms to either pull out of relationships in Turkey, or to shrink their relationships with Turkey, in light of the risk that would be created by Turkey expanding their relationship with Russia.”
A number of European states leery of taking such severe action against a close neighbor would likely express outright opposition to such a move, which would raise complex legal and logistical difficulties. Additionally, it would clash with business interests.
“There are very significant economic interests that would probably fight hard against such negative actions,” FT quoted a European official as saying.
A member of the NATO military alliance, Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good ties with both.
While it has continued to supply drones to Ukraine, it has also avoided imposing sanctions on Russia and pushed for truce talks between Moscow and Kyiv.