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19 June, 2024
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Western retaliation against Ankara

Actions will be taken if Turkey reaches out too much to Russia and helps avoid sanctions

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Western governments are expressing concern about the tightening of relations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a development that makes the prospect of retaliation more likely if the NATO member state helps Moscow avoid sanctions. Six officials spoke to the Financial Times, expressing fears about the content of the expanded cooperation in trade and energy decided last Friday in Sochi when the two leaders met. An EU official revealed that the Union is closely monitoring Russian-Turkish relations. At the same time, a Western official left open the possibility that businesses and banks could be withdrawn from Turkey if Erdogan proceeds to implement his intentions, as he outlined last week at Putin's side. It is a highly unusual threat against a NATO member that could devastate the country's already fragile economy.

Individual actions

...Ukraine has identified a document from Moscow giving instructions on how Russia can be helped to avoid sanctions through Turkish banks.

Even if there is no agreement at the federal level within the EU, member countries could take action. "For example, they could call for restrictions on the financing of Turkish businesses. I would not rule out negative actions if Turkey reaches out too much to Russia," a European official commented. The hints of potential retaliation against Turkey come at a time when Ukraine has identified a document from Moscow giving instructions on how Russia can be helped to avoid sanctions through Turkish banks.

Washington has repeatedly warned that it will hit with secondary sanctions any countries that assist Moscow in violating sanctions. U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Wally Adayemo had contacts in June with Turkish officials and bankers to threaten them to stop acting as a conduit for illicit Russian money. A senior Western official suggested that governments could retaliate against Ankara by asking Western firms to cut off or at least limit their relations with Turkey. This action could raise thorny legal and practical issues and would likely provoke opposition from many European governments reluctant to impose such harsh measures against a neighboring country. At the same time, it would conflict with a variety of commercial interests. "There are strong economic interests that would fight such retaliation," a European official explained. Erdogan's relations with the West are being tested anyway. Washington has imposed sanctions on Ankara in 2020 in response to its purchase of Russian S-400s, though the measures hit Turkey's defense industry rather than the broader economy.

The Turkish president, after all, has many tools of leverage. He has repeatedly threatened to veto Sweden and Finland's NATO membership. At the same time, he is a vital EU partner on refugees and terrorism. The country hosts 3.7 million Syrians under a 2016 agreement with the E.U. The war in Ukraine has underscored Turkey's strategic position, controlling the straits that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Erdogan also played a major role in the conclusion of the Moscow-Kyiv grain deal, which helped to avoid a global food crisis.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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