Western capitals alarmed by burgeoning Turkey, Russia ties - Financial Times
Western states are increasingly concerned over intensifying economic ties between Turkey and Russia, warning of the mounting risk of Ankara facing potential punitive retaliation if it assists Moscow in avoiding sanctions, the Financial Times said on Saturday.
Six western officials told the Financial Times that they were concerned about Friday’s agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for co-operation on trade and energy, it said.
The EU is monitoring Turkish-Russian co-operation “more and more closely”, voicing concern that Turkey was “increasingly” becoming a platform for trade with Russia, an official from the union told the Financial Times.
Putin and Erdoğan on Friday agreed to boost cooperation in the transport, agriculture and construction industries during their four-hour meeting in Russia’s southern city of Sochi. The pair also agreed to switch part of payments for Russian gas to the rouble currency, Reuters reported.
The agreements arrive as the Russian economy has been hard hit by sanctions and the exit of international business since the country invaded Ukraine in February.
While denouncing Russia’s offensive against its neighbour, Turkey, unlike most other NATO countries, has stopped short of slapping punitive measures on Russia and is seeking to mediate between the two warring sides in the hope of brokering a peace deal or a ceasefire.
Turkey’s behaviour toward Russia is “very opportunistic,” another official told the Financial Times. “We are trying to make the Turks pay attention to our concerns.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in March said that his country would welcome sanctioned Russian oligarchs into the country as both tourists and investors, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Moreover, there have been numerous reports over the last few months of luxury yachts owned by Russian oligarchs sailing to Turkey in a bid to avoid Western sanctions.
Some nations that have imposed sanctions on Russia could act 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,” one official told the Financial Times, but added that the suggestion was shot down by several other western officials, who questioned its practicality and legal terms.
“There are very significant economic interests that would probably fight hard against such negative actions,” according to one European official, who also did “not rule out any negative actions [if] Turkey gets too close to Russia”.
“For example they could ask for restrictions on trade finance or ask the large financial companies to reduce finance to Turkish companies,” he said.
There had not yet been any official discussions in Brussels about possible repercussions for Turkey, three European officials said, while several others have cautioned that the full details and repercussions of the discussions between Erdoğan and Putin were not clear.
Relations between Ankara and its Western allies in the United States and Europe have been on a steady downward trajectory for years.
The United States has already imposed penalties on Turkey’s defence industry over its Russian S-400 missile purchase, saying the Russian system could be used to gather intelligence on Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 stealth jet.
Washington had previously suspended Turkish defence contractors from the international program to help build the F-35 fighter jets.
The country is also in an effective ongoing standoff with NATO over its objection to Sweden and Finland joining the military alliance, sparked by Ankara’s long-standing concern about the countries’ alleged support of Kurdish separatists.