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Erdoğan walks a fine line as the Ukraine war’s double agent – POLITICO

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Whose aspect are you actually on?

That’s the query that is certain to loom giant in the thoughts of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he meets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Lviv on Thursday. Of all the members of the NATO alliance, Erdoğan is definitely the most slippery by way of his allegiances.

On the one hand, Zelenskyy has grounds to thank the Turkish chief. Erdoğan is attempting to current himself as a impartial energy dealer on the Black Sea, mediating between Russia and Ukraine to allow grain exports to resume out of blockaded ports. A Turkish firm — one among whose executives is Erdoğan’s son-in-law — is the provider of the Bayraktar drones which have given Ukrainian forces a decisive enhance on the battlefield, to the fury of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Erdoğan has additionally closed the Black Sea to Russian naval reinforcements via the Bosphorus.

On the different hand, Turkey is going through accusations of being a warfare profiteer, or somewhat what sanctions specialists name a “black knight” — a nation that helps in the evasion of worldwide embargoes for its personal profit. A surge in Turkey-Russia commerce and the adoption of a Russian fee system by Turkish banks since the outbreak of the warfare has triggered hypothesis that Ankara has noticed the benefits of giving Moscow a serving to hand as its personal mismanaged and inflation-crippled economic system lurches uncontrolled.

Turkey is “being pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russia,” mentioned former Turkish diplomat Sinan Ülgen, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe suppose tank.

Many Western diplomats, nonetheless, are much less forgiving about Turkey’s double sport. “You can’t be with each side in a warfare like this. It’s a member of NATO!” complained an envoy from one EU nation.

In apply, there’s little Western nations can do. There are factors of leverage that the U.S. and EU do have over Turkey, however the dangers of deploying them are excessive. Greece is already accusing Turkey of more and more perilous army saber-rattling with fighter jet incursions over the Aegean Sea and of pushing migrants into its waters. The West additionally doesn’t need Erdoğan to revert to his veto on Finland and Sweden becoming a member of NATO.

Black knight

For now, Brussels and Washington are merely monitoring Ankara’s strikes.

Trade is rising 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 via the noise created by spikes in oil and fuel costs, it’s nonetheless clear that Russia has now overtaken China as the largest single supply of Turkish imports. Russia represented a 17 p.c share of imports into Turkey between April and June 2022, in contrast with a 10 p.c share a 12 months earlier.

European firms are cautious of the reputational danger that buying and selling with Russia brings, even in relation to non-sanctioned items. Instead, they use Turkey as an export base to resupply Russia. While this will increase moral questions, it’s not sanctions evasion as such.

But Turkey is working in a gray zone, specialists argue.

There are considerations that Turkey helps Russia get round the monetary stranglehold in opposition to Moscow | Ozan Kose/AFP by way of Getty Images

If European firms intentionally export sanctioned items to Turkey, that are then resold to Russia, this may be seen as sanction circumvention, mentioned Jan Dunin-Wasowicz, a lawyer at Hughes Hubbard & Reed who focuses on cross-border compliance and regulatory enforcement. “You cannot knowingly and intentionally participate in an activity that would be illegal if undertaken directly.”

Maria Shagina, a analysis fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, noticed: “While everyone is focusing on China, Turkey is much bolder and more assertive to really balance on that edge of what’s legal and what’s illegal.”

A former senior sanctions official at the U.S. Treasury mentioned Turkey, which advantages from privileged entry to the EU market by way of its nearly tariff-free customs union with Brussels, had developed a status as a entrance line for sanctions evasion. He warned, nonetheless, that actual evasion was typically not captured in formal commerce figures, which principally present simply the redirection of above-the-board commerce.

In addition to the commerce enhance, there are additionally considerations that Turkey helps Russia get round the monetary stranglehold in opposition to Moscow. Putin and Erdoğan agreed earlier this month to settle a few of their commerce in rubles. Five Turkish banks have additionally adopted the Russian fee system Mir — a substitute for the Western SWIFT fee system, from which most Russian monetary establishments have been excluded.

Only fanning the flames of suspicion, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has additionally said Russian oligarchs are welcome in Turkey. If solely to show the level, the Eclipse, one among the superyachts of Roman Abramovich, former proprietor of Chelsea Football Club, was noticed final week at the Marmaris Cruise Port, in response to the Turkish Anadolu information company.

Turkey itself dismisses Western considerations and mentioned the new items’ flows merely mirrored a shift in buying and selling patterns taken completely legally by the personal sector.

“We made it clear that we will not allow Türkiye to be a channel for the circumvention or evasion of sanctions,” mentioned a Turkish diplomat. “We want to maintain our ongoing trade with the Russian Federation, but we are not taking any major new steps.”

The official did, nonetheless, acknowledge that Ankara was strolling a “fine line” and that the nation was “doing that very carefully.”

Relationship standing? It’s difficult

Closer cooperation between Turkey and Russia has clear financial advantages for Erdoğan, who’s going through elections subsequent 12 months amid skyrocketing inflation.

Ankara additionally merely can’t afford to chop ties with Moscow.

“Turkey is dependent on Russia in many different ways,” mentioned Yevgeniya Gaber, a Turkey-based nonresident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council suppose tank, pointing to mass Russian tourism in Turkey and Russian power flows. Russia supplied round a quarter of Turkey’s oil imports and nearly half of its pure fuel wants in 2021, and Moscow additionally controls Turkey’s nuclear energy plant of Akkuyu.

The Eclipse, one among former proprietor of Chelsea Football Club Roman Abramovich’s yachts, at the Marmaris Cruise Port on August 12, 2022 | Sabri Kesen/Anadolu Agency by way of Getty Images

A disaster in Turkish-Russian relations would “immediately backfire and create a lot of problems for Erdoğan ahead of the elections,” mentioned Gaber, who can be a former Ukrainian diplomat.

The political advantages are equally vital, as Erdoğan is attempting to look abroad to assist clear up his nation’s issues. 

Russia and Turkey have been on opposing ends of a number of conflicts in the area, together with in Crimea. But the diplomatic partnership between Putin and Erdoğan has additionally helped to handle some regional conflicts in the area, mentioned the former diplomat Ülgen, pointing to the Astana peace process for Syria and the deal round the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh

What you gonna do?

Western nations have been pressuring Turkey to keep away from appearing as a circumvention hotspot. Now that the political room for the West to slap new sanctions on Russia has been narrowed, the focus is shifting much more to making sure that present sanctions are enforced.

Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Commission, mentioned it’s important that Turkey “does not offer circumventing solutions to Russia,” including that “we continue to monitor the situation in this regard closely.”

Francesco Giumelli, affiliate professor in worldwide relations at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, mentioned it stays to be seen how lengthy the EU and different NATO members will tolerate Erdoğan taking part in “this double game between having agreements with Putin, but at the same time also being a NATO member and being very close to the U.S. with NATO membership.”

But there may be solely a lot the West can do.

Brussels has some political leverage over Turkey, for instance in relation to visa liberalization for Turkish residents. Stano pointed to Turkey’s standing as a candidate nation to hitch the European Union. But that accession course of froze up in all however title by June 2018.

The similar goes for the customs union, which the European Commission tried to modernize in 2016, however these talks have stalled given the deteriorating EU-Turkey relationship.

“Had we been in a different world where the Turkey-EU relationship was strong … the EU might have more authority over Turkey [over sanctions],” mentioned Ülgen. “But now, there is none of that.”

Ülgen pressured there isn’t a scope in the present customs union for any political affect on Turkey. That would have been totally different if any modernization of the customs union would have to be politically ratified in Brussels, however that’s not the case.

Brussels does have some political leverage over Turkey | Ozan Kose/AFP by way of Getty Images

Washington is firing considerably sterner warning photographs at Ankara to not go too far.

A U.S. official mentioned that if Turkey had been to enter into a formal financial partnership with Russia, Washington would take into account recommending Western firms withdraw or lower their financial ties with Ankara.

“We think that Turkey should be a global destination for business and capital, but a closer relationship with Russia will create real risks for Turkey’s integration with the rest of the world,” the official mentioned.

If the West can show Turkey is evading sanctions, Washington may even go a step additional by reducing off Turkey from the greenback by way of secondary sanctions. 

But in relation to sanctions guidelines, the interpretation is typically simply as vital as the precise legislation, mentioned Shagina from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. And that is the place the concern of not desirous to alienate Turkey too far is available in.

Erdoğan, for his half, additionally is aware of he shouldn’t overstep. The Turkish official mentioned Ankara is conscious of the “risks of secondary sanctions,” but in addition warned about overreach, particularly from the U.S. aspect.

“If Turkish companies are targeted, we will react and this would be counterproductive,” the official mentioned.

Doug Palmer contributed reporting from Washington and Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting from London.

CORRECTION: This story has been amended to appropriate the location of Thursday’s assembly.

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