ISLAMABAD: Turkey’s top business association has confirmed receiving a letter from the US Treasury warning of possible sanctions if it continues doing business with Russia.
Washington is getting more and more worried that Russia’s government and businesses are using Turkey to get around financial and trade restrictions put in place by the West after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine six months ago.
Earlier this month, at a summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia agreed to work together more on the economy.
From May to July this year, the value of Turkish exports to Russia grew by almost 50%, according to official data.
Turkey’s purchases of Russian oil are on the rise, and the two countries have agreed to switch to rubles as the currency for Gazprom’s natural gas exports.
Wally Adeyemo, the US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, made a rare trip to Ankara and Istanbul in June to express Washington’s concern that Russian oligarchs and big businesses were using Turkish entities to get around Western sanctions.
Turkey, which is a member of NATO and gets along well with both Moscow and Kyiv, has tried to stay out of the conflict and hasn’t joined the international sanctions.
Adeyemo then sent a letter to Turkey’s TUSIAD business association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Turkey. In the letter, he warned that companies and banks in Turkey could also be punished.
In a statement released on Tuesday, TUSIAD said that the letter had been sent to Turkey’s foreign and finance ministries.
This week, The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on what was in the letter.
“Anyone or any group that gives material support to US-designated people is at risk of being sanctioned by the US,” Adeyemo wrote.
“Turkish banks can’t expect to build relationships with Russian banks that are under sanctions and keep their relationships with major global banks and access to the US dollar and other major currencies at the same time.”
Erdogan and Putin signed an agreement to work together on the economy. This agreement includes a deal for more Turkish banks to start using Russia’s Mir payments system.
The letter from Adeyemo has not been officially answered by Turkish officials.
A wider range of cooperation with Russia could help Turkey’s struggling economy before the general election next year.
Erdogan has said in the past that Ankara can’t join Western sanctions against Moscow because Turkey imports so much oil and natural gas from Russia.
Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin said in June, “Our economy is in such a way that putting sanctions on Russia would hurt Turkey the most.”
“We’ve done things in a clear way. Right now, people in the West have come to terms with this.”