Turkey’s exports to Russia of goods vital for Moscow’s war on Ukraine have soared this year, heightening concerns among the US and its allies that the country is acting as a conduit for sensitive items from their own manufacturers, the Financial Times reported.
The growing trade, and the corresponding rise in imports to Turkey of 45 civilian materials used by Russia’s military, has undermined US and European attempts to curb Moscow’s ability to equip its armed forces, fueling tensions between Ankara and its NATO partners.
In a sign of how it has become a priority in Washington to rein in this trade, Brian Nelson, US Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will visit İstanbul and Ankara this week, where he is set to discuss “efforts to prevent, disrupt, and investigate trade and financial activity that benefit the Russian effort in its war against Ukraine.”
It will be Nelson’s second trip to Turkey this year and comes amid indications that some dual-use parts — identified by the US and its allies as being of particular value to the war — are being transported directly to Russia even when they have been labelled as going to another country.
Efforts to cut off this ghost trade to Russia have been complicated as the items have both commercial and military applications.
In the first nine months of 2023, Turkey reported $158 million of exports of 45 goods the US lists as “high-priority” to Russia and five former Soviet countries suspected of acting as intermediaries for Moscow. That was three times the level recorded over the same period in 2022, when the war in Ukraine began.
The average figure for 2015-21 was $28 million, according to a Financial Times analysis of data from customs database Trade Data Monitor.
The 45 categories of goods, which include items such as microchips, communications equipment and parts such as telescopic sights, are subject to US, EU, Japanese and UK export controls aimed at preventing them from entering Russia. But these can be circumvented by companies using middlemen structures to disguise their ultimate destinations.
Turkey’s imports of high-priority goods from G7 countries are up more than 60 percent so far this year compared with the same periods between 2015 and 2021 to nearly $500 million.
Russia uses the high-priority goods in its cruise missiles, drones and helicopters, according to US and EU battlefield assessments.
Turkey has retained strong diplomatic and trade links with Russia, while also pledging not to help Moscow circumvent Western export controls.
The United States has imposed sanctions on several occasions on individuals and companies it accused of abetting Russia’s war against Ukraine, targeting entities in Turkey among others.
According to the US Treasury Department, Russia has been exploiting “otherwise legitimate economic relationships” with other countries.