Turkey’s finance minister told businesses on Friday (August 26) that they shouldn’t worry about the threat of sanctions that Washington says will follow if they do business with sanctioned Russians.
Nureddin Nebati’s comments on Twitter represent Ankara’s first official response to a letter the US Treasury sent to Turkish companies on Monday.
U.S. Assistant Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo has warned Turkish banks and businesses that they will face secondary sanctions if they cooperate with sanctioned Russians in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The value of Turkey’s trade with Russia jumped nearly 50% between May and July.
Nebati said the letter should not “worry our business community. Turkey is one of the most important centers of political and economic power in the world”.
NATO member Turkey – on good terms with Moscow and Kyiv – has tried to remain neutral in the conflict and has refused to join international sanctions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to step up economic cooperation at a summit in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi earlier this month.
US officials fear that sanctioned Russians are creating Turkish entities to trade with the outside world.
They also fear that European companies will do the same to circumvent EU sanctions imposed on Russian trade.
Nebati said Turkey was “committed to developing our trade relations with our neighbors in various sectors – especially tourism – within a framework that is not subject to sanctions”.
Part of the concern in the United States stems from Turkey’s decision to switch to payment in rubles for the natural gas it imports from the Kremlin-linked giant Gazprom.
Washington is also concerned that Russia is using Turkey to acquire technology whose export has been banned by Washington and the EU.
Data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal showed Russians had opened more than 500 businesses in Turkey so far this year, more than double the number opened last year.
Erdoğan argued that Turkey must remain “neutral” in the dispute because its industries are heavily dependent on Russian energy imports.