Secondary sanctions are all the rage as Washington gets more desperate to crack down on unaligned countries. The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on five Turkish companies and one Turkish national accused of helping Russia evade sanctions and supporting Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, turning up the pressure on Ankara over its neutral stance on the Ukraine war, writes Mark Episkopos, an adjunct professor of history at Marymount University, writing on national security and international relations issues.
The new round of designations — part of a larger sanctions package targeting a wide array of Russian entities — included Turkish companies Margiana Insaat Dis Ticaret and Demirci Bilisim Ticaret Sanayi, accused of facilitating the transfer of dual-use goods to Russia.
Ankara sharply broke ranks with its fellow NATO member states, rejecting the West’s maximum pressure strategy against the Kremlin in an effort to position itself as a possible mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.
Not only has Turkey refused to participate in the Western sanctions regime, but Ankara’s trade relations with Moscow have boomed in the invasion’s aftermath. Reuters reported earlier in 2023 that Turkey’s exports to Russia jumped 262 percent year over year, reflecting the stark degree to which Ankara has profited from the vacuum caused by the withdrawal of Western economic actors from Russian markets.
Moscow and Ankara have even agreed on the construction of a new gas hub on Turkish territory that would provide Russia with alternate supply routes for gas exports, though the ambitious project is apparently being held up by management disputes.
Russia’s economy has proven highly resilient against successive waves of U.S. and EU sanctions packages in large part because it has maintained and even deepened trade ties with much of the non-western world, notably including Turkey, key Middle Eastern actors, and the other BRICS countries. The Biden administration has sought to tighten the screws on Russia by levying secondary sanctions on Chinese, UAE, Turkish, and other entities accused of helping Moscow acquire advanced technology and other goods that U.S. officials say can be used to bolster the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has built a political brand, cemented well before the 2022 Ukraine invasion with his decision to import S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, as a swing player between Russia and the West. Erdogan has proven adept at exploiting the geopolitical leverage afforded by Turkey’s position as a strategically situated Eurasian crossroads, maneuvering between Moscow and Western capitals to advance a ruthlessly pragmatic foreign policy vision that flouts and occasionally even defies broader NATO objectives.
The Ukraine war has provided Erdogan with a surfeit of opportunities to advance this signature brand of statesmanship. Rushing to fill the diplomatic void left by Western states pursuing a maximum-pressure strategy against Moscow, Turkey has cemented its status as one of the war’s most important brokers with its role in hosting the ill-fated Spring 2022 Russia-Ukraine peace talks and implementing the Black Sea Grain Initiative, better known as the Ukraine grain deal.
It appears unlikely that Erdogan will be dissuaded from his nonaligned stance by this latest round of secondary sanctions, which follows a similar set of designations announced in April 2023; nor is there any indication that the Biden administration is contemplating upping the ante with more direct punitive actions against Ankara, Mark Episkopos notes.