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The West is worried about the strengthening of relations between Turkey and Russia

The West is worried about the strengthening of relations between Turkey and

Western capitals are increasingly alarmed by deepening ties between Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, raising the possibility of punitive retaliation against the NATO member if it helps Russia avoid sanctions.

Six Western officials told the Financial Times they were concerned about the pledge made by the Turkish and Russian leaders to expand cooperation on trade and energy after the two held a four-hour meeting in Sochi on Friday.

An EU official said the 27-member bloc was monitoring Turkish-Russian relations "increasingly closely". A senior Western official also suggested countries could call on their companies and banks to pull out of Turkey if Erdogan follows through on the goals he outlined on Friday — a highly unusual threat against a NATO member state that could to severely damage its already fragile 800 billion dollar economy.

Three European officials said the EU had not yet held any formal discussions about possible consequences for Turkey. Others warned that it was unclear what Erdogan and Putin had agreed and that a formal EU decision on sanctions against Turkey would be challenging given the divisions on the issue within the bloc. But even without an EU agreement, some individual member states can take action.

"For example, they could demand restrictions on trade financing or ask major financial companies to reduce financing for Turkish companies," an official said. "I wouldn't rule out some negative action if Turkey gets too close to Russia," he added.

According to a Ukrainian intelligence official and a Western diplomat, the suggestions of possible retaliation against Turkey come after Ukraine intercepted a document from Moscow outlining ways to help Russia avoid sanctions through Turkish banks. Washington has repeatedly warned it will hit countries that help Russia evade sanctions with "secondary sanctions" aimed at violations beyond US legal jurisdiction.

US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo met with Turkish officials and Istanbul bankers in June to warn them not to become conduits for illicit Russian money. After last week's meeting in Sochi, Moscow's top energy official, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, told reporters that Turkey had agreed to pay for Russia's gas in rubles, according to Interfax.

Putin and Erdogan discussed the further development of banking ties and settlements in rubles and liras, he added. Speaking on his plane back from Russia, Erdogan told reporters there were also "very serious developments" in the use of the Russian Mir payment card system, which allows Russians in Turkey to pay by card at a time when Visa and Mastercard have suspended their operations. birthplace. Erdogan said the Mir cards would help Russian tourists pay for shopping and hotels.

Western officials fear they could also be used to help circumvent sanctions.

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