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US warns Turkey on exports seen to boost Russia’s war effort

ISTANBUL: In recent days, the U.S. warned Turkey not to sell chemicals, microchips, and other items to Russia that could be used in Moscow’s war in Ukraine. The U.S. could punish Turkish companies or banks that break sanctions.

Brian Nelson, who is in charge of sanctions for the US Treasury Department, met with Turkish government and private sector leaders on Thursday and Friday to ask for more help stopping the flow of these goods.

In a speech to bankers, Nelson said that Turkey’s companies are “especially vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks” because their exports to Russia have gone up a lot over the past year. If this keeps up, they could lose access to G7 markets.

In a copy of the speech released by the Treasury, he said that they should “take extra precautions to avoid transactions related to potential dual-use technology transfers that could be used by the Russian military-industrial complex.”

The Russian head of the Wagner militia says that there are fierce battles in the north of Ukraine’s Bakhmut.

A senior US official who asked to remain anonymous said that Nelson and a delegation brought up exports to Russia worth tens of millions of dollars that were a cause for concern.

“It’s not surprising that Russia is trying to take advantage of its long-standing economic ties with Turkey,” the official said. “The question is what Turkey is going to do about it.”

Ankara, a NATO member, doesn’t agree with the wide-ranging sanctions against Russia, but it says they won’t be broken in Turkey and asks the West to show proof.

After Moscow’s invasion almost a year ago, the West put controls on exports and put in place sanctions. But supply lines from Hong Kong, Turkey, and other trading hubs have stayed open.

Reuters said in December that Russian customs records showed that at least $2.6 billion worth of computers and other electronic parts came into the country between July 1 and October 31. At least $777 million worth of these products were made by Western companies, whose chips have been found in Russian weapons systems.

During the war, Ankara has kept good relationships with both Moscow and Kyiv. It held early talks between the two sides and helped make a deal for Ukraine to ship grain to Turkey.

Nelson, who is the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, is the latest high-level US official to visit Turkey. He is there to put more pressure on Ankara to make sure that US restrictions on Russia are followed.

Some changes have happened because of the pressure.

Havas, Turkey’s largest ground-service provider, told Russian and Belarusian airlines in a letter dated January 31 that it might stop giving them parts, fuel, and other services for their US-made planes. This would be in line with bans from the West.

Five Turkish banks stopped using the Russian Mir payment system in September. This was because the US Treasury put new sanctions on the head of the system’s operator and warned those who help Moscow not to get around the sanctions.

Nelson told the Turkish bankers that they should do more research before doing business with Russia. He also said in his speech that Russian oligarchs still buy property and dock yachts in Turkey.

In separate talks with Turkish companies, Nelson “urgently” brought up how Russia is thought to be getting around Western controls to resupply plastics, rubber, and semi-conductors used in exports and by the military, an official said.

The person also said that after taking steps last year to get Russia to end the war, the US is now focused “on evasion, especially evasion in third countries that we see.”

The Treasury said that Nelson said similar things in the United Arab Emirates and Oman this week.