Turkiye’s growing military exports to Russia prompt US scrutiny, urgent diplomatic visit

Flags of Turkey, Russia, the United Nations and Ukraine are seen on the day of a signing ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, July 22, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Turkiye’s growing military exports to Russia prompt US scrutiny, urgent diplomatic visit

  • US Treasury officials have been concerned that Turkiye’s export of products to Russia could serve both commercial and military purposes
  • US has imposed sanctions on Turkish electronics supplier Azint Elektronik over its alleged shipping of high-priority goods, such as electronic integrated circuits, to Russia

ANKARA: Turkiye has found itself under heightened US scrutiny over a rise in the export of potentially sanctions-busting goods to Russia.

US Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson was this week due in Ankara and Istanbul to follow up on American fears that Turkiye could inadvertently be fueling Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Nelson, making his second visit to Turkiye this year, will investigate trade activities that may unintentionally be aiding Russia’s war efforts through third-party exports.

He was expected to hold talks with Turkish officials on preventive measures to curb the flow of dual-use goods that could indirectly benefit Russia’s military pursuits.

In a statement on its website, the US Department of the Treasury said: “In Turkiye, a NATO ally, undersecretary Nelson will also discuss efforts to prevent, disrupt, and investigate trade and financial activity that benefit the Russian effort in its war against Ukraine.”

During the first nine months of this year, Turkiye has seen record exports of 45 goods, valued at 158 million euros ($173 million), to Moscow and five ex-Soviet nations — Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The figure represents a threefold increase on the same period at the start of the Ukraine conflict.

Among the exported items were microchips classified as “high priority” by Washington.

US officials revealed instances where dual-use parts ostensibly bound for intermediary nations were, in fact, reaching Russia directly. For example, while Kazakhstan reported imports of high-priority goods from Turkiye valued at $6.1 million, Turkish official data revealed exports to Kazakhstan reaching a record $66 million during the same period.

Western assessments have indicated that some high-priority goods from Turkiye have been applied to the production of drones, helicopters, and cruise missiles.

Turkiye has strong trade and diplomatic ties with Moscow, but US Treasury officials have been recently concerned about the country’s export of products to Russia that could serve both commercial and military purposes.

Ankara has not formally joined Western sanctions against Russia for fear of damaging the Turkish economy. However, the US recently imposed sanctions on Turkish electronics supplier, Azint Elektronik, over its alleged shipping of high-priority goods, such as electronic integrated circuits, to Russia.

Rich Outzen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Arab News: “Maintaining non-military trade with Russia remains an integral part of Turkish economic diplomacy.”

Five Turkish companies were among firms faced with American sanctions in September for dispatching sensors and measuring tools to Russia, providing repair services to vessels linked to the Russian Defense Ministry, and shipping electronic components of US and European origin to Russian firms.

Outzen noted that private Turkish companies could well fall foul of US sanctions over their exports to Russia while government entities may escape them unless there was clear evidence of a coordinating role.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, told Arab News: “The visit of Nelson will also be an opportunity for the US to iterate its concerns about the ongoing trade.

“There are a number of product groups that are under the radar of US and EU authorities where Turkiye is expected to do more in terms of curtailing trade with Russia.

“Turkish authorities will indeed take on board these concerns and examine more closely trade with Russia on these products in concern.

“Also, given that ultimately the total affected exports are around $158 million, while some of them are re-exported products, there is little value-added that remains in Turkiye, which is not a reason why Turkish authorities should actually heed the concerns of its partners in the West,” Ulgen said.

Nelson’s visit to Turkiye comes as the country continued its long-standing efforts to procure F-16 fighter jets from the US, or alternatively, source Eurofighters.

“Especially at this moment, when Turkiye tries to normalize its ties, Ankara would not want to be affected by additional sanctions from the West, even though they essentially target companies and individuals that are party to this trade.

“This visit would be an opportunity for both parties to essentially seek a convergence on trade policies with Russia,” Ulgen added.

The trade volume between Turkiye and Russia was this year expected to exceed $65 billion. It surged in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the heightened sanctions regime of the West against Moscow.

Last year, Russia was Turkiye’s main import partner with goods valued at $58.85 billion, a threefold increase on the same period in 2021.


Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

Updated 40 min 3 sec ago
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Hamas chief Haniyeh arrives in Turkiye for talks

  • Fidan said he spoke with Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar, about how Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — “must clearly express its expectations, especially about a two-state solution”

ISTANBUL: A leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Istanbul Friday evening for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the death toll in Gaza passed 34,000.
A statement from Hamas Friday said Erdogan and Haniyeh would discuss the conflict in Gaza, adding that the head of the group’s political bureau was accompanied by a delegation.
Middle East tensions are at a high after Israel’s reported attack on Iran and Gaza bracing for a new Israeli offensive.
Erdogan insisted on Wednesday that he would continue “to defend the Palestinian struggle and to be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people.”
But talking to journalists on Friday, he refused to be drawn on the details on the meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was in Qatar Wednesday and said he spent three hours with Haniyeh and his aides for “a wide exchange of views in particular about negotiations for a ceasefire.”
Qatar, a mediator between Israel and Hamas, acknowledged Wednesday that negotiations to end hostilities in Gaza and liberate hostages were “stalling.”
Fidan said he spoke with Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar, about how Hamas — designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — “must clearly express its expectations, especially about a two-state solution.”
Erdogan’s last meeting with Haniyeh was in July 2023 when Erdogan hosted him and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the presidential palace in Ankara. Haniyeh had last met Fidan in Turkiye on January 2.
The war in Gaza started after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, mainly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel says around 129 are believed to be held in Gaza, including 34 presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 34,012 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
 

 


Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, sources say

Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces advance towards the city of Tal Afar, Iraq. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024
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Huge blast at military base used by Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, sources say

  • PMF sources said the strikes targeted a headquarters of the PMF at the Kalso military base near the town of Iskandariya around 50 km south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD: A huge blast rocked a military base used by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to the south of Baghdad late on Friday, two PMF and two security sources told Reuters.
The two security sources said the blast was a result of an unknown airstrike, which happened around midnight Friday.
The two PMF sources pointed out the strikes did not lead to casualties but caused material damage.
PMF sources said the strikes targeted a headquarters of the PMF at the Kalso military base near the town of Iskandariya around 50 km south of Baghdad.
Government officials did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The PMF started out as a grouping of armed factions, many close to Iran, that was later recognized as a formal security force by Iraqi authorities.
Factions within the PMF took part in months of rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq amid Israel’s Gaza campaign but ceased to do so in February.

 


Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

Updated 19 April 2024
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Leaders of Jordan and Pakistan call UAE president to express concern about effects of severe storm

  • Leaders passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms

DUBAI: The president of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, received telephone calls from King Abdullah of Jordan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, during which they expressed concern about the effects of the severe weather, including unusually heavy rainfall, that battered parts of the country this week.

They also passed on their best wishes to the country as it recovers from the storms and “conveyed their heartfelt hopes for the safety and prosperity of the UAE and its people, praying for their protection from any harm,” the Emirates News Agency reported.

Sheikh Mohammed thanked both leaders for their warm sentiments, and emphasized the strong bonds between the UAE and their nations.

The UAE and neighboring Oman were hit by unprecedented rainfall and flooding on Tuesday, with more than 250 millimeters of rain falling in parts of the Emirates, considerably more than is normally seen in a year. Dubai International Airport was forced to close temporarily when runways were flooded.
 


Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

Updated 19 April 2024
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Peshmerga fighter dies in Turkish strike in north Iraq

JEDDAH: A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces was killed on Friday in a Turkish drone strike in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Ankara regularly carries out ground and air operations in the region against positions of the outlawed PKK, the Kurdish separatist group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The victim of Friday’s attack died in a drone strike on his vehicle, said Ihsan Chalabi, mayor of the mountainous Sidakan district near Iraq’s borders with Turkiye and Iran.
For decades, Turkiye has operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a terrorist group.
Both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have been accused of tolerating Turkiye’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.
At the beginning of April, a man described as “high-ranking military official” from the PKK was killed in a Turkish drone strike on a car in the mountainous Sinjar region, according to the Kurdistan counterterrorism services.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Baghdad on Monday on his first official visit to Iraq since 2011.
Iraq’s Defense Minister Thabet Al-Abassi in March ruled out joint military operations against the PKK, but said that Turkiye and Iraq would “work to set up a joint intelligence coordination center.”


Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

Updated 19 April 2024
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Middle East in ‘shadow of uncertainty due to regional conflicts’

WASHINGTON: Economies in the Middle East and North Africa face a “shadow of uncertainty” from ongoing tensions in the region, a senior IMF official said.
“We are in a context where the overall outlook is cast into shadows,” Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia department, said in an interview in Washington.
“The shadow of uncertainty on the geopolitical side is an important one,” added Azour, a recent candidate for the next Lebanese president.
In the face of the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Sudan and a recent cut to oil supplies by Gulf countries, the IMF has pared back its growth outlook for the Middle East and North Africa region once again.

FASTFACT

Economic activity in Gaza has ‘come to a standstill’ and the IMF estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by six percent last year.

The IMF expects growth in MENA of 2.7 percent this year — 0.2 percentage points below its January forecast — before picking up again next year, the IMF said in its regional economic outlook report.
The risks to growth in the MENA region remain heightened, the IMF said, pointing to the danger of greater regional spillovers from the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.
“We have concerns about the immediate and lasting impact of conflict,” Azour said.
The IMF report said that economic activity in Gaza has “come to a standstill” and estimates that economic output in the West Bank and Gaza contracted by 6 percent last year.
The IMF said the report excludes economic projections for the West Bank and Gaza for the next five years “on account of the unusually high degree of uncertainty.”
The IMF cannot lend to the West Bank and Gaza because they are not IMF member countries.
However, Azour said it has provided the Palestinian Authority and the central bank with technical assistance during the current conflict.
“When we move into the reconstruction phase, we will be part of the international community support to the region,” he added.
Azour also discussed the situation in Sudan, where thousands have been killed in a civil war that has also devastated the economy, causing it to contract by almost 20 percent last year, according to the IMF.
“The country is barely functioning, institutions have been dismantled,” he said.
“And for an economy, for a country like Sudan, with all this potential, it’s important to stop the bleeding very quickly and move to a phase of reconstruction,” he added.
The recent Houthi attacks have particularly badly hit the Egyptian economy on Red Sea shipping, which caused trade through the Egypt-run Suez Canal to more than halve — depriving the country of a key source of foreign exchange.
Egypt reached an agreement last month to increase an existing IMF loan package from $3 billion to $8 billion after its central bank hiked interest rates and allowed the pound to plunge by nearly 40 percent.
A key pillar of the current IMF program is the privatization of Egypt’s state-owned enterprises, many of which are owned by or linked to the military.
“This is a priority for Egypt,” Azour said. Egypt needs to have a growing private sector and give space for the private sector to create more jobs.”
“We have an opportunity to re-engineer the state’s role, to give the state more responsibility as an enabler and less as a competitor,” he said.