Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday made a highly controversial statement concerning Russian oligarchs to pro-government journalists on the way back from the NATO summit in Brussels.
Evaluating the NATO summit, Erdoğan also mentioned sanctions on Russia as well as Western companies leaving the country in addition to the latest developments in US-Turkish relations and NATO.
While he invited US companies and leading brands to Turkey, he called on Russian businessmen, which he called “certain capital groups,” facing global sanctions to move their facilities to Turkey.
Stating that Turkey relies only on UN resolutions on sanctions against Russia, Erdoğan said it is not possible for them to set aside relations with Russia.
Turkish original of the statement in which Erdoğan invited Russian businessmen to Turkey.
“When natural gas alone is considered, we buy about half of it from Russia today. Besides, we are building the Akkuyu nuclear power plant with Russia. We can’t set that aside, either. When I told this to [French President Emmanuel] Macron today, he said, ‘You’re right’,” Erdoğan told the journalists.
Asked by journalists about his expectations of whether American companies that have been leaving Russia will invest in Turkey, Erdoğan replied; “Not only American companies, but also many brands and groups from around the world are leaving Russia. Of course, our door is open to those who come to our country.”
Erdoğan then added: “Apart from that, if there are certain capital groups that want to come to our country and ‘park’ their facilities with us, of course, we won’t keep our doors closed to them. Our door is open to them as well.”
The government-controlled media deliberately focused only on Erdoğan’s invitation to Western companies while ignoring his other call to Russian businessmen. The state-run Anadolu news agency shortened Erdoğan’s remarks in its English edition, saying, “Amid war, many big companies are leaving Russia, and Turkey’s doors are wide open.”
Erdoğan’s use of the word “park” seems to be deliberate rather than a coincidence. International and Turkish media have been reporting for a while now that private jets and ultra-luxury yachts owned by Russian oligarchs that left before being seized by sanctioning European Union countries are already parked at Turkish airports and moored in Turkish territorial waters.
According to information shared by ship watcher Yörük Işık on his social media account, the $1.2 billion yacht Eclipse owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, whom the European Union and the United Kingdom have sanctioned, is in the coastal city of Marmaris in southern Turkey, while his other yacht My Solaris is off the coast of Bodrum, a popular holiday resort in the Mediterranean.
Former Russian Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of the Russian National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev’s yacht Universe was seen off the coast of Marmaris, too. According to the MarineTraffic ship tracking site, the yacht set sail for İstanbul on Wednesday.
The 70-meter superyacht Polaris, owned by Russian-Maltese millionaire Maxim Shubarev, is also anchored at Göcek Marina in Fethiye.
Erdoğan is, of course, not only referring to yachts and planes being “parked” in Turkey. The deteriorating Turkish economy urgently needs foreign exchange and investment before the presidential election in 2023. The increase in the price of basic consumer goods along with the rise in natural gas and gasoline prices have caused the highest inflation in the last 20 years in Turkey. The fact that Turkey’s central bank did not have enough reserves to intervene in the meltdown of the Turkish lira against the dollar deepened the crisis. Turkey’s Treasury and Finance Minister Nurettin Nebati admitted that the Turkish lira is at the lowest level in its history, in a speech he delivered at an event in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa this week.
Economic experts predict that Russian businessmen will move their capital to Turkey by purchasing companies in Turkey. However, Russian businessmen who are being sanctioned by the EU will not do this in their own name but in the name of Turkish counterparts who will appear to be the owners of the companies in the official records. In addition, experts warn that with the arrival of Russian capital to Turkey, the Russian mafia, which specializes in drug and weapons smuggling, may increase its effectiveness in Turkey.
Erdoğan’s intention to evade the sanctions by hosting Russian capital is reminiscent of a crisis that Turkey experienced in 2013.
Turkey helped Iran evade US sanctions through state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank, which is currently being tried in New York federal court. In a corruption scandal that was exposed in 2013, it was revealed that Erdoğan, his family members and leading ministers collaborated with Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab to help Iran evade US sanctions. Pursuant to Turkey’s agreement with the US, Turkey was allowed to sell food to Iran, which would fall under the humanitarian exemption to the sanctions, but the documents were falsified and instead gold and cash went to Iran in return for the natural gas it bought. Halkbank was also used as an intermediary agent.
Zarrab, who was arrested in Miami in 2016, cooperated with the prosecutor’s office and testified in the trial of a Halkbank deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, as a witness in 2017. Zarrab admitted his role in a scheme to help Iran evade sanctions as well as bribery to secure his release after he was arrested in 2013.
The Erdoğan government dismissed the police chiefs and prosecutors who uncovered the scandal, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2019 for attempting to overthrow the government. Erdoğan accused the police chiefs and prosecutors of belonging to the Gülen movement, a critic of the Turkish government on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan sent Ekrem Sancak, a businessman close to him, to Russia in early March. Sancak, speaking on Russian television, said NATO was the main culprit in the Ukrainian-Russian war. Defining NATO as a cancer from the past, Sancak stated that Turkey would not participate in the sanctions, adding, “Because if Russia falls, Turkey will be divided, and if Turkey falls, the same applies to Russia.” Well-known Turkish journalist Cevheri Güven, whose YouTube videos in which he narrates his investigative stories are viewed by millions claimed that Sancak went to Moscow to convey Erdoğan’s message that Turkey is open to welcoming the capital of Russian businessmen.
In 2021 the Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog set up by the G7 group of advanced economies to protect the global financial system, downgraded Turkey to a so-called grey list for failing to head off money laundering and terrorist financing.