The Turkish government has allowed sanctioned Russian oligarchs and their superyachts to find safe harbor in Turkey, thereby undermining the NATO allies’ economic pressure campaign against Russia after its current brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Russian billionaire and close ally of Vladimir Putin, Roman Abramovich, has moored his two yachts in Turkish waters this week, and Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has stated that Russian oligarchs will be welcome in Turkey. This safe harbor comes amid other NATO members’ crackdown on Russian oligarchs whose staggering wealth has benefitted from a close relationship with the Russian kleptocratic regime. Abramovich’s yachts were spotted in the city of Bodrum, which serves as a playground on the Turkish Aegean for the global super-rich and has become a new hideout for Russian oligarchs.
Abramovich’s ships have joined those owned by fellow Russian oligarch Andrei Kostin, president of the internationally sanctioned Russian state-owned ‘VTB’ bank, whose $65 million yacht was moored in Fethiye (Turkey) last month.
Since the invasion of Ukraine just over one month ago, more than 1,000 Russian oligarchs have seen sanctions on their businesses and possessions imposed by the European Union, UK, and US. Erdogan however has consistently refused to join his allies in clamping down on Putin’s oligarchs, despite his glaring presence at the emergency NATO Summit in Brussels last week and Turkey’s hosting of cease-fire talks early Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, while Erdogan expresses verbal support for Ukraine, his circle of supporters condemn NATO and echo the Kremlin’s talking points in the Russian media.
This strategically mixed messaging from Turkey is typical of Ankara’s attempts to balance its ties between Moscow and the West. In addition to being strong trade allies, Erdogan and Putin share similar governance techniques. Both autocrats with an affinity for absolutist control, they have fostered oligarchic kleptocracies at the expense of their respective populations. While Turks and Russians have suffered from exploding inflation, oligarchs have continued to amass astronomic wealth through rigged government tenders.
Commenting on Turkey’s safe harbor of oligarchs, Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of TDP said:
“President Erdogan has welcomed sanctioned individuals and their assets into Turkish ports, in direct defiance of NATO’s collective efforts to combat Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ankara is acting in deliberate contradiction of sanctions, which undermines the efficacy and credibility of the allied response. While President Erdogan was pictured with NATO heads of state in Brussels this week, Turkey’s ports have embraced the Russian oligarchs that are central to Putin’s authoritarian command in Russia. Erdogan can no longer run with the fox and hunt with the hound. The moment has arrived for Turkey to join its fellow NATO members in providing more than symbolic support in this time of international crisis.”