WW3 ALERT: Russia puts brakes on Turkey’s truck traffic
In September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin together inaugurated the newly built Moscow Cathedral Mosque in central Moscow.
The two countries were already having serious disagreements on the Syrian crisis and the status of President Bashar al-Assad. But Turkey and Russia already had opposing views on Syria, Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula but had managed to keep their disputes away from their substantive economic relations. When Russia was faced with US and EU embargoes, it opened its markets to Turkish firms, especially in foodstuffs.
Russia, which is hosting the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament, continued building mega-facilities for the tournament and gave priority to Turkish contractors.
It was Putin’s clear support of the Syrian army and the Assad regime and attacks on the Islamic State (IS), but mostly against opposition groups deemed moderate by Turkey, that set off an era of mutual threats in Turkish-Russian and Erdogan-Putin ties. Erdogan bitterly criticized the Russian air attacks and violations of Turkish airspace and declared that he will not call on Putin anymore.
It was Erdogan who put their meticulously preserved relations on the agenda and made first reference to possible sanctions against Russia. He said Turkey can stop its natural gas purchases from Russia that supplies more than 55% of Turkey’s needs and award the building of the $20 billion Akkuyu nuclear power station to another, non-Russian contractor.
Russia did not heed Erdogan’s threats and counterattacked. Its first countermeasure was to stop issuing transit passage documents to Turkish trucks carrying Turkey’s exports to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Mongolia.
Turkish exports to the Middle East and the Gulf had already hit bottom when Turkish trucks lost transit routes because of clashes in Iraq and Syria. Now an annual $2 billion worth of exports to Central Asia is at risk with the Russian sanction.
In an announcement on its official website, the International Transporters Association (UND) reported that transit passage documents through Russia have been annulled and warned transporters and exporters not to send their trucks unless they have valid documents.
Fatih Sener, chairman of the UND executive council, said they couldn’t understand Russia’s attitude. He said massive losses are to be expected as Turkish trucks are held up at border crossings. Sener said they have had occasional problems on transportation issues, but this was the first time when it came to transit passages.
Erdogan’s resorting to economic threats as a reaction to Russian operations in Syria isn’t a realistic approach. For example, the natural gas agreement between Turkey and Russia is a long-term one that requires Turkey to keep paying for gas even if it stops importing gas.
The bilateral agreement on the Akkuyu nuclear power station was signed
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