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Arrival of Oligarch Yachts Raises Questions About Turkey’s Stance on Russia


A view of Eclipse, a luxury yacht reported to belong to Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, docked at a port in the resort of Marmaris, Turkey, March 22, 2022.

A small protest group of Ukrainians greeted the arrival of a large yacht belonging to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. The billion-dollar vessel was joined a day later by a second owned by Abramovich at the Turkish Aegean resort of Bodrum, a popular playground for the world's super-rich.

With Abramovich under sanctions by both the European Union and Britain, his yachts have found sanctuary in Turkey, which refuses to enforce sanctions against Russians.

The arrival of Ambrovich's vessels in Turkey adds to suspicions that the country could become a refuge for sanctioned oligarchs and their wealth, says analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.

“There is a lot of news, unsubstantiated in my view that oligarchs are parking their money in Turkey. Turkey has extensive business links, no matter how you define it, with Russia. But I am fairly sure the West is aware of that, and the monitoring of the Turkish bank's transactions with the west will be monitored fairly carefully.”

Turkish media is awash with reports that Abramovich plans to use Turkey as a base. Some reports say the oligarch is buying a Turkish football team. Abramovich invested heavily in London’s Chelsea soccer club before being forced to give up ownership before it would be seized by British authorities.

Timothy Ash of Bluejay Asset Management says Turkey is likely to face growing scrutiny from its Western allies.

“There is concern about state-owned banks may be and whether the Turkish state would see this as an opportunity to arbitrage some of the difficulties Russian entities maybe having because of sanctions. I would imagine western governments, including the US, will be talking with their Turkish counterparts and trying to encourage them not to break sanctions. But there is a recognition of Turkey's relatively weak financial position.”

But Ankara insists it is fulfilling its international obligations in enforcing United Nations sanctions and it claims that financial and economic measures against Moscow are counterproductive. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan argues that his country’s refusal to join sanctions enables it to be an honest broker in efforts to end the Ukraine conflict. Erdogan has close ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

On Tuesday, Dutch Prime Minister Paul Rutte visited Ankara, the fourth European leader to visit Turkey since Russia invaded Ukraine. At a joint press conference, Rutte appeared to play down any concerns over Turkey's opposition to Russian sanctions.

“Yes, of course, we would very much favor for Turkey to implement all the sanctions, but I think we also have to be happy with the fact that Turkey is playing now its diplomatic role and its leadership role in trying to end the conflict.”

With Erdogan appearing to have a prominent role in peace efforts, analysts say Turkey is likely to get - at least in public - the benefit of the doubt over its stance on sanctions. Some analysts predict that means more Russian superyachts and their owners could be heading to Turkish marinas earlier than usual, ahead of the traditional summer season.

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