Russians are fleeing into Turkey with bags of cash in order to avoid sanctions, reports the Wall Street Journal:
Turkey is fast becoming a haven for Russian money, from oligarchs parking their superyachts on the country’s shores to young dissidents and tech workers flying from Moscow with cash in suitcases.
The influx of Russian money highlights how Turkey has opposed the invasion of Ukraine while acting as an intermediary between the two countries. The strategic U.S. ally and NATO member state has condemned the invasion and sold weapons to Ukraine while choosing not to impose sanctions on Russia, a decision that also shields Turkey’s economy from the worst of the fallout from the war. Turkish leaders have also acted as mediators in the crisis.
Since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, thousands of Russians have flown to Turkey, one of a shrinking number of countries where they can still fly directly, with many choosing to stay. Some of these Russians are relocating to cosmopolitan Istanbul or coastal resort cities like Antalya, a popular tourist destination for Russians before the war that is becoming a permanent home for some.
The Russians are using a variety of means to overcome Western sanctions that cut off some Russian banks from the Swift payment system and capital controls imposed by Moscow that limit the amount of foreign currency Russians can send abroad. Among the most common are Russian cash-transfer companies that operate in Turkey, cryptocurrencies and simply carrying thousands of dollars in cash through airports, according to Russians and Turks interviewed for this article.
The Turkish government has said it won’t stop Russian funds flowing in, even from oligarchs, as long as the money is legal. Turkey badly needs foreign currency after an economic crisis last year that caused its currency, the lira, to lose about 45% of its value against the dollar in less than three months. The U.S., U.K., and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs with alleged ties to President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“If you mean that these oligarchs can do any business in Turkey, then of course. If it is legal, and it is not against international law, I will consider it. If it is against international law, then that’s another story,” said Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking to an international conference in Doha, Qatar, on March 26.
The U.S. government has been silent on Russians moving their money, with Washington praising Ankara’s role in hosting Russian-Ukrainian peace talks.
Inflows of Russian money may already be helping Turkey’s finances at the margins.
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