Jonathan M. Winer

  • The U.S. is pushing back on Turkish and Emirati firms, which have provided material support to Russia for its war effort and helped Moscow circumvent Western sanctions.
  • As the Russo-Ukrainian conflict enters a potentially decisive period in the ground war, the Biden administration is almost certain to ratchet up the consequences on Emirati and Turkish sanctions busters, but Washington’s use of other political or diplomatic tools is more difficult to predict.

Since Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it’s become increasingly obvious that both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have been seeking to profit, politically and economically, off the conflict.

The UAE’s role has been remarkably bold, as shown in the affectionate post-invasion contacts between Emirati leader Mohammed bin Zayed and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It has also been reflected economically, in the highly visible presence of Russians and Russian businesses in Dubai, effectively facilitating Russia’s ability to circumvent Western sanctions.

The significance of this Emirati assistance in sanctions busting has been so large that the United States sent multiple high-level delegations to the Emirates in the first months of this year to issue warnings on the subject to both the Emirati government and major business actors there.

Turkey, too, has been profiting off the war, both politically, as reflected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s invitation to Putin to visit Turkey later this month, and economically, with the massive amount of new business for Turkish companies emerging from the conflict.

Now, the U.S. has pushed back, adopting a series of secondary sanctions on Emirati and Turkish companies for their role in helping Russia (and in the case of Dubai, Iran) circumvent the West’s punitive financial and economic measures.

The most recent sanctions package, issued on April 12, targets a slew of Turkish and Emirati firms for providing material support to Russia, including items for its defense sector. The latest round of sanctions on these firms was described as “a warning shot” by an anonymous U.S. official, even as Erdoğan continues to state publicly that it is time for Putin to stop the war.

The frantic sending of signals by the various parties to the conflict reflects a reality that the year-long effort by Turkey and the UAE to straddle the Russian-Ukrainian war has largely benefited Russia. Avoiding strategic consequences from that stance is increasingly problematic for both the UAE, which likes to refer to itself as a “strong ally” of the United States, and for Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1952.

Will anyone blink? If not, will there be a serious collision?

As the Russo-Ukrainian conflict enters a potentially decisive period in the ground war, the Biden administration is almost certain to ratchet up the consequences on Emirati and Turkish sanctions busters. The question of the extent to which the U.S. government will also employ other tools, such as those involving the overall bilateral security relationships, is much harder to answer.


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