Around 5,000 Russians have purchased Turkish citizenship since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as a way of escaping hard-hitting Western sanctions and gaining economic flexibility.
According to data from the Turkish statistics agency, cited by the London-based news outlet Middle East Eye, almost 4,900 Russians have bought houses in Turkiye between February – when the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched – and June this year, as an avenue to invest in the country and gain citizenship.
Under Turkiye’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, which was launched in 2018, Turkish citizenship was initially granted to anyone who purchased real estate or made investments worth $250,000.
From that year until 2021, around 20,000 foreign nationals reportedly acquired Turkish citizenship under the scheme, led by Iranians, Iraqis and Afghans,
Following criticism and opposition from domestic detractors who called it “cheap citizenship”, the government increased the minimum investment required to $400,000.
According to an Istanbul-based lawyer Muhammet Yasir Taflan Russians have dominated the scheme this year, conducting “nearly 60 percent of house sales to foreigners.” That is in comparison to “less than one percent last year.”
Despite their being “cheaper, comparatively more beneficial citizenships for investment or golden visa opportunities in Europe…the Russians cannot enrol in them due to sanctions. They basically cannot travel to Europe, let alone conduct monetary transactions,” he explained.
Following Russia’s invasion, Moscow was heavily sanctioned by western states and was cut off from the SWIFT payment system, preventing Russian banks and citizens from accessing and easily transferring money within the global financial system.
Russians were also cut off from using the Visa and Mastercard payment methods, which are some of the largest and most prominent, leaving them with limited options. Alternative payment systems have since been utilised, with Russia boosting its Mir payment method while China and Iran use theirs’ to also circumvent Western sanctions.
Although the Turkish government continues to publicly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Ankara maintains strong ties with Moscow and is facilitating it’s Mir payment system in order to accommodate tourists and residents.