Russia drags Turkish farmers into
Syria front line By John Helmer
MOSCOW - A century ago the Ottomans
understood not to press the Russians in close
encounters; the Turks are slow learners. After
several recent episodes in which the Turkish armed
forces have attempted to interfere with Russian
vessels delivering cargo to Syria, the Russians
have now delivered the message that Turkish
cargoes headed for Russia may be stopped
The subtlety of this message
has yet to be detected by the Anglo-American war
media. They are still blustering over the message
the Syrians delivered when they used Russian-made
cannons to shoot down an American-made Turkish spy
plane over Syrian territory on June 22.
Six days later, on June 28, the Russian
government's food safety
and quarantine service
Rosselkhoznadzor (RSN) issued an announcement
disclosing that it had detected 33 cases of
infestation in Turkish exports to Russia of fruits
and vegetables. The detection had reportedly taken
place over the previous six months, possibly
longer. The pests were identified in the official
announcement as "the American white moth and the
western (California) flower thrip".
said it had "appealed to the General Directorate
of Protection and Control of the Turkish Ministry
of Food Agriculture and Livestock to take urgent
measures to ensure full compliance with Russian
and international phytosanitary requirements for
the regulated supply of Turkish goods to Russia."
Then followed the warning of a trade
embargo. "As you know, in 2005 Rosselkhoznadzor
was forced to introduce restrictive measures on
imports of Turkish plant products due to the
discovery of systemic [infestation] in the
quarantine facilities in Russia." 
RSN announcement might have identified the pests
by their common English or Latin names - the fall
webworm or Hyphantria cunea, as the moth is
known, and the western flower thrip,
Frankliniella occidentalis. But RSN
probably wasn't intending a reminder of the
entomological history according to which the
insects were native to the US and migrated from
there to Europe.
Explicitly naming the
insects as American, however, appears to have been
intended to convey the larger point - by relying
on American infestation of the political and
military sort, going to war against Syria, and
imposing an armed cordon around its supply lines,
Turkey is putting at risk its trade with Russia.
The Turkish generals may enjoy their warmaking;
Turkish farmers may not.
data show that this is a particularly sensitive
time of the year for the Turks to appreciate a
Russian threat to shoot down Turkish strawberries,
pomegranates, cherries, tomatoes and peppers.
That's because the value of Turkish exports to
Russia, all products, in the five months to May 31
has been running at a record level - US$2.6
billion so far, with more than $6.2 billion
possible by year's end. If achieved, that would be
higher than the $6 billion value reached last
year, and in 2008. In between, the value of
Turkish exports sank as low as $2.5 billion in the
recession year of 2009.
Russia ranks the
third-largest of Turkey's export markets, behind
Germany and the UK; it is roughly equal with
Italy. An estimated 20% of the value of Turkish
exports to Russia is generated by fruits and
vegetables; for Turkish strawberries and tomatoes,
Russia is the leading buyer.
Customs figures show that this March imports of
Turkish tomatoes hit a quarterly record of 97,295
tonnes, worth $90.8 million. At this rate, the
trade is 4% better than last year by volume,
though lower tomato prices have cut the value by
about 13% compared to the first quarter of 2011.
Alexei Alekseyenko, a spokesman for RSN,
said that for the time being no action to impose
the quarantine has been taken beyond the warning
to the Turks to clean up their act and get rid of
the American infestation. RSN says that since June
28 the Turks haven't had time to reply to the
A leading food sector
analyst at a Moscow bank says the impact of the
threatened cutoff in the fruit and vegetable trade
would be decidedly asymmetrical. For Russians, an
embargo on the Turkish imports would have little
impact at this time of year, he believes, because
"it is always possible to switch [import
purchasing] from Turkey to another country.
Because now it's the [summer] season, so there are
a lot of alternatives - from Central Asia or the
Caucasus. But as for Turkey, this is naturally bad
news, because they export to Russia amounts a very
large share of their production." More than $1
billion worth at present.
The Russian move
against Turkish agribusiness is an invitation to
count what Turkey's war against Syria may cost
Turkish growers and traders. The source adds that
he doesn't doubt that moth and thrip infestation
occurs in cargoes imported from other countries.
But he is convinced that Turkey is being singled
out by the Kremlin.
"In this case, it
seems to me, that it is an easy reminder to Turkey
that it is no longer in an imperial position
[towards its neighbors]. And that someone else
[Russia] is an ally of Syria. I suppose that it
will be possible to predict the next political
steps, if Turkey does not reconsider its plans for
Syria. And this is just a reminder for Turkey, so
far as it depends on Russia. There are many levers
of pressure. This is one."