The last three Turkish banks still processing transactions made with Russia’s Mir cards are pulling out of the payment system, a senior official said Wednesday, following U.S. warnings of secondary sanctions on entities if they are found helping Moscow skirt financial sanctions.
The move, if and when publicly announced, would come after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday convened a top-tier meeting to discuss Mir. Erdoğan has said they were looking for alternatives to the system, which allowed Russian tourists and those living in Türkiye to access their accounts.
Two private Turkish banks, DenizBank and Işbank, were the first to suspend the use of Mir last week after the U.S. warned financial institutions against entering new agreements or expanding existing ones with the Russian operator of Mir cards.
The three state lenders – Halkbank, VakifBank and Ziraat – still worked with the cards. Local media also reported on Wednesday that the banks decided to halt the use of the Mir system.
A senior Turkish official did not say when Russians would no longer be able to access their cards in Türkiye at all.
Banks in several other countries, including Vietnam and Kazakhstan, have withdrawn support for Mir. Mir is Moscow’s alternative to Visa and Mastercard, which suspended operations in Russia over its actions in Ukraine and whose cards issued in Russia have stopped working abroad.
The three banks “are still processing (the outstanding) payments, but they have set a future date” for pulling out, the official told Agence France-Presse (AFP), speaking on condition of anonymity because no formal decision by the banks has been announced.
The pull-out was also reported by Bloomberg, which cited a senior Turkish official as saying that the three banks decided on Tuesday to exit the system.
The Kremlin on Wednesday condemned Washington for forcing Turkish banks to cut their Russian ties.
“They are threatened with secondary sanctions on the banking system. And this decision, of course, was made under this unprecedented pressure,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
The U.S. Treasury warned last month that Turkish banks working with the Russian cards “risk supporting Russia’s efforts to evade U.S. sanctions” and could be sanctioned themselves.
Washington expanded its sanctions recently to include the head of the entity running the payment system.
NATO member Türkiye has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors. It has criticized Moscow’s invasion and provided Ukraine with arms, including drones, which played a significant role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict. Ankara has refused to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia – a stance that has helped its mediation efforts reap results.
Mir cards offer millions of Russians who vacation in Türkiye each year a way to access their rubles and pay for everything from restaurants to hotels.
They are also increasingly important to Russians who are fleeing to Türkiye as part of a new migration wave of military-aged men after Moscow ordered a partial mobilization to replenish its ranks.
Russia has been among the biggest tourist sources for Türkiye, and Russians have been the top real estate buyers this year.
Mir was developed in 2015 to circumvent Western sanctions imposed following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
But Russian central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina conceded earlier this month that Moscow was encountering “difficulties” expanding its payment system around the world.
Uzbekistan suspended Mir transactions last Friday citing unspecified “technical procedures.” The card still works in Belarus and a handful of Russia's closest allies.