Turkish bank DenizBank joined private lender Işbank as both suspended use of the Russian payment system Mir after the United States warned it would target people and entities if they are found helping Moscow skirt financial sanctions.
The moves, announced separately on Monday, came after Washington expanded its sanctions last week to include the head of the entity running Mir, which is popular with the tens of thousands of Russian tourists who arrived in Türkiye this year.
The suspensions by two of the five Turkish banks that had been using Mir reflect their effort to avoid the financial crossfire between the West and Russia, as the Turkish government takes a balanced diplomatic stance.
The importance of Mir cards for Russians rose substantially this year after U.S. payments firms Visa and Mastercard suspended operations in Russia and their cards issued in Russia stopped working abroad.
In addition to Türkiye, Cuba, South Korea, Vietnam and a handful of former Soviet republics accept Mir, which means both “peace” and “world” in Russian, with others such as Iran intending to follow suit soon.
Işbank, whose shares tumbled 10% on Monday, said it halted Mir payments and is evaluating the U.S. Treasury’s new sanctions. Işbank also said it was keen to comply with national and international laws, regulations and commercial business principles.
Asked for comment, DenizBank said: “We are currently unable to provide service” in Mir. The bank “acts in accordance with international sanction regulations,” it had said earlier on Monday.
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, while refusing to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia – a stance that has helped its mediation efforts reap results.
Western nations are growing concerned over increased economic ties between Türkiye and Russia, diplomats say, particularly after several meetings between leaders Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin, including last week in Uzbekistan.
Last month the U.S. Treasury sent a letter to big Turkish businesses warning they risked penalties if they maintained commercial ties with sanctioned Russians.
Turkish Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati at the time called concerns over the letter “meaningless.” In April, he said Russian tourists – critical to Turkey's economy – could easily make payments since the Mir system was growing among Turkey's banks.
Many Russians have gone to Türkiye since the February invasion left them few other travel options, and sanctions cut off their use of major U.S. credit cards.
After the two private lenders suspended Mir, it is still operated by state lenders Halkbank, VakifBank and Ziraat.
Istanbul’s banking index tumbled sharply last week and shed more than 9% Monday, triggering circuit breakers halting trading. One banker said worries that so-called secondary sanctions could target Turkish banks or firms affected markets.
The expanded U.S. sanctions last week targeted the chief executive of the Bank of Russia’s National Card Payment System (NSPK), which runs Mir.