Meet the Turkish Oligarch Who’s Pushing Kremlin Talking Points

Russian oligarchs are the primary enablers of President Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic authoritarianism, but they aren’t the only ones. The activities of Turkish business magnate Ethem Sancak, one of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s closest political allies, demonstrate how Russia exerts influence even in NATO member states through business figures aligned with the Kremlin’s anti-Western worldview.

Sancak appeared on Russian news channel RBC earlier this month to argue that NATO is the main culprit in Ukraine, calling the transatlantic alliance a “cancerous tumor” in the Turkish body politic. He also echoed Kremlin talking points that presented NATO action against Russia as a threat to Turkey: “We will not join in the sanctions, because if Russia falls, Turkey would get divided. And if Turkey falls, the same goes for Russia.”

Sancak, a former member of the executive committee of Erdoğan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), spoke to RBC while visiting Moscow alongside members of Turkey’s Maoist-rooted Patriotic Party (VP), Erdoğan’s enemies-turned-tactical allies who share his agenda of pivoting Turkey toward China, Iran, and Russia. Fraternizing with Maoists may seem unusual for an oligarch, yet Sancak’s path to political Islam started in the 1970s with his youth activism among the ranks of Turkey’s Maoist movement.

During his undergraduate studies in business administration at Istanbul University, Sancak was a member of the Revolutionary Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Turkey (TIIKP), for which he later served as provincial chair in Diyarbakir. His peers remarked on his enthusiasm for “transforming society” along Maoist lines. Sancak worked briefly as a journalist between 1976 and 1978 before moving into the pharmaceutical industry, climbing its ranks to become the chairman of the board of the Turkish Pharmaceutical Warehouses Association from 2004 to 2010.

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Comments (9)
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  • “ “Once upon a time, I was interested in Karl Marx and Mao, now I am in love with Tayyip Erdoğan.” Sancak, who went as far as describing his affection for Erdoğan as “divine love,””

    Okay, that sounds a little odd. Still, I doubt it’s anything more than loyalty to an authoritarian based on access to wealth and power.

  • Thank you for this article! Aykan or Kursat, would it be possible to tell us your take on the following articles? The reason I ask is because you seem to be possibly knowledgable in this sphere having to do with Asia.
    I am curious how you would look at the Indian perspective

  • I believe Mr. Sancak has not done his math correctly. There was no monolithic media, let alone Western media in 1522. In fact, by that date, Europe had had moveable type for just over 70 years.

  • Wish I were shocked. I'm not.

    How bad Turkey is under Erogan is the worst kept secret in the world. But there's still a ton of people with their head in the sand.

  • It's a sign of our own weakness that we put up with Erdogan and Orban right at the heart of our alliances. If we had any gumption, they would've been kicked to the curb years ago.

  • Great article!
    I love these well-timed articles on topics that I would not normally plan to read.

  • Between comments like, “Once upon a time, I was interested in Karl Marx and Mao, now I am in love with Tayyip Erdoğan,” and his wanting to “break the influence of the Western media squeezing [Turkey] for the last 500 years with its vise-like grip," (those 15th-century town criers were ruthless, I tell ya), I can't help but feel like he's Turkey's version of Mike Lindell.

    1. If you post this on Twitter maybe you will receive an Erdoğan love letter. I heard that worked for somebody else. 😅