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Market of Transport Logistics between Turkey and Russia – Great Opportunities Attended by High Risks


Relationship between Russia and Turkey has undergone amplitude changes over the last 3 years, which has never taken place in international relations.

We have interviewed 3 experts from TELS Group of companies about the history of political and trade relations between Russia and Turkey, peculiarities and opportunities in the Balkan logistics market:

  • Elena Zhilinskaya, marketing analyst; 
  • Olga Korotkova, Head of Road Transport department in Moscow; 
  • Sergey Kretovich, Head of the department

turkey-russia.jpg Trading and Friendship…

Up until the year 2015, Turkey had been considered one of the major partners of Russia in the Middle East, a stable, secular state with deep developing economic ties, far reaching common plans and projects. According to the information of the Turkish Embassy in Russia, the annual trading volume between Russia and Turkey exceeded $30 B in 2012-2014. At the beginning of 2014, the investments of Turkish businesses into Russian economy totaled around $9 B. Money was invested into building projects, food industry, manufacturing of packaging, bathroom equipment and furniture, as well as banking sector.

When the Western countries imposed a number of sanctions against Russia in 2014 (Turkey did not join), the Russian government also imposed an embargo on import of food from certain European countries and the USA. This resulted in the increase in export of Turkish food to Russia. Russia accounted for 60% of all the Turkish export of fruits and vegetables.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, import of food and agricultural products from Turkey to Russia totaled $1.7 B in 2014.

E.zhilinskaya.jpgElena Zhilinskaya: “In 2015, 3065 thousand tons of cargoes were imported to Russia from Turkey. 43% of all the cargoes accounted for vegetables, root crops, fruits and nuts, around 29% - for building materials. The remaining 28% mainly accounted for plastic and articles thereof, industrial equipment, various chemical products, textile fabric, automobiles, articles of ferrous metals, washing and cleaning products.

Almost half of all export from the Russian Federation to Turkey accounted for oil products (over 18 Mio tons), ferrous metals – 8.8 Mio tons, cereals (mainly corn) – 4.7 Mio tons. The major part of non-resource goods accounted for food-industry waste and animal feeding, fertilizers, animal fat, aluminum and articles thereof, vegetables and root crops”.

Up until November 2015, the Balkan routes were one of the most dynamic directions in the international logistics market of Russia with the major cargoes transported to/from Turkey.

The major road routes used to transport Turkish cargoes go through Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and sometimes Belarus. Another route involves ferries travelling straight to Novorossiysk, which is not popular due to rare trips and low capacity. Complicated relations between Ukraine and Russia influenced the traffic flow through Ukraine to certain extent, yet cargo transit has become stable here.

korotkova.JPGOlga Korotkova: “Moldavian and Ukrainian transportation companies offer more profitable conditions for this direction than Russian and Turkish companies. Actually, the directions between Russia and Turkey is similar to any other direction with one peculiarity of the payment time – transportation companies demand early payment (or even payment in advance), preferred by cash. Large Turkish freight forwarders try to follow the European model of mutual payments by reaching an agreement with its contractors and leveling the requirements”.


Throughout the whole year in 2015, trade with Turkey was developing favourably, the volume of transportations was growing. The prospects seemed highly promising. But … everything changed after the incident with the Russian jet. As a result, the Turkish business bore greater losses.

Trading “winter”

The conflict of interests between Russia and Turkey revealed during the Russian military operation in Syria; but all this did not affect tense trade relations and tourism in Turkey (war and trade could well go together). However, the situation changed dramatically when Turkish air forces downed the Russian military jet flying over Syria on November 24, 2015. Fortunately, Russia didn’t develop the conflict into cold or hot war, though political and trading “winter” came.

Almost at once all the imports from Turkey became extremely difficult – all the vehicles from Turkey had to undergo customs inspection and sample collection resulting in vehicles standing idle for several days.

Olga Korotkova: “In 2015, 64% of customer database of the Department of the Balkan States, TELS Group of companies accounted for Customers interested in cargo delivery from Turkey. This is when we lost almost all our customers. Two days after the incident with the Russian jet we were forced to return 47 trucks back to Turkey. Though sanctions and official restrictions had not been introduced yet, the customs refused to clear the vehicles with goods from Turkey, and no one knew when the whole situation would clarify. Later a decree ordering obligatory customs inspection and collection of samples was issued. The vehicles could finally cross the border, but the customs procedures took 5 days.”

On January 1, 2016, the Government of the Russian Federation introduced a number of sanctions including the following:

  • the number of bilateral CEMT permits for Turkish carriers was limited to 2000 units; 
  • import of certain food products was banned.

Since that moment Turkey could not import tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, onion, fruits and berries. The sanctions also applied to frozen bird’s carcasses and by-products from turkey and chicken, fresh carnations, and salt. Vegetable products not restricted directly from imports could not cross the border for phytosanitary reasons.

Elena Zhilinskaya: “The overall volume of cargoes from Turkey to Russia in the year 2016 against the previous year decreased almost twice, to 1555 thousand tons. Import of vegetables decreased by 430 thousand tons, import of fruits – by 322 thousand tons, import of building materials – by 370 thousand tons. In fact, the reduction in imports applied to almost all product groups to different extents. At the same time, imports of dairy products grew 8 times, though its share in the overall cargo flow was small (9.5 thousand tons)”.

According to the Embassy of Turkey in Moscow, the overall volume of foreign trade between Turkey and Russia decreased to $15.3 B in 2016.

Olga Korotkova: “One of the employees of a Turkish forwarding company shared the following impressions: “Right after the attack I was visiting a café in Istanbul with my friends, and I involuntary asked: “Why did YOU down this jet?” I said it is as if I was part of Russia – so much was his business connected with Russia.”


In summer 2016, against economic and political shock (an attempt of military takeover in Turkey), Turkey “came to its senses”. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter to Vladimir Putin apologizing for downing of the jet, expressing profound condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who was killed and informing about the investigation launched against the militant involved in the death of the Russian pilot.

Friends again but …

Since that moment relationships between Russia and Turkey have been improving. While this improvement is quite rapid in political and military sectors, economic relations are recovering slowly with regard to the old trade level.

Restrictions on the import of citrus and stone fruits from Turkey were lifted on October 20, 2016.

Elena Zhilinskaya: “Regardless of the fact that sanctions were lifted partly in November 2016, the volume of imports from Turkey to the Russian Federation expressed in physical terms recovered its level of November 2015. At the same time, imports in December 2016 on December 2015 showed negative tendency with -15% (even though the figures were much better than in January or March with -71%).”

In March 2017, the Government of the Russian Federation allowed import of onion, cauliflower, broccoli and carnations from Turkey. But … so far tomatoes and cucumbers cannot be imported. According to Alexander Tkachev, the Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, production of cucumbers and tomatoes in Russia increased by 30% during the year, so the government should support so domestic producers. Turkey was greatly dissatisfied with such partial solution and imposed import duty on Russian agricultural products.

Official reconciliation in summer 2016 and the policy to recover Russian-Turkish relations did not help improve working conditions in road transport logistics (even though the general activity increased). The number of bilateral permits stayed unchanged, 2000 units (incredibly small). Despite the fact that handling procedures were eased in December 2016, full customs inspection and sample collection continue (which takes time and money).

Olga Korotkova: “Failure to reach exchange agreement between Russia and Turkey resulted in a sharp price jump. Turkish goods could easily get to Russia, but because almost all the Russian and Turkish carriers (except for the owners of CEMT permits) had withdrawn from the market, the rates increased greatly – from initial €3.5 thousand to €4-5 thousand. The rates are falling but they still haven’t reached the initial level.”

kretovich.jpgSergey Kretovich: “As Turkey manufactures a large number of consumer goods of various brands, the whole situation aroused feverish demand for trucking vehicles and considerable price increase of approx. 800-1000 Euro. In fact, only those carriers who have CEMT permits can transport the goods.

Direct delivery of goods from Turkey to Russia by ferry lines has become more difficult – the demand is exceeding the supply, so the prices are very high. Container transportation from Turkey to Odessa by sea with further delivery of cargoes across Ukrainian-Russian border by road is unpredictable in terms of transit time. So Turkish trucks stand idle at the Russian border for several days as before.”

Regardless of all the difficulties, cargo transportation from Turkey to Russia is recovering, which is happening mainly due to large transnational companies. Many Russian importers have reoriented to domestic suppliers and suppliers from other countries.

«Product portfolio» in the Russian-Turkish market


With regard to all the existing circumstances and relatively short sanction period, the volume of Russian and Turkish logistics market is expected to recover on the year 2015 (with certain exceptions). Turkish fruits will have to fight the way to the Russian market competing with imports from Egypt, Israel, Morocco, China, Azerbaijan, etc.

In 2015, import traffic from Turkey mainly included the following product groups:


Product group


Salt; sulphur; soil and stone; plastering materials, lime and cement

879 807

Fruits and nuts; citrus fruits and honey melon peels

841 414

Vegetables, root crops and tuber crops

466 531

Other chemical goods

80 975

Plastic and articles thereof

79 635

Equipment and machines, spare parts

71 008

Automobiles, spare parts and accessories

51 467

Production of inorganic chemistry

47 168

Textile fabric

43 363

Articles of ferrous metals

40 207

Vessels, boats and floating structures

33 207

Soap, washing, cleaning and polishing compositions, modelling clay

32 753

Articles from plaster and stone, cement, asbestos, etc.

30 348

Dyeing and tanning agents, varnishes and paints, spackling paste, putty, etc.

27 011

Ferrous metlas

26 871

Electric machines and equipment, audio-visual equipment, spare parts and accessories

26 656

Meat and meat sub-products

22 225

Ores, slag and ash

20 283


16 855

Articles of base metals

16 770

Other goods

211 274

By March 2017, almost all the sanctions on food imported from Turkey had been lifted except for tomatoes and cucumbers as the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation insisted that such restrictions would help protect domestic producers. Tomatoes and cucumbers make a great part of Turkish export capacity to the Russian Federation, so Turkey is deeply concerned about the removal of all the sanctions. (292.8 thousand tons of tomatoes were exported from Turkey to Russia in 2015, totaling 54% of all the volume of tomatoes imported to Russia.)


Exacerbations of relations between Russia and Turkey had its significant effect on the volume of export to Turkey in 2016, expressed in physical terms. Product structure has changed – export of cereals decreased, while the volume of oil increased.

Elena Zhilinskaya: “With regard to the complicated circumstances, export from Russia to Turkey grew by 4% in 2016. First, it happened due to oil products (+12%, up to 20.4 Mio tons), ferrous metals (+6%, up to 9.3 Mio tons), food-industry waste and animal feeding (+20%, up to 1.6 Mio tons), oil seeds (+97%, up to 434 thousand tons).

At the same time, export of cereals decreased by -21% (-1 Mio tons), organic chemicals – by 75% (-623 thousand tons), aluminum and articles thereof – by 20% (-119 thousand tons).”


Product group


Mineral oil, oils and petroleum distillates

20 462 726

Ferrous metals

9 305 505


3 691 497

Ores, slag and ash

1 800 976

Food-industry waste, animal feeding

1 561 061


1 090 198

Animal fat and oils

563 861

Vegetables, root crops and tuber crops

513 032

Aluminum and articles thereof

480 709

Oil seeds and fruit, medicinal herbs and herbs used for technical purposes; straw and fodder

434 228

Sugar and sugar confectionery

255 223

Paper and cardboard, articles thereof

239 215

Wood and articles thereof; charcoal

221 103

Organic compounds

206 191

Glass and articles thereof

153 917

Production of inorganic chemistry

97 815

Plastic and articles thereof

61 061

Vessels, boats and floating structures

50 037

Rubber and articles thereof

38 416

Various food products

37 054

Other goods

195 334


The Institute of Statistic Studies of Turkey informs that nominal exports from Turkey to Russia increased by 59.1% in January 2017 against the same month in 2015, totaling $150 Mio. $38 Mio accounts for the export of fruits and vegetables. Goods imported to Turkey from Russia increased by 10.2% (up to $1.5 B) in January. The major part of imports from Russia accounted for energy products (almost $832 Mio) and steel ($279 Mio).

However, not without flaws … On March 15, to induce Russia to lift all the sanctions on import of tomatoes and cucumbers, Turkey excluded Russia from the list of countries free of duties for imports of agricultural products. It means that now Russian exporters have to bear considerable expenses to import agricultural goods for their further transformation and export (so far, the duty has been paid for goods imported for home consumption).

According to Alexander Tkachev, the Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, such measures could stop the export of Russian corn, maize, beans, rice and other agricultural goods to Turkey completely. For instance, export duty for wheat is 130%. Duty for other agricultural products is less, but it’s still very significant.

What will be happening to the Turkish logistics sector?

Recent events have proven that international trade largely depends on political relationships between the countries and under current conditions may be limited considerably at any moment. From now on, Russian and Turkish businesses will build its long-term relations assuming all these risks.

The Government of the Russian Federation is slowly lifting its import bans on Turkish goods applying the principle to allow the imports that will not affect domestic producers. Turkey has also imposed certain restrictions. But as it’s known, business will always adapt to any conditions. Turkey can offer many great deals, so the volume of trade will be recovering.

Sergey Kretovich: “So far, Russia and Turkey have not exchanged permits for the year 2017. Thus, ASMAP recommends the carriers not to plan any transportations from Turkey until the end of Q2, 2017. No one knows when the whole situation clarifies. It should also be considered that Russia is gradually decreasing CEMT permits, so it is most likely that the number of such permits from February will be much less than in 2016”.

Russian politics is clearly designed to maintain good relations with Turkey despite the great differences of interests in the Middle East. So, Russian-Turkish cooperation tends to increase. The previous number of transportation permits is expected to recover resulting in certain reduction of rates. A number of customs formalities in respect of Turkish goods will be simplified… Unless anything unforeseen should arise.

Olga Korotkova: “We are now making plans regarding the Balkan direction. Things are getting better – the rates have stabilized, orders related to Turkey are increasing; though the volume is far from reaching its previous figures, but the market is reviving. Should anything in politics occur, I guess, we will still be working in the market”.

Marketing Department of TELS Group of Companies

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