Russian Defense Ministry officials on Wednesday presented what they said was proof of Turkish involvement in illegal oil trade with the Islamic State group (IS), accusing top Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of his family, of complicity.
Calling IS the “absolute leader” in international terrorism, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said during a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday that terrorists in Syria earn around $2 billion a year from the illegal extraction of oil, which they use to recruit and arm terrorists “around the world.”
“That is why ISIL is so protective of the infrastructure of illegal oil production in Syria and Iraq,” Antonov said using another name for IS. “The main customers for this oil stolen from its rightful owners – Syria and Iraq – is Turkey. According to information [we have] received, the highest political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – are involved in this criminal business.”
However, no evidence that Erdogan or any member of his family has been involved in trading IS oil was presented at the news conference.
Erdogan fires back
Erdogan lashed out at the latest Russian accusations. “No one has a right to engage in slander against Turkey by saying that Turkey is buying oil from Daesh (IS),” he said while on a visit to Qatar.
The latest Russian claims come amid growing tensions between Moscow and Ankara after Turkey last week shot down a Russian warplane it said violated its airspace from Syria, a charge Russia denies.
The deputy chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, Sergei Rudskoi, said during Wednesday’s briefing that there are three main routes for the transport of oil extracted in Syria and Iraq into Turkey. One, he said, goes from Syria westward to Turkish ports on the Mediterranean Sea, the second passes from Syria northward to a oil refinery in Turkey’s Batman Province, while the third passes from northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq to a “major trans-shipment base” in the Turkish town of Cizre.
Rudskoi presented satellite imagery taken at various times over the last several months, each showing hundreds of trucks – and, in several shots, what he said were thousands of trucks. He said the vehicles were carrying IS oil and either crossing into Turkey or headed for Turkey.
Purported video evidence
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the illegal oil flow into Turkey does not involve only the Islamic State group. The ministry showed one piece of video at Wednesday’s briefing that it said was taken of a border crossing at the Turkish town of Reyhanli, adjacent to parts of Syria’s Aleppo region controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.
The video clip shows a long line of large trucks at the border crossing, where a Turkish flag is visible.
Following last week’s downing of the Russian warplane, President Vladimir Putin said it was shot down by “accomplices of terrorists” and claimed IS oil was flowing through Turkey.
Erdogan denied the claim and asked Putin to prove it, saying he would resign if such evidence was forthcoming.
On Wednesday, Erdogan again said he would resign if Russia proved its accusation, but added “those who spread this slander shouldn’t retain their seats either.”
“Turkey has not lost its moral values so as to buy oil from a terrorist organization,” he added.