Upping the tensions between Ankara and Moscow following the downing of a Russian military jet by Turkey last week that left two Russian pilots dead, the Kremlin on Wednesday claimed it has “proof” that the president of Turkey and his family are directly benefiting from the sale of oil smuggled out of neighboring Syria by the Islamic State.
At a press conference featuring Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov on Wednesday, Russia pointed the figure directly at Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and displayed satellite images purporting to show a large caravan of oil tankers making their way from ISIS-controlled territory in Syria lining up at the Turkish border.
“Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq,” said Antonov. “According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country—President Erdoğan and his family—are involved in this criminal business.”
“Maybe I’m being too blunt,” he continued, “but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one’s closest associates.”
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Antonov wondered out loud why Turkey’s NATO allies have done so little to question or press Erdoğan on the role oil sales from Syria may be having on the effort to defeat ISIS.
“In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son has been appointed energy minister. What a marvelous family business!” he exclaimed. “The cynicism of the Turkish leadership knows no limits. Look what they’re doing. They went into someone else’s country, they are robbing it without compunction.”
As Reuters notes, Russian officials have not yet specified “what direct evidence they had of the involvement of Erdoğan and his family, an allegation that the Turkish president has vehemently denied.”
Writing at his blog last month, former U.S. State Department employee Peter Van Buren explained that in order to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, people must be willing to “follow the money” when it comes to oil sales. He explained:
In the wake of the downed aircraft last week and amid the ongoing dispute between the two nations over whether the incident was a planned “ambush” by Turkey—which Russia has claimed—or a justified defense of its airspace, as Turkey maintains, the ultimate fallout is still hard to discern.
As part of its response, the Russian Federation on Wednesday approved a list of further economic sanctions against Turkey, which includes blocking imports of Turkish goods, the suspension of bilateral trade and financial agreements, and imposed travel restrictions on Russians heading to Turkey and on Turkish citizens trying to enter Russia.
As the Guardian reports:
According to media reports, Erdoğan reacted to the accusations and new sanctions on Wednesday by saying the charges were “slander” and that Russian leaders were being overly “emotional” in their response.
And while Putin has steadfastly refused to meet or speak with Erdoğan until he receives an apology, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that he would be willing to meet with his Turkish counterpart during an upcoming meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) taking place in Belgrade later this week.