The Russian government has released satellite images and surveillance footage it claims provide evidence of Turkey’s active role in illegal oil trade with the Islamic State (IS). At a briefing on Wednesday, December, 2, an official of the Russian Defense Ministry said Turkey is deeply involved in black market oil trade with ISIS and is the main buyer of smuggled oil and oil products from Islamic State territory.
According to the Russian official, members of the Turkish political elite, including the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are benefiting from the “criminal trade.” Turkey’s illegal oil trade with ISIS, according to Russia, is the major source of income for the terrorist organization.
At the press briefing in Moscow, Anatoly Antonov, the Russian defense minister, presented to reporters satellite images purportedly showing thousands of trucks carrying oil across the Syrian border into Turkey. He also presented surveillance footage allegedly showing long rows of trucks entering Turkey from ISIS-controlled areas of Syria.
According to Antonov, footage taken from the skies over border crossings in ISIS-controlled Iraq and Syria proves the involvement of Turkey in illegal oil trade with ISIS. He said the amount of oil involved in the black market trade was “large,” and alleged that the oil is entering Turkey through “live oil pipelines” consisting of thousands of oil trucks.
Russia, according to Antonov, has identified three main oil smuggling routes from ISIS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq into Turkey. Russia also says it has obtained evidence that the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is involved in the illegal trade in ISIS oil.
“Today, we are presenting only some of the facts that confirm that a whole team of bandits and Turkish elites stealing oil from their neighbors is operating in the region,” Antonov said.
“According to our data, the top political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – is involved in this criminal business.”
The official said Russia was releasing evidence of Turkey’s involvement in a black market oil trade worth millions of dollars despite awareness that Turkish leaders would not admit the truth “even if their faces are smeared with the stolen oil.”
“President Erdogan and his family are involved in this criminal business,” Antonov said. “We know the price of Erdogan’s words. Turkish leaders won’t step down and they won’t acknowledge anything even if their faces are smeared with the stolen oil.”
But despite accusing the family of President Erdogan of involvement in black market oil trade with ISIS, the Russian defense minister presented no evidence. However, he told reporters that the Russian ministry would release more evidence in the coming days.
In addition to images showing oil trucks entering Turkey allegedly from ISIS-controlled Iraq and Syria, the ministry presented maps showing the major alleged smuggling routes.
Officials also presented videos showing Russian airstrikes against IS oil facilities.
A top Russian military official, Lt.-General Sergei Rudskoy, claimed that since Russia commenced “anti-terrorist operation” in Syria, airstrikes have targeted the oil infrastructure of ISIS and the terrorists’ income from illegal oil smuggling has been halved.
Russian airstrikes have hit more than 30 ISIS oil complexes, 11 refineries, 23 oil pumping stations, and destroyed 1,080 trucks carrying oil products.
“The income of this terrorist organization was about $3 million per day. After two months of Russian airstrikes their income was about $1.5 million a day,” Lt.-General Rudskoy said.
“These [airstrikes] helped reduce the trade of the oil illegally extracted on the Syrian territory by almost 50 percent.”
Rudskoy noted, significantly, that in contrast to Russia, the U.S.-led coalition has not bombed ISIS oil trucks and facilities. Questions raised about why the U.S. and its allies have not bombed ISIS oil facilities have been the subject of a controversy lately.
Another Russian ministry official, Lt. Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, claimed that up to 2,000 ISIS fighters, 120 tons of ammunition, and 250 vehicles have been delivered to ISIS and Al-Nusra Front militants in Syria through Turkish territory.
“According to reliable intelligence reports, the Turkish side has been taking such actions for a long time and on a regular basis. And most importantly, it is not planning to stop them.”
RT quotes Uzi Arad, a former head of research with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, saying, “One thing is clear. The role that Turkey is playing in this area is in many ways destructive and it’s affecting the European security, it’s affecting its neighbors. Ultimately it’s affecting its own society.”
President Erdogan of Turkey has reacted to the accusations by Russia. Speaking at an event in Doha, capital of Qatar, on Wednesday, he accused Russia of slander and denied Russian allegations that Turkey is involved in illicit oil trade with ISIS. He said he would resign as president of Turkey if Russia presents credible evidence.
“They [the Russians] claim Turkey is buying oil from Daesh [ISIS]. Shame on you. Those who claim we buy oil from Daesh are obliged to prove it. If not, you are a slanderer.”
The U.S. government has also responded to the allegations by Russia. Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesperson, issued a statement defending Turkey against the allegations.
“We flatly reject any notion that the Turks are somehow working with ISIL. Preposterous. And really very, kind of ridiculous,” Warren said.
He described Turkey as a “great partner” in the fight against ISIS, saying, “They’re hosting our aircraft. They’re conducting strikes. They’re supporting the moderate Syrian opposition.”
Naseer Nuri, an Iraqi Defense Ministry official, also said Iraq would file a complaint with the UN Security Council if investigations confirm the claims by Russia.
Admitting that “general information about the smuggling of Iraqi oil by trucks to certain countries, including Turkey” was already available to the Iraqi government, Naseer Nuri, said, “If the Iraqi government receives enough evidence and details, without any hesitation it will file a protest at the UN Security Council and all other relevant international bodies.”
The allegations by the Russian government against Turkey come as tensions escalate between both countries following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet that allegedly violated Turkish airspace.
[Photo By RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool via AP]