Row between Turkey and Russia moves onto ‘ISIL oil’

With relations between Turkey and Russia strained following the downing of a Russian jet by two Turkish F-16s near the Syrian border, the countries have since entered a war of words. Turkey insisted that the Russian Su-24 was warned 10 times in five minutes before it was shot down, but the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the downed plane was shot down in Syrian airspace.

Speaking at an event in the northern province of Bayburt, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Turkey buys oil from ISIL.

Furthermore, Erdogan made the same accusation against Russia, claiming that the US has documented that Russian companies and ISIL are jointly selling oil to the Syrian regime.

The US Treasury Department on Wednesday announced sanctions against Syrian businessman George Haswani for helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to buy oil from ISIL, as well as against Russian businessman Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who leads the World Chess Federation and is accused of having financial dealings with the Syrian leader. The US-based assets of these two people were frozen. US officials have long voiced concerns that the Assad regime was strengthening ISIL finances by purchasing oil produced by the militant group.

Following the downing of the Russian plane, Russia responded with strong criticism. Putin accused Turkey of buying oil from ISIL and supporting terrorist groups in Syria.

Putin used the opportunity afforded by a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande on Thursday to repeat his accusations against Turkey of turning a blind eye to oil smuggling by ISIL.

Putin argued that Russian pilots have documented the mobility of trucks that carry ISIL oil day and night between Syria and Turkey. “We see from the air. Tankers full of [ISIL oil] go there [Turkey] and return [to Syria] empty,” said Putin.

He admitted it was “theoretically possible” that Ankara was unaware of oil supplies entering its territory from ISIL-controlled areas of Syria but added that this was hard to imagine.

Russia’s accusations found backing from France, as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that the trucks carrying oil from ISIL-held territories are destined to several countries, which include Turkey.

“The Turkish government says that it does not have information [on ISIL’s oil smuggling through Turkey]. Besides, [the Turkish government] argues that part of the [ISIL] oil was bought by the Syrian regime. We have doubts,” said Fabius to the AFP on Thursday.

Russia has also decided to suspend its visa-free regime with Turkey from Jan. 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.

Previously, in his speech at the presidential palace on Thursday, Erdogan firmly denied Putin’s allegations that Turkey buys the ISIL oil.

“Shame on you. It’s clear where Turkey buys its oil and gas … Those who claim we are buying oil from Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIL] like this must prove their claims. Nobody can slander this country. I would call them liars [if they do],” Erdogan said.

“If you are seeking the source of weaponry and financial power of Daesh, the first place to look is the Assad regime and countries that act with it,” he said.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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