Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday it had proof that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq.
Moscow and Ankara have been locked in a war of words since last week when a Turkish air force jet shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Russian border, the most serious incident between Russia and a NATO state in half a century.
In a briefing in Moscow, defense ministry officials displayed satellite images which they said showed columns of tanker trucks loading with oil at installations controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and then crossing the border into neighboring Turkey.
The officials did not specify what direct evidence they had of the involvement of Erdogan and his family, an allegation that the Turkish president has vehemently denied.
“Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov.
“Maybe I’m being too blunt, but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one’s closest associates.
“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!
“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,” Antonov said.
The ministry also alleged that the same criminal networks which were smuggling oil from Islamic State-held areas into Turkey were also supplying weapons, equipment and training to the militant group.
Officials said that the Russian air force’s bombing campaign had made a significant dent in Islamic State’s ability to produce, refine and sell oil.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that no one had the right to slander Turkey by accusing it of buying oil from Islamic State, and that he would step down from his position if such allegations were proven to be true.
Erdogan, who was speaking at a university in the Qatari capital of Doha, also said he did not want relations with Moscow to deteriorate further.