After Russia began announcing the economic sanctions and travel restrictions against Turkey last week in response to the shooting down of a Russian bomber on the border of Turkey and Syria, there was a sense that there was another shoe waiting to drop. The sanctions are significant and will be felt in Turkey but they felt somehow insufficient, particularly in a high-profile diplomatic row between two leaders – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – whose machismo is a core part of their public personas.
The strike on the Russian plane, which was reportedly in Turkish airspace for less than 20 seconds, killed one of the plane’s pilots and resulted in the death of a marine sent to rescue him. By itself, that would have been enough to rouse Russia to real anger. But Erdoğan took the extra step of publicly announcing that he had personally ordered Turkish fighter jets to attack the Russian plane.
Early this week, the second shoe finally thudded to the floor, as the Kremlin announced that it had irrefutable proof that not only has Turkey been buying oil from the terror group ISIS but that Erdoğan himself is personally complicit in the deal, providing an economic lifeline to the terrorist organization that Western governments have aligned against.
Further, Putin repeated a claim that he had begun making last week that the Russian jet was downed in an effort to protect that oil supply.
“We have every reason to think that the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory, right to the ports where it is loaded onto tankers,” Putin said.
The Turkish president reacted angrily on Monday, promising to resign if there was any proof of Russia’s allegation and demanding that Putin step down is Russia fails to make its case.
"I will say something very strong here. If such a thing is proven, the nobility of our nation would require that I would not stay in office,” he said, according to the state news service.
On Wednesday, Russia’s state-run online media devoted large amounts of coverage to a media briefing held by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Complete with maps and satellite imagery, the briefing purported to show the progress of oil trucks from ISIS-controlled territory into Turkey.
“The main destination for this stolen oil from Syria and Iraq is Turkey,” said Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov. “According to reports, this illegal business involves the country’s senior political leadership, including President Erdoğan and his family members.”
The briefing did not actually provide hard evidence linking Erdoğan to the illegal oil trade, but Antonov insinuated that the connection involves his son, Bilal Erdoğan, an executive with a shipping company, and his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, the country’s energy minister.
Russia’s Kremlin-run news site Sputnik on Wednesday reported that the a spokesman for the Iraqi energy ministry said his country would formally complain to the United Nations Security Council of the allegations that Turkey is buying oil from ISIS are true.
"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,” spokesman Naseer Nuri reportedly told Sputnik in an interview.