Russia’s deputy defence minister has accused Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family of personally profiting from oil trade with Isis militants.
The accusations follow Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane at the Syrian border last week, the first time a Nato member shot down a Russian aircraft in more than half a century.
The Russian Defence Ministry invited dozens of foreign military attaches and hundreds of journalists to produce what they said were satellite and aerial images of thousands of oil trucks streaming from the IS-controlled deposits in Syria and Iraq into Turkish sea ports and refineries.
“The main customer for this oil stolen from Syria and Iraq is Turkey,” said Anatoly Antonov. “The top political leadership of the country, President Erdogan and his family, is involved in this criminal business.”
The Turkish leader has denied Russian president Vladimir Putin’s earlier claims of Turkey’s involvement in oil trade with IS, and has pledged to step down if Moscow proves its accusations.
“No one has the right to make such a slander as to suggest that Turkey buys Daesh’s oil. Turkey has not lost its moral values as to buy oil from a terror organisation,” Mr Erdogan said in Wednesday’s speech at Qatar University, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, shortly after the Russian Defence Ministry made the claims.
“Those who make such slanderous claims are obliged to prove them. If they do I would not remain on the presidential seat for one minute. But those who make the claim must also give up their seat if they can’t prove it.”
The Russian plane’s downing has badly strained the relationship between the two nations. Russia has responded by deploying long-range air defence missiles at its air base in Syria and slamming Turkey with an array of economic sanctions.
Mr Erdogan warned that “if Russia’s disproportionate reactions continue, we will be forced to take our own measures.”
Mr Antonov, meanwhile, said that IS militants make two billion US dollars (£1.33 billion) a year from the illegal oil trade.
Mr Antonov did not provide any specific evidence to back up the claims of personal involvement of Mr Erdogan and his family in the oil trade with the IS.
“Turkish leaders, including Mr Erdogan, won’t step down and they won’t acknowledge anything even if their faces are smeared with the stolen oil,” he added.
Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff said Russian airstrikes on the IS oil infrastructure in Syria had halved the militants’ profits. He said the Russian air raids have destroyed 32 oil production facilities, 11 refineries and 1,080 oil trucks since they began on September 30.
Turkey has said it downed the Russian plane after it intruded its airspace for 17 seconds despite numerous warnings, and has refused to apologise for the shoot-down. The Russian pilot was killed by militants after bailing out from the plane and a Russian marine was also killed on a rescue mission to retrieve a second pilot.
Russia has insisted that its plane remained in Syrian airspace and has denounced the Turkish action as a “treacherous stab in the back”.
Mr Erdogan has voiced regret over the incident, but Mr Putin has made it clear that he expects a formal apology. The Russian leader refused to meet with Mr Erdogan at a global climate in Paris, which they both attended on Monday.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that he would agree to meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of an Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting of foreign ministers in Belgrade, the Serbian capital.
“We will meet with the Turkish minister of foreign affairs, we will hear what he has to say,” Mr Lavrov said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart in Nicosia.