When Turkey shot down an Su-24 near the Syrian border late last month, the world held its collective breath. Everyone was asking themselves the same question: “How will Putin respond?”
The fear was that Moscow would retaliate militarily. After all, Putin isn’t exactly known for backing down from a fight. Of course an attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on the entire alliance and so, it appeared that the world might have witnessed a Franz Ferdinand moment, if you will.
But Putin had an ace up his sleeve.
Rather than sending a couple of Tupolev Tu-95 Bears to Ankara, Moscow unleashed a propaganda campaign aimed at exposing Turkey’s role in facilitating Islamic State’s lucrative oil trade. It was almost as though Putin was just waiting for Turkey to give him an excuse. Just hours after the Russian warplane crashed, Putin accused Turkey of buying ISIS oil on the way to calling Erdogan a “backstabber”. Adding insult to injury, he said all of that while sitting right next to Jordan’s King Abdullah.
From there, Moscow proceeded to deliver near daily pronouncements accusing Erdogan and his family of funding international terrorism and the entire media campaign culminated in an epic presentation by the Russian MoD featuring photos of oil trucks, videos of airstrikes and maps detailing the trafficking of stolen oil.
As it turns out, this strategy has done far more damage to Ankara than one could ever hope to achieve with a couple of bombing runs. Turkey’s complicity in the smuggling of stolen crude from Syria and Iraq has been put on display for the entire world to see and it’s been nothing short of an epic embarrassment for Erdogan. It’s also helped to inform the public about the extent to which ISIS operates with the support of state actors. Last week, Russia even went so far as to suggest that the US is involved as well.
Washington and Ankara vehemently deny the accusations, but with each new video clip out of Moscow, it becomes more and more difficult for the US and Turkey to explain why it looks like ISIS is able to smuggle oil across the Turkish border with impunity.
Make no mistake, Russia knows damn well what’s going on here, but Moscow has taken the same approach with regard to the US as it did in early October when Putin cordially invited Washington to join forces in the fight against ISIS. That is, last week’s jabs (mentioned above) notwithstanding, Moscow has generally presented the evidence to the US as though The Kremlin seriously expects America to consider it and break off its alliance with Turkey. Russia did the same thing in early October when Moscow invited the US to join forces in the war on terror.
In both cases, Moscow knows that Washington is complicit in the effort to arm, fund, and train Sunni extremists and by making public overtures like proposing alliances and presenting evidence of state sponsored terror, The Kremlin puts The White House in a very awkward position: America is effectively forced to explain what’s going on to the public and when it comes to Syria, there’s no way to do that without exposing the entire charade.
Well, just in case the US needs any more “help” in determining whether its ally in Ankara is in fact supporting “the terrorists” (as Sergei Lavrov refers to ISIS), or if perhaps Erdogan’s right hand isn’t aware of what his left hand is doing, Iran is here to help. “Iranian military advisors in Syria have taken photos and filmed all the routes used by ISIL's oil tankers to Turkey. If the Turkish authorities are unaware of the Daesh oil sales in their country, then we can provide them with such intelligence,” Iran’s Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezaie told reporters on Friday.
Meanwhile, Iranian diplomat and analyst Seyed Hadi Afghahi had the following to say in an interview with Sputnik:
“It is important to point out a few key points. Firstly, it is important to understand whether it is sure that the purchase by Turkey of Daesh’s stolen oil was carried out with the full knowledge of President Erdogan, his son and son in law. The reaction of Erdogan and Turkish authorities can say one thing: they were stunned and shocked that Moscow has such evidence. This significantly affected the position of Turkey's NATO allies.
"Our military advisers and trainers are in the immediate vicinity of the event. Our experts are involved in operations in three areas: strategic, tactical and informational. They are in contact with their Russian counterparts. Through the efforts of our countries (Russia, Iran, Syria, Iraq) the Information Centre for the fight against terrorists and Daesh was established.
"In addition, our experts are working closely with the Syrian army, the soldiers of the Lebanese ‘Hezbollah’ in the conduct of the fight against terrorists. Therefore, any exchange of intelligence between our military agencies, and ways to monitor traffic of trucks with contraband oil, heading in the direction of Turkey, is gathered in photographs and videos."
"If Erdogan continues to deny the facts [Iran] will provide more irrefutable hard evidence such as photos, GPS navigation of the oil convoys and videos.”
This all comes as Erdogan sends troops and tanks to Iraq where Shiite militias loyal to Iran have promised to attack any and all Turkish interests and where some Shiite politicians in Baghdad are calling on PM Haider al-Abadi to seek "direct military intervention" from Russia to expel the Turks (see our full account here).
On that note, we'll close with one last quote from Afghahi:
"The immensely ambitious policy of President Erdogan fundamentally damaged relations with many countries. Ankara’s actions ranging from the downed Russian plane, disrespectful remarks against the Iranian authorities, and the illegal invasion by Turkish tanks in the territory of another state – Iraq, all point to the fact that Erdogan is trying to ignite flames of new war in the already unstable region."