Russian intelligence claims it has video evidence implicating Turkey in ISIS oil smuggling.
The video taken from a reconnaissance mission supposedly shows a convoy of almost 12,000 oil tankers sitting on the Turkey-Iraq border making its way into Turkish territory. Additionally, the video appears to show the convoy coming under fire from aerial bombardment.
“The [aerial] imagery was made in the vicinity of Zakho (a city in Iraqi Kurdistan), there were 11,775 tankers and trucks on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border. As many as 4,530 of them were on the territory of Turkey and 7,245 in Iraq,” says Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, according to Russia Today.
The veracity of Russia’s claim has come under some scrutiny, particularly from Iraqi Kurds who claim the oil convoy contained Kurdish oil.
“Turkey closed border with Iraq during past few days due to war with Kurdish militants, causing long lines of oil tankers,” says Kifah Mahmoud, adviser to Kurdish President Barzani, speaking to Bloomberg.
Additionally, the fact that Zakho lies firmly in Kurdish territory raises questions as to how such a large convoy of ISIS oil would be able to slip past the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Ruskoy admits “it must be noted that oil from both Iraq and Syria come through this [Zakho] checkpoint,” suggesting that the Russians are aware of the potential doubts associated with their claim.
Russian intelligence, however, also notes the oil convoy appears to be coming from the Syrian town of Deiz-ez-Zour — a known ISIS stronghold. The route the convoy appears to be taking is referred to as the “eastern route,” a known ISIS oil smuggling path that traces from the Deiz-ez-Zour area through the border region with Iraq to Mosul, eventually allowing the oil to be smuggled into Turkey.
ISIS oil profits have taken a nosedive since a U.S. special forces raid against former ISIS oil chief Abu Sayyaf revealed crucial intelligence on the caliphate’s oil smuggling operation. Due to shortages, prices of oil within ISIS territory have reportedly quadrupled, according to Iraqi Oil Report. Though coalition airstrikes have destroyed much of ISIS’ logistical capability to produce oil, it has not stopped the group from using rudimentary means to continue production — using as many as 1,600 foreign oil workers.
“The northern and western routes which we previously revealed continue to be used. In order to avoid losses to Russian aviation, the terrorists move [the oil convoys] mainly at night. Moreover, their tanker trucks are disguised as ordinary lorries (trucks), and move in small columns of several dozen vehicles at a time,” notes Rudskoy, in reference to new ISIS oil smuggling tactics.
Russia’s accusation is the most recent jab in an ongoing conflict between Turkey and Russia that began after Turkey shot down a Russian plane which entered its airspace in November. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since claimed he would resign if Russia could prove Turkey was involved in ISIS oil smuggling.