Spotlight: Moscow's oil claim points to problems with Ankara on Syria

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-08 17:47:47|Editor: xuxin
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ISTANBUL, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- Russia's claim about oil being regularly transported from eastern Syria to Turkey and Iraq suggests that Moscow may have misgivings about Ankara's position on the Syrian province of Idlib, analysts told Xinhua.

The Russian statement is an indication of some problems between Ankara and Moscow regarding Syria, said Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.


Russian Chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said Wednesday that Russian intelligence services had spotted regular transportation of oil by a convoy of trucks from eastern Syria to Turkey and Iraq.

The top Russian general also claimed, according to Russia's Sputnik news agency, that the proceeds from the sale of oil products are being spent on financing terrorists from the Islamic State (IS).

Dilek finds both the content and the timing of the Russian claim meaningful, noting Moscow also accused Ankara, after a Russian bomber was downed in 2015 by a Turkish fighter jet near Turkey's border with Syria, of buying oil from the IS.

Turkey and Russia started to mend ties in the summer of 2016 and they have been cooperating in war-torn Syria ever since.

Since last year, they have been partners, together with Iran, in the so-called Astana peace process which aims to politically settle the Syrian conflict.

Syria's oil reserves in the east are on the territory controlled by the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units, which has established two self-declared cantons during the war.

The main problem between Turkey and Russia, according to analysts who spoke to Xinhua, is Moscow's dissatisfaction with Ankara's performance in Idlib and its concern that Ankara may again start cooperating with Washington on Syria.

Under a deal inked with Moscow in September, Ankara was supposed to persuade all the rebel groups to withdraw into the inner parts of Idlib for the creation of a demilitarized zone with the Syrian army.

However, some of the Islamic extremist groups have refused to exit and launched attacks instead on Syrian army positions in recent weeks, drawing Russian anger.

The main reason behind Moscow's reaction is Turkish failure to do its part in full in Idlib, stated Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military.

Russia apparently thinks Turkey cannot talk over the Islamic extremist groups, said Hasan Koni, an analyst on international relations at Istanbul Kultur University.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that there were still issues to be settled in Idlib.

The pair met on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina in early Dec. and agreed to continue cooperation on Idlib, while Putin also described Ankara as a reliable ally for Moscow.

However, both Dilek and Koni feel that Moscow may be questioning Ankara's reliability as a partner in Syria.


Sputnik reported on Nov. 25, citing a Syrian daily, that the Turkish military had transported a significant number of rebels from the demilitarized zone to a tent camp in the Turkish town of Nusaybin on the Syrian border.

Koni feels that Moscow is sending a message to Ankara through the Sputnik report that it is aware of the transportation of the Islamic extremist.

Like Iran, Russia militarily supports Damascus in the Syrian war that has raged on for more than seven years.

Dilek believes that Moscow is growingly concerned that Ankara is trying to buy time while strengthening its position on the ground in Idlib.

"For this reason, Moscow is sending the message that it may give the go-ahead to a Syrian army operation on Idlib," Dilek said, arguing Turkey could find itself part of the clashes in such an eventuality.

Based on a deal with Russia and Iran, the Turkish military has established 12 observation posts around Idlib.

Shortly before Erdogan and Putin struck the deal on Idlib on Sept. 16, Turkey had reinforced, with Moscow's consent, the observation posts with additional troops and armored vehicles.

Ankara has good ties with the so-called moderate rebels in Idlib and the Idlib deal was concluded after Ankara pressed Moscow for a political settlement of the Idlib issue.

Moscow may well be concerned that Ankara could once again cooperate with Washington in Syria, as Russia's Gerasimov accused the U.S. of trying to establish a Kurdish quasi-state formation in eastern Syria.

U.S. Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, revealed Tuesday that Washington was considering the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, according to press reports.

A no-fly zone would allow the U.S. to protect the Kurdish militia against a Syrian army assault, ensuring thereby the emergence of an autonomous if not an independent Kurdish area.

Jeffrey and his delegation held talks in Ankara on Friday.

Both Turkey and the U.S. back the Islamist rebels in Idlib, Koni noted, arguing Gerasimov's remarks could be Moscow's way of saying to Ankara that it is aware that Washington and Ankara continue cooperation based on common interests.

Ankara has so far just expressed concern about the possible emergence of a Kurdish state along its border without criticizing the U.S. presence in the area.

"It's also for this reason that Russia brought up the oil issue, sending the message as it were that Moscow can put Turkey in a difficult situation given the alleged financing of the Islamic State," said Dilek.