Russia's burden: ‘US going to be more forgiving with longstanding ally Turkey’

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama © Murad Sezer
The burden of proof is on Russia to show that there is complicity with the Turkish government in any alleged profiteering on oil trade with Islamic State terrorists, says Paul Heroux, a Middle East expert.

Russia’s Defense Ministry on the weekend harshly criticized Washington’s indifferent attitude to apparent photographic evidence of a secret oil trade between Turkey and Islamic State terrorists, saying it looks rather like “direct patronage.”

“Finally, our colleagues from the State Department and the Pentagon have confirmed that the photo-proof, which we presented at a briefing [on December 2], of the origin and destination of the stolen oil, coming from the areas controlled by the terrorists, is authentic,” Major General Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman, told a media briefing on Saturday.

“However, the US claim that they ‘don’t see the border crossings with tanker trucks crossing the border,’ raises a smile, if only, because the photos are still images,” he added.

RT spoke with Paul Heroux, a Middle East expert from the United States, for his thoughts on the developing situation.

RT:  Strong words from the Russian Defense Ministry, accusing the US of patronizing oil smuggling into Turkey. Would you go that far yourself?

Paul Heroux:  It’s pretty difficult to say we’re patronizing this oil smuggling, but any amount of oil smuggling is concerning because ISIS depends on the revenues of oil to keep its civil society going, so it is troublesome. But the burden of proof is on Moscow to prove that the oil is actually benefitting the Turkish government as has been alleged.

RT:  Washington thinks Russia's evidence of large-scale ISIL oil smuggling into Turkey is not convincing. Is it able to compare it with its own intelligence data from the area, as the Russian Defense Ministry suggests?

PH:  I don’t have that information so I’m sure if we can compare it; maybe we can, maybe we can’t. But we have our own problems with smuggling here in the United States. We have a very large drug trade coming over from Mexico and that is very troubling. So where the oil is going once it reaches Turkey – there’s no doubt whether it’s going to Turkey or not – but whether it’s going to the Turkish government or to other black marketers, that matters, and the US has been doing with a coalition of others with France and England. They’ve been working to degrade ISIS’ ability to export oil out of Syria and northern Iraq.

RT:  US officials are also quoted as saying that there is some oil being smuggled into Turkey, but not enough to profit from. How do you read that comment?

PH:  I agree that it is a strange statement. But again, if we look at the psychology of this, the US is going to be more forgiving for anything that is going on in Turkish borders because that’s one of our longstanding allies, and Russia is probably going to be at this moment in time a little bit less forgiving. The US has to be careful not to give too much of a pass to any amount of smuggling because if we look at this in the context of the Iran deal, if it turns out that Iran is being alleged to cheat on its obligations under the comprehensive plan that it agreed to, we’re going to need Russia not turn a blind eye to that…

RT:  Russia insists the Turkish leadership is well aware and even claims it's involved in oil smuggling. Are these accusations enough for the U.S. to scrutinize Turkey more closely?

PH: It’s reason for concern but not alarm. We should be concerned about it because Russia raises the issue, but we shouldn’t be alarmed because to my knowledge we don’t have any evidence that it’s benefiting the government or the Prime Minister’s family as has been alleged. So, the burden of proof is on Russia to actually show that there is complicity with the Turkish government.

We here in the United States back in 2002 and 2003, we made our mistakes in our intelligence and our accusations against Iraq and we’ve hopefully learned from those mistakes - maybe some more than others. But the idea is that we can’t let just the accusation alone be enough; it has to be sort of an Adlai Stevenson moment with the Cuban Missile Crisis where the overheads shown are incontrovertible. I think right now the overheads shown are accurate but we don’t know who’s benefiting from that, at least not at this point.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.