- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A day after President Obama tried to smooth over tensions between Turkey and Russia, a top Russian official accused the Turkish president and his family Wednesday of engaging in an illegal oil trade with the Islamic State extremist group in Syria.

Turkey is the main destination for the oil stolen from its legitimate owners, which are Syria and Iraq,” Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told journalists in Moscow. “Turkey resells this oil. The appalling part about it is that the country’s top political leadership is involved in the illegal business — President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and his family.”

Mr. Erdogan has labeled the accusations “slander.”

Tensions are rising between the two major players in Syria’s civil war since Turkey downed a Russian warplane last week near its border with Syria. Russia is imposing economic sanctions on Ankara in retaliation, and is setting up a surface-to-air missile defense system into Syria.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while Russia is providing military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russian President Vladimir Putin said his forces are targeting the Islamic State, but the U.S. and Turkey have accused Russia of bombing opponents of Assad, including ethnic Turks living in Syria.

Mr. Obama urged Mr. Erdogan in a meeting Tuesday to do a better job of sealing its border with Syria to stop the Islamic State’s illegal oil trade. By some estimates, the extremist group is earning up to half a billion dollars per year from illicit oil sales.

Russian military officials displayed satellite images Wednesday that they said showed tanker trucks being loaded with oil at installations controlled by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and then crossing the border into Turkey.

Mr. Antonov did not offer proof of Mr. Erdogan’s involvement.

“In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son has been appointed energy minister,” Mr. Antonov said. “What a marvelous family business!”

In their meeting in Paris, Mr. Obama urged Mr. Erdogan “de-escalate” the situation with Russia, and stated his support for Turkey’s right to defend its airspace. Turkey is a NATO ally of the U.S.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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