Kyle Orton writes: Turkey concluded its biggest investigation to date into Islamic State (IS) operatives on its territory on Friday, and blacklisted sixty-seven people. This provides a good moment to review what Turkey’s role has been in the rise of IS, especially amid the escalating accusations from Russia that Turkey is significantly responsible for financing IS. The reality is that while Turkish policy has, by commission and omission, made IS stronger than it would otherwise have been, so has Russia’s policy—and Russia’s policy was far more cynical than Turkey’s, deliberately intended empower extremists to discredit the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s focus on bringing down Assad and Ankara’s fear of Kurdish autonomy led it into these policies and now—having seemingly found the will to act to uproot IS’s infrastructure on Turkish territory—there is the problem of actually doing so, when IS can (and has) struck inside Turkey. The concerns about these external funding mechanisms for IS, while doubtless important, obscure the larger problem: IS’s revenue is overwhelmingly drawn from the areas it controls and only removing those areas of control can deny IS its funds.
Turkey shot down a Russian jet on November 24, the first time since 1952 a NATO member had brought down a Russian military aircraft. Ankara claimed that its airspace had been violated and numerous requests to withdraw were ignored. The Russian plane landed in northern Syria: one pilot, Oleg Peshkov, was killed in the descent by the Turkoman rebels of Alwiya al-Ashar (The Tenth Brigade) and one, Konstantin Murakhtin, was later rescued. In the wake of this, Moscow took retribution with economic sanctions against Turkey, including limiting tourism and banning charter flights to Turkey and also trade in certain foodstuffs.
Russia’s ruler, Vladimir Putin, then raised the stakes on November 30 by accusing Turkey of perpetrating the shoot-down in order to protect IS, with which the Turkish government has commercial interests, notably oil, but also weapons. Moscow subsequently accused the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of being a personal profiteer from the criminal trade in oil with IS. The reality is quite otherwise, of course. As David Butter of Chatham House put it, given Turkey’s reliance on Russia for energy, “if oil was a consideration for the Turkish authorities … it would have had good reason to hold fire.” [Continue reading…]