Tensions in the Middle East ratcheted up dangerously Wednesday, a day after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, with the Turkish President accusing Russia of deceit and Russia announcing it would deploy anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said on his ministry's Twitter feed that the country would deploy S-400 defense missile systems to its Hmeymim air base near Latakia, on Syria's Mediterranean coast.
The missiles have a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles), according to the missilethreat.com website. The Turkish border is less than 30 miles away. And Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian TV on Wednesday that Russia has "serious doubts" that Turkey's downing of its warplane Tuesday was "an unpremeditated act."
The Kremlin on Friday played down the possibility of a grand coalition with the West to strike the Islamic State in Syria, despite personal visits by French President François Hollande to both Washington and Moscow following a spate of horrific terrorist attacks tied to the terrorist group.
“At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work as one coalition,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman, told reporters during a conference call on Friday. Peskov’s comments came less than 24 hours after Putin himself sounded hopeful notes at a meeting with Hollande in the Kremlin, where he said Russia “was ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States.”
Russia has sought cooperation on its terms, providing diplomatic and now military shelter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attacking rebel groups that include the Islamic State but also more moderate opponents of Assad backed by Western countries. President Obama and other Western leaders have sought to bring Putin into a U.S.-led coalition instead, a force that Putin has called illegal because it is launching airstrikes in Syria without Assad’s permission.
Russian military officials laid out Wednesday what they say is "hard evidence" that Turkey is involved in an oil trade with ISIS, offering more detail on earlier claims that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has flatly denied.
"We presented evidence how the illegal oil trade is carried out to finance the terrorist groups," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said, as reported by state-run Sputnik news. "We know how much Erdogan's words are worth." The defense ministry said its surveillance revealed that hundreds of tanker trucks were gathering in plain sight at Islamic State-controlled sites in Iraq and Syria to load up with oil, and it questioned why the U.S.-led coalition was not launching more air strikes on them. "It's hard not to notice them," Rudskoy said of the lines of trucks shown on satellite images. Officials said that the Russian air force's bombing campaign had made a significant dent in Islamic State's ability to produce, refine and sell oil.
Officials presented photographs and videos that they said show links between Turkey and oil refineries in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, estimating $3 million worth of oil per day was traversing this route before Russian airstrikes cut that roughly in half. Sergey Rudskoy, one of the military leaders, pointed to "three main routes (that) have been exposed for the transportation of oil to Turkey" -- one ending in Turkish ports on the Mediterranean Sea, another at an oil refinery in Batman and a third in Cizre. Antonov said "the highest political leadership of the country -- President Erdogan and his family -- are involved in this criminal business," crediting Russian journalists for their reports tying one of Erdogan's sons to a role in the scheme.
Turkey has reacted angrily to a photograph showing a Russian serviceman apparently holding a rocket launcher in the firing position as his ship passed through Turkish waters. The picture, published by the Hurriyet Daily News, shows the man resting the launcher on his shoulder while on the deck of the Caesar Kunikov as it passed through the Bosphorus strait.
The newspaper quoted Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying: "The showing off of a missile by a soldier on a Russian warship, or other things such as anti-aircraft weapons, is pure provocation.
Relations between Russia and Turkey have been strained ever since Ankara shot down a Russian fighter jet it said had violated its airspace while flying a mission over Syria. One of the pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, was killed, prompting a war of words and economic sanctions from the Kremlin.