In early December, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the decision by Turkey to shoot down a Russian military aircraft in late November was “dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory.” His remarks, which occurred at a news conference on 1 December, effectively implied that the Turkish government was not only complicit in the smuggling of oil produced in areas of Syria that are controlled by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, but that it was also so heavily committed to this trade that it was willing to provoke an international crisis in a bid to protect it.
While it is doubtful whether President Putin genuinely believes this accusation, it has raised the issue of the possible dealings between Turkish government agencies and IS. Furthermore, by putting forth such an accusation, President Putin has the chance to gain propaganda points in his tussle with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and in some ways, it may legitimize recent Russian attacks on targets in parts of Syria that are held by non-IS rebel forces backed by Turkey. Amongst these attacks were the destruction of a large bakery built by the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
While the ongoing Syrian conflict has given rise to an extensive war economy, in which deals are struck between a number of partners, that include groups that are fighting each other on the battlefield, the smuggling of oil and petroleum products from Syria into neighbouring Turkey has been going on for decades, as traders and security officials have cashed in on the difference in prices that have been created by the heavy subsidies in Syria.
However with the ongoing civil war in Syria, the trade of oil and petroleum products has vastly evolved and in 2014, it saw IS take over much of the production of crude and refining business along the Euphrates river valley. This effectively represented about one-third of the country’s pre-conflict oil capacity, with most of the remainder under Kurdish control.
While there are many steps before oil produced under IS control reaches an end-user, it is highly likely that Turkish business people, customs officials and intelligence agents are amongst the people implicated. However it must be noted that the scale of the entire trade is small compared with Turkey’s own energy economy, in which Russia plays a dominant role. Furthermore, most of the participants are within Syria.
According to widely reported estimates, in mid-2015, oil fields under the control of IS produced between 30,000 and 40,000 barrels per day. Sources have disclosed that the supply chain entailed IS selling crude to traders, who would then transport it to small refineries that were set up in IS-controlled areas. The petrol and diesel produced in these refineries was then sold across Syria and Iraq, while any surplus was smuggled across the border, mainly to Turkey. While the quality of these products was poor, many buyers, particularly those in rebel-controlled areas, had little other option and typically paid a heavy premium over international prices. While IS was able to profit from the well-head sales, as well as gain from taxes along the supply chain, the profitability of the Syrian illicit oil trade was hit by the collapse in world oil prices in October 2014.
Oil purchased at the well-head for US $20 – 25 per barrel in mid-October could end up in Turkey being sold at below the world market price of over US $100/barrel, effectively yielding health profits to everyone involved. For a trader to make a profit selling bad quality Syrian products in Turkey now the well-head price would have to be much lower, and this would not necessarily make commercial sense for IS.
Since mid October-2014, the IS oil business has been further hit as US and French jets have started to target well-head facilities and tanker trucks for the first time. Furthermore, Kurdish and local Arab rebels have also seized an oil field from IS in the southern province of Hassakeh.
Turkey relies almost entirely on imports for its total oil consumption, which is about 720,000 barrels per day. A large number of those imports come from Russia. In 2014, Russia also supplied 27 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Turkey, effectively representing 56% of its total consumption. Russia was also Turkey’s largest source of imports, supplying goods worth US $2.3 billion, or more than 10% of Turkey’s total imports.
German media reports indicated on Friday that German security services are searching for a man who is wanted in connection with last month’s terror attacks in Paris, France.
According to sources, the 42-year-old man, who has been only named as Huseyin D, is believed to have spent time with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged organizer of the attacks. German newspaper Der Spiegel, which carried a photo alleged to be of Huseyin D with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has indicated that the suspect is believed to be in Turkey. Huseyin D is reportedly from Dinslaken, in northwestern Germany, and was part of a group that had travelled to Syria. Abaaoud was killed in a gun battle with police just days after the attacks, which were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. The 13 November Paris attacks killed 130 people and prompted a Europe-wide security alert.
Meanwhile in another development, German prosecutors disclosed that they raided the flat of a man suspected of possibly helping plan an attack on last month’s Germany-Netherlands football match. The Hannover stadium was evacuated just under two hours before kick-off. At the time, police disclosed that the decision to evacuate was made after a “concrete security threat.”
While German police gave no details of Thursday’s raid, and no arrests were made, De Spiegel has reported that the suspected 19-year-old student believed to have made a short video at the stadium in which he says “pray for Raqqa” and the Islamic State group’s name.
Two men linked to the Paris attacks – Salah Abdeslam and Mohammed Abrini – remain on the run and investigations have been launched in several European states. Furthermore, Belgian prosecutors are also seeking two other men thought to have helped Abdeslam travel to Hungary in September.
Since the beginning of the year, Europe stood witness to ever-augmenting migratory flows. These immigrants seek to reach Europe in an effort to get away from the war and instability that plagues their home-countries. The attempts to reach the European borders were underlined by ever-increasing fatalities of immigrants drowned in the Mediterranean and the Aegean. In the beginning of the year, these flows mainly used Libya to gain access to Italy through the Mediterranean, however, during the second quarter of 2015 the flows shifted their focus towards Greece since the passage to Europe through Turkey and Greece was deemed safer. Europe’s response to this crisis was slow and, in most cases, inadequate. The first attempt for the implementation of a quotas plan that would distribute the immigrants to the European countries was met with strong opposition from many European countries that deemed the plan as unfair. In the past months the only plan that found the European states in agreement was the provision of financial aid to the countries that carry the main burden of the problem to help handle the flows. While Europe stood frozen and unable to agree on the proper way to handle the crisis, the immigrants continued entering EU through Greece and Italy, and from there traveling central and north European countries.
Many countries chose to handle the problem individually, and in a mostly unsuccessful way. Greece and Italy, already burdened with the responsibility to save thousands of immigrants daily from half-sank dinghies at their sea borders, had to create, in a limited timeframe, the necessary infrastructure to identify these individuals, and divide them between refugees that have a legitimate claim to asylum and to economic immigrants that need to be returned to their home-countries. That proved to be challenging both for Greece and Italy, with the first facing at the same time an economic and political crisis that did not allow for an effective implementation of policies that would help alleviate the crisis. Hungary chose to handle the crisis in an unsuccessful, and for many unethical, way by building in a matter of weeks a fence along its Balkan frontiers and using the army to ensure that no one will pass this fence. This measure was deemed unethical since it violates the EU’s fundamental principles that oblige the member-states to provide asylum to anyone that has legitimate reasons to flee his home country because his life is in danger. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban achieved gaining the public’s support of his strategy through a series of campaigns, amplified by friendly media, that projected the immigrants as an imminent threat for the Hungarians. After the fence went up, and plans for its extension were announced, riot police used gas and water cannon on stone-throwing immigrants. At the same time, it was an unsuccessful measure since it has been proven in the past that fences do not stop these flows, they simply redirect them to seek other routes. That resulted in the shift of the migratory flows towards Croatia in an to attempt reach their destination countries. Under the burden, Croatia reacted in a similar, rather instinctive, way by closing seven of its eight road border crossings with Serbia following the ever-increasing influx of immigrants that redirected their routes after Hungary fenced off its borders and closed its borders with Serbia. Additionally, Czech Republic was severely criticised after it used the police to remove the immigrants from the trains headed to Germany, and started detaining and numbering immigrants using permanent markers to write registration numbers on the wrists and arms of immigrants. Even Germany, that announced during the last week of August the temporary suspension of the Dublin Agreements stating that it would accept all Syrian asylum-seekers, decided, barely eight days later, to close its borders with Austria leaving thousands of immigrants stranded in Austria’s train stations. The continuation of these practises will not solve the problem, contrary, they will only succeed in trapping these immigrants to Greece, creating a situation which could take unthinkable dimensions.
With a plethora of similar measures being implemented across Europe many started discussing the suspension of Schengen Agreement, one of the pillars upon which European Union is based on and promotes the freedom of movement between the member states. This is not the first time the Schengen Agreement seems to be under threat. In 2011, fearing an influx of North African refugees, Italy and France pushed for a review of the agreement. Earlier this year the Dutch Prime Minister threatened Greece with expulsion if it allowed immigrants free passage to the rest of Europe. Neither eventuality came to pass. What Germany did by temporarily closing its borders with Austria is not a direct violation of the agreement, since Schengen allows countries to briefly reinstate border controls for reasons of national security. However, if these controls become a way to handle the influx of immigrants then they risk reversing decades of European integration.
On September 22 and 23, Europe made another attempt to handle the immigration crisis, since as the time passes and the problem persists, it seems that the European leaders realise that it is a situation that has to be faced collectively. Not only within the borders of the EU, but also by collaborating with other countries that are affected by this problem such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The European states agreed by a strong majority on a mandatory plan to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers across the continent over the next to years. Four governments – Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania- opposed the proposal, and Finland abstained. This plan, however, shares the burden of only a fraction of the total number of asylum seekers who have come to Europe during this year, a total that already surpasses 500,000. Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico announced that his government will not honour the ministerial decision even of it risks a lawsuit by the European Commission. Additionally, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said after the vote that this plan will encourage more immigration and that Europe’s culture will be irrevocably diluted by allowing more Muslims to settle.
Under the plan agreed by the EU’s Foreign Ministers, some 66,000 asylum seekers will be relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU member states in coming months (15,600 from Italy and 50,400 from Greece). That leaves around 54,000 people who could be relocated from other countries if they experience a sudden influx of migrants and appeal for help. After one year, Italy and Greece will be reallocated the remainder of this reserve, meaning that they will be able to send additional number of asylum seekers elsewhere in the EU. From the plan are excluded only the three countries who have a partial opt-out from EU immigration rules, the UK, Ireland and Denmark. Despite UK being officially excluded by the quotas system, it has been repeatedly under pressure, mainly from France and Germany, to share the burden and accept immigrants. The British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that UK will commit another 100 million pounds to supporting refugees camps bordering Syria and has agreed to accept 20,000 refugees from these camps over the next five years. Ireland stated that it will participate in the quotas plan despite its opt-out. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, which are not in the EU are also taking part. To assuage concerns from some Central and Eastern European member states, EU governments may seek a one-year delay for accepting up to 30 percent of the asylum seekers they are allocated. That could be further extended by a second year if other member states and the European Commission agree.
The quotas were determined largely by the size of each country’s population and its GDP. Also taken into account was the country’s unemployment rate and its number of spontaneous asylum applications and resettled refugees per one million inhabitants in the last five years. That has as a result that 60 percent of asylum-seekers be moved to just three countries, Germany, France and Spain. However, the plan does not account for the migrants who will continue to flood into Europe this fall. At the same time, there is a provision for the creation of ‘hotspots’ in Greece and Italy by the end of November where EU experts can quickly register and identify people for refugee protections. The quotas plan will be paired by a simultaneous effort to provide more help to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries in the region in the hopes of at least dissuading some people who are fleeing conflicts and poverty to stay in the Middle East. EU will allocate one billion euros to the region in cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program. At the same time, the European leaders agreed during their meeting on September 23 to strengthen the management and the control of EU’s external borders, since it would be unfair to expect that Greece and Italy to handle on their own this huge influx of immigrants.
However, this agreement is nothing more than a temporary solution to the problem. To begin with, the decision to override the dissenter countries means the EU will be sending thousands of people to nations that do not wants them, raising questions about both the future of the 28-national bloc and the well-being of the asylum-seekers consigned to this countries. The acceptance and integration of the immigrants into the local communities is further disturbed when countries, such as Germany through its Chief of Intelligence Hans-Georg Maassen, circulate the view that the refugees could be recruited by radical Islamists already in the country to organise terrorist attacks. It is apparent that this kind of rhetoric does not facilitate their integration and acceptance to the local communities. Additionally, EU has not announced according to which criteria the refugees will be chosen to be allocated to each country, creating rumours that countries such as Germany that are in need of specialised workforce will accept mainly the refugees with high qualifications and distribute the ones with a limited educational and professional background to the other countries. Finally, while the majority of the European leaders seem to be satisfied with the agreement reached, they did not highlight that this plan deals with only a portion of the 500,000 immigrants currently in Europe and they did not acknowledge the fact that the biggest migratory flow has not as of yet commenced. Turkey currently hosts 2,5 million refugees, Lebanon around 1,5 million and Jordan some 700,000 refugees. It seems apparent that the allocation of one billion euros is a temporary solution and will not dissuade them from attempting to seek a better future in Europe. Nevertheless, the value of the agreement reached should not be undermined. It is the first organised and cohesive reaction of a Europe that proved during this crisis that its crisis management reflexes are extremely slow. However, it should not be considered as a viable solution to a problem that its route causes have not yet been addressed.
On Monday (10 August), the United States Consulate in Istanbul was targeted by two women, with at least nine people killed in a series of separate attacks, which has raised fears that Ankara’s decision to launch a crackdown on the Islamic State (IS) group as well as Kurdish and far-left militants will trigger more violence on Turkish soil.
At 1AM local time, a car carrying explosives struck a police station in Istanbul’s Sultanbeyli neighbourhood. Officials have reported that three policemen and seven bystanders were wounded in the incident, and that the attacker was killed. Less than six hours later, two gunmen opened fire on the same police station, setting off a gunfight, which resulted in the deaths of two attackers and one police officer. There was no claim of responsibility for either attack and so far, IS has not issued any statements about the police station assaults.
At 7AM on Monday, two women targeted the US Consulate in the Sariyer district. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, there were no casualties, and one of the two women was captured. The news agency has reported that authorities have identified her as Hatice Asik, 42, of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Turkey’s foreign ministry has condemned the attack, stating that security at US diplomatic missions were being tightened. On the ground sources have reported that police with automatic rifles cordoned off streets around the US consulate. Two years ago, the DHKP-C, which is designated a terrorist group by both Turkey and the US, killed a Turkish security guard and wounded several others in a suicide attack that targeted the US Embassy in Ankara. Monday’s attack came a day after the US sent six F-16 fighter jets and about 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, as part of coalition efforts to fight IS. Late on Monday, the DHKP-C claimed on its website that one of its female militants carried out the attack.
Elsewhere in Turkey on Monday, a roadside bombing in southeastern Sirnak province killed four policemen and wounded another. One soldier was killed when a military helicopter drew fire in the province in an attack that officials have blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Since launching strikes on IS fighters in Syria and PKK militants in northern Iraq, Turkey, which is a NATO member, has been in a heightened state of alert. Authorities in the country have also rounded up hundreds of suspected militants.
Turkish jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since air strikes were launched last week. The latest strikes come just hours after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan stated that a peace process had become impossible.
A statement released by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office indicated that the strikes hit Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets, including shelters, depots and caves in six areas. A source has reported that this was the largest assault since the campaign began. Iraq has condemned the air strikes, stating that they are a “dangerous escalation and an assault on Iraqi sovereignty.” It further indicated that it was committed to ensuring that militant attacks on Turkey were not carried out from within its territory.
Last Friday, Turkey launched near-simultaneous strikes against PKK camps in Iraq and against Islamic State (IS) fighters in neighbouring Syria. At the time, the country’s prime minister indicated that the strikes were a “synchronized fight against terror.” The strikes came just days after the NATO member opened up its air base to the US-led coalition against IS, in a move that effectively see’s Turkey join the front-line in the battle against the jihadist group after years of reluctance. However Turkey’s air strikes on the PKK have so far been far heavier than those against IS, which have fuelled suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check. This has been denied by the Turkish government, who has made it clear that its operations against IS militants in Syria will not include air cover for Syrian Kurdish fighters who are also battling the jihadists. The Turkish government has indicated that the air strikes against the PKK are in response to increased militant violence in recent weeks, including a series of targeted killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group. On Tuesday, Turkish fighter jets bombed PKK targets in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak, which borders Iraq. The bombings came after an attack on a group of gendarmes.