SOCHI – Only if the United States and Russia put their differences aside and work together they can put a curb on ISIS actions in Syria, including the Islamic State’s illegal oil trade that finances its terrorist operations, a top Russian advisor told New Europe in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi.
Earlier in September, battles raged in the desert over the Jazal field – the last major oilfield under Syrian government control – located to the northwest of Palmyra, close to Syria’s natural gas fields and energy facilities. Russia has billions of dollars of commercial investments in Syria, including oil and gas infrastructure. Moreover, Moscow’s naval facility at Tartus is the Russian Navy’s only Mediterranean repair and replenishment base, sparing Russia’s warships the trip back to the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits.
Although Syria is not a major oil exporter, crude stolen by ISIS or so-called Daesh, in addition to contraband oil from Iraq “is quite enough for them” to finance Islamic State, Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert at Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, told New Europe on the sidelines of a conference on terrorism and electronic media, organised by the International Academy of Television and Radio (iATR) in Sochi.
ISIS has been able to illegally export oil despite coalition strikes against the terrorist group, she said, adding that it’s not possible to solve this problem without an international alliance, including taking measures in the financial sector. “ISIS can freely buy and sell oil – both from Iraq and Syria – and they are mafia groups in Turkey, Syria and Iraq cooperating together,” Suponina said, calling for measures on the international level, including freezing of some bank accounts.
Meanwhile, Russian forces appear to be expanding their military presence in Syria. Suponina brushed off the Russian buildup, claiming “it’s not so big contradiction between Russian buildup and Russian efforts with opposition and Syrian government to reestablish Geneva-3 process”. An international peace conference on Syria, dubbed Geneva-2, organised by Russia and the US, kicked off on January 2014 in Switzerland, but no particular progress was reported.
“It’s possible only if United States and Russia will combine the efforts despite any differences in Ukraine or in disarmament or despite American missile system in Europe so we need to combine these efforts. If not, it will be catastrophe in the Middle East first but it will be very bad also for the whole world and we see terrorist attacks now,” Suponina said.
Western and Arab governments appear confused by the Russian military buildup, having recently hoped that it would take part in diplomatic efforts to end the crisis. Western analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin sees an opportunity to both assist Syrian President Dashar al-Assad and boost Russia’s influence in the region at the expense of the US.
Suponina said Moscow is proposing to Washington to delay the discussion on Assad’s political future and focus on the US and Russia jointly fighting ISIS. “We make some pressure on both sides from moderate opposition and from Syrian government to create Syrian transition government – but it doesn’t mean that Assad must go,” she said. “We finish the struggle against Islamic State and after think more political and economic reforms in Syria,” she said.
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