On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Russia of using Iraqi and Syrian pipelines to smuggle weapons to the Kurdish separatists of the PKK. The next day brought a demand from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Turkey remove all its troops from Iraq.
Reuters notes that while Turkey has previously complained about Russian assistance for Syrian Kurdish forces, which Turkey portrays as clandestinely in league with the separatists, this is the first time Erdogan has accused Moscow of directly supporting the PKK – which is a designated terrorist organization, according to European governments and the United States, as well as Turkey.
The Russians responded by challenging Erdogan to show proof of his allegations. Moscow has also accused Turkey of interfering with Kurdish efforts to battle the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and of using the war against ISIS as cover for a crackdown on Kurdish groups.
Russia also delivered a surprisingly stern demand for Turkey to pull its forces out of Iraq, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declaring it “absolutely unacceptable.”
“We demand that Turkey withdraw its troops from Iraqi territory, where they are deployed, as former Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu put it, to ‘strengthen’ Iraq’s sovereignty. This position is absolutely unacceptable,” said Lavrov, as quoted by Russia’s RT.com.
As Sputnik, another Russian news source, claims, Turkey sent around 150 troops and 25 tanks to a base in Iraq’s Nineveh province in December, without permission from Baghdad. Turkey alleges this small force was needed to protect Turkish trainers previously assigned to help local militia units fight the Islamic State.
Lavrov suggested the Turks are playing some sort of sinister game in Iraq that Western powers should be watching more closely, and accused them of looking the other way because Turkey is a member of NATO.
In fact, he accused Turkey of aspiring to recreate the Ottoman Empire by grabbing Iraq’s oil fields while every other regional force is busy trying to eject ISIS from Mosul. He did not elaborate on how Turkey planned to restore its Ottoman glory with 150 troops and 25 tanks.
“What about Cyprus, which is not a NATO member and whose airspace is violated by the Turkish Air Force on a regular basis? And secondly, what kind of a position is that – if you are a NATO member, you can do whatever you like?” Lavrov complained.
Lavrov also responded to Turkish allegations about supplying the PKK separatists, claiming that Russia is giving weapons only to Iraqi Kurds, and only with “consent from the Iraqi government.”