Obama, Putin Agree on One Thing: Bombing Islamic State’s Oil

(Bloomberg) -- When Vladimir Putin met with Barack Obama in Turkey on Sunday to discuss the terrorist attacks in Paris, he brought along some photos.

The satellite images showed rows of trucks laden with Islamic State oil stretching into the Syrian horizon, a person familiar with matter said. Putin’s point was that U.S. bombing alone can’t eliminate the vast smuggling network that provides much of the extremist group’s funding.

Obama was already well into a stepped-up campaign against the group’s oil resources and that night U.S. aircraft destroyed 116 tankers hauling crude from seized fields. The raid, the largest of its kind since U.S. military action in Syria started last year, happened to coincide with a new phase of Russia’s assault on the same nexus. While Obama has publicly refused Putin’s offer to coordinate, their actions have started to align since the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt and the carnage in France, indicating movement toward a more robust alliance against terrorism.

“After the events in Paris and over the skies of Sinai, the EU and the U.S. are showing greater willingness to support Russia’s idea of forming a common front to fight Islamic State,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday.

In Putin’s meeting with Obama, the Russian president “stressed the need” to step up the fight against Islamic State’s oil business, said his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, without providing more details.

A united front would be bad news not just for the jihadists, but for everyone they do business with. The U.S. and Russia are both widening their target lists to include the middlemen who help the group make money off illicit oil sales.

While the U.S. has struck refineries and other oil targets held by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq more than 260 times since last summer, only now is it starting to hit links in the chain operated mainly by civilians, according to U.K. research group Chatham House and Washington-based Foreign Reports Inc.


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