What to expect from the trilateral summit in Ankara - Turkey, Russia and Iran - EXCLUSIVE | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

23 April, Tuesday


What to expect from the trilateral summit in Ankara - Turkey, Russia and Iran - EXCLUSIVE

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Leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran came together for the second trilateral summit on Syria in Ankara today. They are also expected to discuss bilateral ties including S-400 defence systems, Akkuyu nuclear power plant, energy, as well as Afrin operation and de-escalation zones in Idlib in private meetings. Political-analyst with the Centre for International Relations in Warsaw, Bruno Surdel commented on Eurasia Diary’s questions on this issue. 
 
Bruno Surdel, PhD
Analyst with the Centre for International Relations (CIR) -  Warsaw, Poland
 
Eurasia Diary: Putin's visit to Turkey on April 3-4 is his first foreign trip after his re-election on March 18. Recently, Russia-Turkey bilateral ties are warming. Taking into account that there are clash points between two countries, for example Turkey is a NATO member-state, and Russia is a founder of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (anti-NATO), as well as Turkey is against annexation of Crimea by Russia and also they are in different fronts in Syria, why Turkey is important to Russia and what makes them to have in common?
 
Bruno Surdel: One could ask: why not China? In fact, Russia – China strategic partnership has reached such a level that these two countries do not need to prove their friendship anymore. Just yesterday, a Chinese high-profile military delegation came to Moscow to "let the Americans know about close ties between the armed forces of Russia and China". 
 
So Putin’s visit to Beijing wouldn’t have had the same symbolic effect as his trip to Ankara. And in Russia’s current, complicated international situation such symbols matter: Turkey still is a NATO member-state and an EU candidate country, although the Varna summit recently had rather clearly shown that EU leaders do not think about Turkish membership of the European ‘club’ seriously. Of course, the Turks know that perfectly but for them there is no alternative. 
 
By the way, I’m not sure Ankara needs any alternative. So - in my opinion - even if Russia-Turkey bilateral ties have been warming over the last two years, this is tactics. It doesn’t mean that Moscow and Ankara do not share interests in the region and globally, too. US’ continuous support to YPG/PYD and American plans for that PKK offshoot’s role in Syria was a painful lesson for Turkey. And they drew conclusions. 
 
The same can be said on the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. The American and European ‘soft stance’ on FETO had angered the Turks. Russian leader’s reaction was faster and ‘friendlier’. It played a part in Ankara’s rapprochement with Moscow. And since late 2015, it’s been really hard to achieve something in Syria without Russia. The Turks realized that in 2016 – again the failed coup was the catalyst – and then their ‘cohabitation’ in Syria started bringing fruits. More recently, „The Euphrates Shield” as well as the current „Olive Branch” operation in Afrin has proven the Russo-Turkish cooperation is productive and ‘commendable’ for both countries. Especially Afrin operation has shown how flexible is Moscow – only in early 2017 they had established their ‘reconciliation centre’ there. Here is a rhetorical question: why should the Russians prefer the presence of an American ‘ally’ (YPG) over the Turks in Afrin or elsewhere in Syria? 
 
Obviously, there are some thorny issues in Russia – Turkey relationship in that country. Nobody can deny that. After all, the Russians had come to save Assad and invested much money, resources and blood to deliver. 
 
But meanwhile, the Turkish perspective and priorities have evolved too. One must learn to be realistic in such a hopeless quagmire as the Syrian war is. The Astana process has been a kind of compromise and success for both Moscow and Ankara. I mean the whole idea as such, and that they managed to sideline the West to some extent, at least on the diplomatic front. And this is exactly, what Moscow wanted to achieve. 
 
So from Russia’s perspective, the rapprochement with Turkey was a ‘good thing’, especially, under sanctions imposed by the West after Putin’s Crimean ‘adventure’ and the war in eastern Ukraine. Russia got isolated, felt the pain on the international stage - and Syria was an ‘escape forward’. The warming with Turkey is a part of that ‘project’. 
 
However, one shouldn’t underestimate the economic background of the rapprochement and its importance for both countries. The increased economic cooperation and larger trade is a ‘win-win’ situation for Moscow as well as for Ankara. Actually, they need it.
 
In this respect, Putin’s visit to Turkey and the deals struck on Tuesday, including Akkuyu nuclear plant, the second TurkStream pipeline, and the proverbial ‘tomatoes’ are a good step towards ‘normality’. The S-400 deal with agreed earlier delivery, reached on April 3rd, is also a question of “Turkish pride and sovereignty”. I would call it ‘self-confidence’. Worth noting, Turkey is a MIKTA [is an informal partnership between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia] member; it’s the emerging power with global ambitions. 
 
Eurasia Diary: How this event will affect the region and specifically Middle East and Iran as Western countries ramp up pressure on Iran nuclear deal? Does it mean that these three countries are shaping new alliance?
 
Bruno Surdel: The Putin – Erdogan – Rouhani summit that is taking place today constitutes – to some extent – a part of the Astana process and the follow up to the summit in Sochi. The de-escalation zones in Syria have not been a true success for the Syrian people. Instead, as the tragedy of the Eastern Ghouta shows, the person to celebrate a ‘success’ is Bashar al-Assad and his regime, at least temporarily. 
 
But the massive Russian fire power and Iranian-led Shia militias have proved an irresistible fact on the ground. Anyway, despite the solemn declarations on the ‘unity and territorial integrity’ of Syria, a kind of partition is a reality which can hardly be denied. I’m not optimistic in this respect. The trilateral meeting today isn’t going to change that regrettable situation. 
 
Quite contrary, what I’m expecting is a kind of ‘stabilization’ and ‘conservation’ of the partition. I mean not a formal but an actual partition. Iran needs the meeting to seek some support due to the American pressure and Trump’s threat to tear down the nuclear deal with the world powers. 
 
However, even with Russian and Chinese assistance Rouhani is not going to achieve much. His standing at home is not that strong too. Are Russia – Turkey and Iran about to shape a new alliance? – As I told before – a tactical one, if any. There are too many divergent interests among them to create anything solid or stable. For sure, Saudi Arabia is no friend of Iran or Turkey but this is not enough. And Russia for its part is very flexible due to its strategic and economic interests in the region. 
 
Eurasia Diary: Is it also possible to say that after “nerve agent” crisis and Moscow's election meddling, Western countries' sanctions drove Russia to come closer to Turkey? Simultaneously failed coup d'etat in Turkey forced Turkish elite to choose Russia as a reliable partner? Taking into account that Iran that backs Houthis and Shia-militias as you said in Iraq and Syria has not so good relations with Turkey that fights against PKK/PYD terrorists in the Middle East, how much this meeting will be productive?
 
Bruno Surdel: I agree with this logic. For both countries that’s what I called before as a kind of “escape forward”. Turkey rightly (for its own interests) didn’t follow suit and didn’t expel Russian diplomats. The Turkish President Erdogan prefers to act independently and an expulsion of Russian diplomats wouldn’t have brought him any gains. 
 
On the other hand, Ankara did condemn the Skripal’s poisoning. It was a smart move. I think Turkey feels – to some extent – betrayed by the West. I cannot decide are the Turks right or wrong in their intuition but it looks like this. What I mean is the EU membership issue, US support for YPG/PYD and the West’s ‘rule of law’ hesitation relating to FETO. Probably, Turkey and the collective West speak ‘different’ languages. I do not think they can understand each other any time soon. But both know perfectly that they are and will remain strategic partners in spite of the current warming with Russia. The reason is geopolitics and economy. Russia is no rival to the West in this respect.
 
Speaking of Iran’s ambitions and activity, one should keep in mind that this is USA that had facilitated or even made possible Iran’s expansion towards Mediterranean and Yemen due to its invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the following tectonic shifts in the region. The USA always tries its best to fix a window it had previously broken. On the other hand, Russia’s interests in the Middle East are definitely not identical with those of Iran. Russia may decide to ‘sacrifice’ Assad if it gets its core interests secured in Syria. Iran cannot do that, and Russia cannot control Iran. That’s the problem. Turkey, on its part, must protect its trans-border security and it cannot achieve this objective without cooperation with Russia.
 
To sum up: Russia – Turkey – Iran relationship is a kind of marriage of convenience with divorce being always on the horizon. 
 
Farid Hasanov

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