Common ground on Syria unites Russia and Turkey

One year ago, the killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by a former Turkish policeman would have provoked a rupture in Turkish-Russian relations on the scale that followed the shooting down of a Russian plane by the Turkish jets in November 2015. But ahead of Andrei’s Karlov’s funeral on Thursday, there has been no Russian démarche. Instead the two countries appear drawn closer towards a new embrace, taking Turkey ever further away from the west. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared for the first time it was obvious that the assassin was a follower of Fetullah Gülen, the cleric living in American exile and allegedly the ringleader of a shadowy movement behind July’s abortive military coup. His followers even implied the CIA may have been involved in Karlov’s murder.

Russia has sent 18 investigators to Ankara, but Moscow accepted Ankara’s condolences delivered in person by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister, when he arrived in Russia on Tuesday for a prearranged meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The reason for the Russian restraint is simple. The president, Vladimir Putin, after the fall of Aleppo, is in the middle of a power play, and the death of a diplomat, however talented and tragic, will not avert him from his chosen course. Exasperated by what he sees as the American failure to deliver on its promises to isolate the jihadis in the Syrian opposition, Putin plans with Turkey and Iran to prepare his own Syrian peace roadmap. 

He wants to capitalise on his military victory with a diplomatic triumph. Tuesday’s meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey Russia and Iran, with its portentous Moscow Declaration, is supposed to be the first stage in the closure of the civil war on Russian terms. At this point at least, the Gulf States, Europe and the US are excluded from the process. Moscow even said “almost every level of dialogue with the US is now frozen. We don’t communicate with one another, or if we do at minimal level”.

But Putin may find diplomatic success more elusive than victory on the battlefield. Above all, he depends on the help of Turkey, the most loyal supporters of the Syrian opposition through the past five years. Apart from energy cooperation, the best deal he can offer Erdoğan is a guarantee that the Syrian Kurds on Turkey’s southern border will not be strengthened by any agreement. Hatred of Kurdish independence, even more than hatred of the Gülenists, binds Erdoğan’s supporters together.

But Turkey itself is internally divided. There is a strong Eurasianist group around Erdoğan that want to cut their losses with the EU after years of being rebuffed and lack of gratitude for housing millions of Syrian refugees. Others say Europe remains the only viable route to economic modernisation.

In Moscow, Çavuşoğlu pointedly said a ceasefire in Syria should not only exclude terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, but also Lebanon’s Hezbollah – which fights on the government side. Lavrov implied Hezbollah, like Russia, was in Syria at the government’s invitation.

Anti-Iranian feeling is at a fever pitch in Erdoğan’s party since it is Tehran’s artillery, as much as Moscow’s air power, that led to the humiliation of Aleppo. Possibly unclear himself of his strategy, Putin has said his initiative is designed to complement, and not conflict with, the UN’s existing peace process. But his move has caused unease in the UN; Staffan de Mistura, the UN Syrian special envoy, has announced he will convene rival UN talks on 8 February in Geneva.

So far, the UN talks have been plagued by Syrian government objections to the composition of the opposition delegations, the role of the Syrian Kurds and whether it is a requirement that the Syrian government accepts that the president, Bashar al-Assad, will stand down in some way at the end of a transition process.

Putin’s rival peace show may take place in Astana, the capital of Kazakstan. Surrounded by the world’s largest steppe, the futuristic, even bizarre, city is not an entirely random venue to choose since it has played a role in trying to normalise relations between Turkey and Russia, two of its closest allies.It hosted members of the Syrian opposition for talks in May 2015 and has overseen various other international mediation efforts, including 2013 talks between Iran and the P5+1.

The May 2015 Syrian talks were initiated by Randa Kassis, the head of the Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians. Many rebel groups regard Kassis as part of a tame tolerated opposition with little popular support, but she met Donald Trump’s son in Paris recently, suggesting her political star is in the ascendant. However, any attempt to re-stage these talks without key members of the opposition, including those in the Riyadh-convened high negotiations committee are likely to leave them discredited.

Putin may just be starting to find his role as the great disrupter is a lot easier than that of the great conciliator.

4205 views


More Russian news

Putin lays wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Putin lays wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow in memory of the country’s defenders who perished in the battles against fascists. On the …

Russian Foreign Ministry: investigation into murder of Russia’s ambassador continues

Russian Foreign Ministry: investigation into murder of Russia’s ambassador continues

The investigation into the murder of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov continues, it is too early to name any specific leads, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova …

 Gazprom to build Turkish Stream at its own expense

Gazprom to build Turkish Stream at its own expense

Investment in the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project are estimated at $6 bln, the project can be implemented only at the expense of Gazprom, Deputy Chairman of Gazprom Management Committee Andrey Kruglov said at a press …

Karabakh conflict’s settlement on Russian foreign ministry’s agenda

Karabakh conflict’s settlement on Russian foreign ministry’s agenda

The topic of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is always on the agenda of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s efforts, the spokesperson of the ministry Maria Zakharova said at a briefing. She also said that …

 Maria Zakharova to Vestnik Kavkaza: we forced to respond to US sanctions

Maria Zakharova to Vestnik Kavkaza: we forced to respond to US sanctions

Russia will certainly react to the expansion of US sanctions, a plan of response is being worked out now, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said, answering a question from Vestnik Kavkaza. At …

Russia-China rivalry in Central Asia overblown

Russia-China rivalry in Central Asia overblown

The SCO is an opportunity to talk about regional stability and economic growth

Three Russian athletes banned for four years

Three Russian athletes banned for four years

The Beijing Olympics relay silver medallist Anastasiya Kapachinskaya and two other Russian athletes, Inga Abitova and Denis Alekseyev, were banned for four years on Wednesday for doping. …

Sergei Masaulov: ISIS to reborn, not die

Sergei Masaulov: ISIS to reborn, not die

ISIS terrorist group, which is banned in Russia, is losing its forces and territories, but even its disappearance will not be a definitive victory, since the creators of ISIS are still interested in the functioning of a large-scale terrorist …

Shoigu explains NATO#039s build-up along Russian borders

Shoigu explains NATO's build-up along Russian borders

NATO's military build-up along Russia's borders is proof of the Western military alliance's anti-Russian stance,  Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Lukoil CEO blames market speculators for oil price decline

Lukoil CEO blames market speculators for oil price decline

President of Russian oil major Lukoil Vagit Alekperov believes that the temporary decline in oil prices was caused by speculators on the market and fears its sharp growth. "We all, including analysts and …

more Russian news