New configuration born in Istanbul: EU-Russia-Turkey without US?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope that quadrilateral summit (Turkey-Russia-Germany-France) on Syrian settlement, held in Istanbul, will help to resolve the Syrian crisis. Meeting with participation of Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Recep Tayyip Erdogan was held in the main hall of the Vahideddin Palace, which belonged to last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed VI Vahideddin. Today it's one of Erdogan's offices.
Summit on Syria in this format was supposed to be held at the end of September, but it some organizational issues had to be resolved first. Meeting of four leaders was mainly dedicated to situation in Idlib province, which Vladimir Putin described as difficult, but gradually improving, including thanks to the actions of Turkish side that fulfills terms of existing agreements. Political heavyweights also discussed issues of post-war reconstruction of Syria.
Despite the fact that president's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, cautiously noted that nobody should expect any breakthrough decisions to be made at this summit, expectations remained pretty high. Nevertheless, press conference left an impression that no real decisions were made. Vladimir Putin said that dialogue was fruitful, constructive, but that was it. There are only speculations regarding what results have been achieved, and this, according to some observers, is not in favor of Moscow. Next high-level summit is planned to be held in Switzerland, but Russia will be replaced by the United States.
Russia may fade into the background if the United States and Turkey manage to coordinate their positions on the Syrian issue. Then there will definitely be attempts to resolve this situation without Moscow, which is trying to solve the most difficult task - make Bashar Assad stay in power and preserve integrity of the Syrian state. Russian position isn't accepted by the UN Security Council - the United States have their own vision of situation and Russian proposals are not accepted. At the same time, Moscow was told that if Idlib will be attacked, Assad would be attacked in return, which the West doesn't want to do. At least it implies that. Moreover, the West believes that is Assad, who relies on support of Moscow and Iran, is basically doomed. Moscow and Iran's support can't last forever due to difficulties these countries are experiencing, especially economic.
Senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Mikhail Roshchin, believes that summit in Turkey is the very important, even calling it a turning point: “Leaders of the two leading European states met with Russian president, and this is a huge events in international politics. Absence of the United States was also significant. Obviously, Donald Trump is not ready to participate in negotiations on the post-war settlement in Syria yet." As Roshchin told Vestnik Kavkaza, one of the goals of this meeting was to develop a new formula for political post-war settlement of the conflict, and, perhaps, the EU and the Russian Federation will make decisions on Syria's issues themselves. “Erdogan and Putin became key players in resolving this situation, they coordinated their positions in the course of bilateral talks that took place on the eve of this summit. As of today, Idlib province remains rebellious. Ankara has its own view of Idlib's future. It's a province bordering with Turkey. Syria, with the support of Turkey and Iran, has liberated most regions. The main result of this summit, in my opinion, is that a new political configuration appeared: EU-Russia-Turkey without the US," Roshchin said.
Leonid Gusev, senior researcher at the Center for Central Asian and Afghanistan Studies at MGIMO, said that agreement on creation of commission that will develop new constitution of Syria, as well as on situation in Idlib, are very important: "Situation in Idlib is still difficult due to detoriating humanitarian situation and influx of refugees. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey fulfills all of its obligations regarding Idlib and therefore cooperation between two countries on the Syrian issue will continue. By the end of this meeting, leaders of four countries made joint statement, in which they spoke about formation of the Syrian constitutional commission until the end of 2018. As for the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to available information, this issue hasn't been discussed. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, democratic elections should take place at the end of political process, in which all Syrians who have the right to vote, including the Syrian diaspora, should participate.”
As Leonid Gusev noted, format of this summit - Russia-Turkey-Germany-France - is also important. "This meeting is important for all participants. Germany hosts around million Syrian refugees. France, which initiated this meeting, needed to highlight its international significance. As for Russia, Putin said that if more countries participate in the settlement process, it will help Syria. Turkey is geografically close to the troubled country. In any case, as many analysts note, current summit was an attempt by Western leaders to figure out what actions should be expected from Moscow and Turkey in Syria, what are their goals," Gusev concluded.