In a historic development, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be hosting his Turkish and Iranian counterparts – Recep Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani – at a trilateral summit on November 22 in Sochi.
Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported that the meeting, the first of its kind between the three countries, will focus on Syria and the overall situation in the Middle East. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the leaders “will handle Astana [peace talks in the capital of Kazakhstan earlier this year] and the political transition process in Syria. They will make important evaluations.” This comes as an unexpected development but is not surprising. Simply put, the three countries share a profound sense of disquiet over Washington’s regional strategies and sense that an inflection point is being reached.
There has been some abrasive behavior by the US on the regional chessboard over the past week or two. For example, US Defence Secretary James Mattis disclosed on November 13 that his country’s military presence in Syria will continue even after ISIS is defeated. Russia promptly challenged the legitimacy of the US presence under international law. Russia, Turkey and Iran are opposed to a continued US presence in Syria. Turkey is particularly worried that a long-term alliance between the US and the Syrian Kurdish militia will complicate its own problem of Kurdish separatism.
Meanwhile, unnamed US State Department officials have claimed that Russia has assured the US that the Iranian militia and Hezbollah will leave Syria. Moscow then had to issue a denial through Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Linked to this is the Israeli demand that a buffer zone be created in the Golan Heights from which the Iranian militia or Hezbollah be excluded.
The US, meanwhile, has once again raked up the issue of the fate of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, insisting that he cannot be part of any transition or elected government. The US has also questioned the raison d’etre of the Astana talks (involving Russia, Turkey and Iran) and insists that the focus should shift back to the Geneva process under UN supervision.
Ironically, it was when the Geneva process began meandering that Russia got Turkey and Iran over to Astana to painstakingly iron out their differences and work out a ceasefire in stages, and thereafter establish de-escalation zones to bring the war to an end.
The US feels excluded from the major achievements made in Astana to end the bloodshed in Syria
The US feels excluded from the major achievements made in Astana to end the bloodshed in Syria. However, Washington was always welcome to join the process but chose to abstain. Washington has ruffled Russia’s feathers and Moscow has threatened to expose the US’s alleged covert dealings with ISIS. Unsurprisingly, Russian politicians have threatened to raise the matter at the UN.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Russian Defence Ministry openly alleged that the US military is impeding Russian air attacks on ISIS targets on the Syrian-Iraqi border and is indirectly enabling the terrorists to regroup. The Pentagon called it a Russian “lie.” At any rate, the very next day, six Russian Tupolov long-range bombers flew from bases in Russia via Iranian and Iraqi airspace to vanquish those ISIS targets in a massive air strike.
The US military is maneuvering on the Iraq-Syria border to bring the region under its control so that it will be in a position to create new facts on the ground and block a land route from Iran leading to the Levant.
Notably, the strong alliance with the Kurdish militia gives the US the
wherewithal to influence events in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Indeed, oil and oil pipelines form an important vector of the geopolitics, too.
The “dogfight under a carpet” in US politics is complicating matters for
Moscow. The Russians don’t have an interlocutor in Washington – something they never lacked even in the darkest periods of the Cold War.
Suffice to say, the latest developments in Lebanon have created dark
forebodings of a regional war. Unsurprisingly, Russia, Turkey and Iran must be feeling the need to coordinate their efforts to push back at the US.
Both Turkey and Iran estimate that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s seemingly irrational behavior has a pattern. They suspect a script was worked out by Israel and the Trump administration with the objective of creating quagmires for Ankara and Tehran.
Earlier this week, Erdogan openly ridiculed the crown prince from an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) platform and questioned whether he was qualified to differentiate “moderate Islam” from the extremist form. The simmering discord between the erstwhile Caliph and the Custodian of the Holy Places who succeeded him (on the debris of the Ottoman Empire) surged into view. Equally, Iran can see that the Saudis are encouraging Israel to attack Lebanon. In fact, Rouhani openly spoke about it on Wednesday.
The trilateral summit in Sochi next week is most likely Erdogan’s idea. He traveled to Sochi to meet Putin on Monday en route to Kuwait and Qatar. While in Doha, Erdogan reaffirmed Turkey’s military support to the emir.
Indeed, all this is playing out against the backdrop of the snowballing crises in the US’s bilateral relations with Russia, Turkey and Iran.