بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Political Observation - The Russo-Turko-Iranian Summit
Geopolitical changes have been battering Russia’s southern flank and the areas of sectarian and nationalist conflict between Iran and Azerbaijan as a consequence of Turkey’s successful intervention in the Azerbaijani-Armenian war in October of last year, especially in light of the Russian crises with the West, and as Iran continues enduring the American international pressures under the guise of the nuclear file negotiations in Vienna, with the aim of redirecting her functional role as a hub of hostility to the people of the region in service of the regional solution project, which involves the political, military, security, and economic integration of the usurping entity in the region. This has driven Iran and Russia to resist these changes and take advantage of the international situation to achieve a host of economic and political gains.
Hence, Russia has been cautiously watching Turkey’s infiltration in the South Caucasus region, and her attempt to revive the notion of "Greater Turkey". Russia rejects any "change of borders in the South Caucasus," which is viewed as Russia’s lebensraum and a hotbed of tension in Russo-Turkish relations, as is the case in the two countries' standpoints on Ukraine and some files in Syria and Libya. Russia views any expansion of Turkey and her relations towards her borders with sensitivity considering the historical legacy laden with the Russo-Ottoman conflicts, and Turkey's membership in NATO.
Russia also finds an interest in the conflicting interests and standpoints of Turkey and Iran; thus, she is endeavouring to seize their interests together, orchestrate and contain their crises, and impede any Turkish geographic or nationalist expansion or contiguity to the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia, deepen the dispute between Iran and her rivals in the region, and widen the gap between her and the United States. It is an opportunistic Russian policy based on widening the wedges in the relationship between the United States and some of her affiliated countries, or those proceeding in her orbit, to gain some bargaining chips with America and Europe, whether by securing their interests or threatening and obstructing them, taking advantage of the need of some regimes for international support whenever the relationship of their rulers with the American sponsor becomes tense.
Putin's first visit outside Russia and her lebensraum since the Ukrainian war erupted came against the backdrop of Biden's visit to the Middle East to build an alliance and enhance regional security, taking advantage of Iran's adherence to her nationalist and sectarian gains in the region, and Erdogan's need for Russian influence in northern Syria, which represents a menace to Turkish national security, and a political dilemma for President Erdogan on the domestic level. This is in light of the frantic jostling for power in Turkey, and in light of Erdogan’s desire to carry out a military operation to generate a buffer zone in northern Syria, thus blocking the path to the attempts to establish a Kurdish entity, and enabling him to repatriate the bulk of the Syrian refugees whose file has become an electoral card in the hands of the Turkish opposition, in addition to its repercussions on the Turkish economy, after it had been a trump card in the hands of Erdogan in the file of immigration to Europe.
In this regard, Putin seeks, through his military influence in Syria, to win over the Turkish and Iranian standpoints to his side in the Syrian file, especially since the interests of Syria, Turkey and Iran converge on preventing the establishment of a Kurdish entity. It is common knowledge that the regimes of the three countries derive their legitimacy from the nationalistic principle hostile to Kurdish nationalism that threatens to tear the three countries apart. This is why the Tehran summit’s communiqué stressed the unity and “sovereignty” of Syrian territories, despite the Iranian regime’s reservations vis-à-vis the Turkish military handling of the Kurdish file in northern Syria, which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned of, saying it would lead to "destabilising the security of the region."
In the face of this complexity and the intertwined interests, and the conflicts between some of them in the regional and international political scene, the Tehran Summit emerged with results based on the common interests between Turkey, Iran, and Russia. Putin was able to generate a consensus between the Syrian regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by removing the latter from some areas on the Turkish border towards the Syrian depth, and deploying regime forces in those areas, with the possibility of allowing Erdogan to launch a military operation in the Manbij region, which is under the control of the Kurds and the United States, in response to the wishes of Erdogan, for whom Russia is eager to strengthen his electoral position in the face of his political opponents loyal to the United States, in light of the deteriorating economic conditions and the soaring inflation, in exchange for Erdogan’s pledge to take over the international M4 road, control the behaviour of the armed factions in Idlib, and prevent their threat to neighbouring Russian military bases.
Hence, Putin was keen to confer on Erdogan the privilege of sponsoring the agreement on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, which was concluded under the auspices of the United Nations two days ago in Istanbul, after Putin had demonstrated Russia’s centrality and her international position on global food chains, taking advantage of the United States’ need to calm world public opinion regarding the food crisis and rising prices.
As for Iran, she needs to prevent the rise of a Kurdish entity which would strengthen the position of the Iraqi Kurds against the “Shia” factions loyal to her, which had been dwarfed after the parliamentary elections due to the anti-Iran domestic Iraqi alliances. Iran is also eager not to deepen the Turkish influence in northern Syria, especially now that the issues that had soured the atmosphere in the Turkish-Saudi relationship have been ironed out, nor undermine the regime of Bashar Assad which could lure him into the embrace of the Arab states, or weaken her surrogates in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran is also endeavouring to curb the "Israeli" operations targeting her forces, surrogates, and domestic security, with Russian assistance, by harnessing the tension in the Russian-"Israeli" relationship against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis. Hence, the closing statement of the Tehran summit condemned the 'Israeli’ aggression against Syria. However, Russia is not expected to stand in the face of the 'Israeli’ attacks completely, directly and effectively, especially in the presence of jostling between Iran and Russia for influence in Syria on the one hand, and for the energy market in China on the other, especially after China had become the only market for Iranian energy due to the Western sanctions imposed on Iran since the Trump tenure.
However, Putin, in an attempt to show his ability to withstand Western sanctions and the possibility of restoring the growth of his country's economy, and in an attempt to restore his credibility with Tehran, after he had been instrumental in thwarting an agreement on the Iranian nuclear file in March 2022 when he demanded to add guarantees which would allow Russia, in light of the sanctions imposed on his country, to benefit from any projects in Iran. Consequently, he supervised the signing of an agreement worth $40 billion between National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Gazprom to support Iran in developing gas and oil projects, participating in gas liquefaction projects, and constructing its export lines, especially in light of the United States’ pursuit of competition in the export of liquefied gas, and in light of Europe's tendency towards rehabilitating its energy sector to receive liquefied gas. All of this falls within the framework of jostling for the European energy market and circumventing the United States' efforts to wean Europe off Russian gas and compelling her to buy gas in dollars from its areas of influence to entrench the centrality of the dollar against the euro, as it is the competing global currency.
In this sense, the tripartite Tehran Summit, through which Putin wanted to break his isolation before domestic public opinion, has international political and economic dimensions, in addition to its regional security and political dimensions. It is a Russian attempt to seize control of the Iranian-Turkish relationship, and hedge the political solution in Syria, in light of America’s efforts to rehabilitate Bashar’s regime, entice it and encourage it to break free from the shackles of Russia and Iran, and assign the Syrian file to Saudi Arabia to handle it through its men in the National Coalition and the new Negotiating Commission. Additionally, the summit highlights Russia’s and Iran’s efforts to arrange the situation with Turkey and contain her movements within the framework of the Iranian initiative and her mediation between Damascus and Ankara under Russian auspices, and the shuttle tours of Syrian and Iranian officials between Tehran and Damascus, the purport of which was announced by Iranian Foreign Minister during his visit to Damascus, under the theme of “Achieving the common interests of all parties,” which was evident from the closing statement which emphasised the three countries’ commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to “standing in the face of separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, in addition to threatening the national security of neighbouring countries,” and their determination to prevent the establishment of an “independent Kurdish entity.” This was confirmed by Erdogan in his statement to Putin and Ebrahim Raisi, saying, "It should be clear to everyone that there is no place in the region for separatist terrorist movements and their followers," adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces "Qasd" are taking "steps to divide Syria with foreign support," and stressing the role of guarantees in Turkey's progress by saying that "Ankara is expecting support from Russia and Iran - in their capacity as guarantor states of the Astana process - in her struggle against terrorism in Syria."
Indications of this narrative were reflected in Putin’s persistence to launch an “initiative that allows for that start of a political dialogue between the Syrian state, the opposition, and the masses”, stressing the three countries' agreement on holding a host of meetings pertinent to the Syrian crisis and in which experts from the countries of the region and the UN would partake. The initiative is expected to start the process of repatriating the Syrian refugees, as Erdogan called on "international parties to aid Turkey so that she may shoulder the humanitarian burden,” stressing “the need to work towards repatriating the Syrian refugees in an honourable manner and guaranteeing their safety.”
25 Thil Hijjah 1443h hizbuttahrir.org
24 July 2022