The Birth of “Astana Alliance” or the “Asia Minor Bloc”

The seventh round of the Astana talks which was initiated in January 2017 to end the Syrian Civil War began on October the 30th. Along with three guarantor states; Turkey, Russia and Iran, UN Representatives and opposition group are also taking part in the meeting through bilateral and trilateral convocations.

The agenda items prominent for this meeting; which is being held following the mediation of four de-escalation zones in Syria are as follows:

  1. The strengthening of the ceasefire that entered into force on December 30th.
  2. The release of prisoners and hostages.
  3. The PYD / YPG terrorist organisation, which holds a significant portion of the northern part of Syria.

The last point is significant. If the parties do agree on interchangeable terms, following the events in Idlib, Afrin and Munbic will be next in line. To conjure; sides decided to initiate the Joint Idlib Operation during the sixth round of Astana talks which took place between 14 – 15 September 2017.

Therefore, it is clear that the outcome of this summit will disapprove the formation of a terror corridor in Northern Syria and Iraq. In this context, the parties will continue to develop a shared attitude towards PYD / YPG-PKK and other separatist / secessionist movements. Also, operations first initiated by Turkey in Cerablus to fight back terrorism and secure its borders and later extended into Idlib and Erbil are to be continued and openly supported by Russia and Iran while the Syrian regime could covertly support it.

Coordination Center Against Terrorism and Unipolarity

During the sixth round of talks, it was emphasised that the parties would continue their task of combatting terrorist organisations associated with DEASH and al-Qaeda. Another crucial decision to establish a “Turkish-Russian-Iran Coordination Center” to organise the activities in the de-escalation zones.

This verdict is significant because the Turkish-Russian-Iranian Triad is aiming for a long-term, effective-dissuasive cooperation mechanism against existing (the Greater Middle East Project-GMEP) and possible developments that threaten their perpetuity and immediate surroundings. In the shorter term, it is clear these countries have carried out a more prudent policy regarding their red lines and inevitably acuminated a channel of communication against unexpected crisis situations.

In conclusion, although the parties have shown a will act systematically to prevent mishaps, the developments suggest a longer-lasting cooperation mechanism. Herein, Astana can be regarded as a result of this inquisition.

Turkey and Russia: Two Key Countries

The process leading to Astana talks first took place in Moscow between Turkey and Russia. At its core, though is the November 16, 2001, dated Action Plan for Cooperation in Eurasia and the June 27, 2016, normalisation process.

When looked at carefully to the aforestated dates and the issues that have been agreed upon mutually, it can be seen that agreement points between Turkey and Russia supersede disputes. The pedestal understanding is that both parties favour a multi-polar world. The expression of this is;

  1. The sides are entirely against unipolarity of the US / Western hegemony.
  2. Turkey and Russia are to become poles in a multipolar world.
  3. Cooperation in “Greater Eurasia” is essential.

Turkey and Russia declared on June 27, 2016, that they would cooperate to establish a “New Middle East” centred around Syria and Iraq and to realise the underlying objective they set out steps have been taken since.

As a matter of fact, there is a consensus between the two countries, and this also applies to the Astana process. They are working together to culminate the Syrian Civil War and protect its territorial integrity.  For this, the boldness against terrorism and separatist movements in Syria are persisting inline with decisions taken in Astana as “The Trilateral Guarantor States”.

Therefore, as some argue, there is no disagreement about PYD / YPG between Turkey and Russia. In relation to the point of dispute; while Turkey perceives PYD/YGP as a terrorist organisation, Russia has a limited association with the group to prevent the US gaining total control. This relationship, for the time being, does not constitute a cause of crisis for Ankara in comparison with the current practices of the USA and its policy.

On the other hand, a critical test will surface when the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and Syrian National Army (SNA, previously known as Free Syrian Army (FSA)) manoeuvre towards Afrin and Munbic after the operation in Idlib. Therefore, another important agenda of the Astana Summit will be a general evaluation of Idlib and new military / operational targets for the post-Idlib period. These are the issues that Turkey will bring to the table in Astana. As a matter of fact, President Erdogan continues to give messages inline with dissections made above.

The “Defacto Alliance” Inclining Towards Expansion

Today, the “defacto Astana Alliance” is dominating the field to a great extent. In this context, Astana is also seen as a centre of consultation and parties are willing to avoid new crises among them. In fact, disputes regarding the political transition process in Syria, which was a severe matter of difference is in repose now. There seems to be a silent/implicit agreement between the parties. The attitude demonstrated towards the recent statement about Bashar al-Assad by the United States can be regarded as proof.

The summit in Astana is part of an ongoing lineage, while its results and impacts are not limited to Syria alone. Indeed, in the current crisis in Iraq, the Astana process is indirectly manifesting itself. If Turkey and Iran did not have a mutual understanding in Astana and the support of Russia not provided, the results of the referendum crisis in Iraq could have been very different.

Indeed, the US has entered the final stage in the Syria-Iraq-based GMEP and is being defeated. It is crucial for the US to collapse in Syria as in Iraq and this what the whole region yearns for! Therefore, regional cooperation is imperative. In order to end the ongoing civil war in Syria, operations aiming at dominating the conflict zone will be expanded and continued.

In the meantime, the announcement of Kazakh Foreign Minister Kayrat Abdrahmanov that “new actors could participate in the seventh round of talks” is a small yet important detail that should not be overlooked!