Astana, who entered the crisis at the Tehran summit, once again passed an important test (in particular Turkey-Russia relations). The unscheduled summit took place in Sochi on September 17. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced to the whole world that they had agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib, as the Russian defense minister stated no more military operations were planned to be held in Idlib.
What does that mean? It is, shall we say, de facto ceasefire. Russia indirectly accepted the offer of ceasefire, which Turkey has repeatedly made in Tehran, but which was neglected by Iran and Russia. Turkey seems to have convinced Russia to resolve the crisis in Idlib.
The decision-making process remained out of Iran’s domain. The absence of Iran at the meeting is the critical detail that should not be neglected. This, once again demonstrates that Turkey and Russia are two key players in the issues of “Expanded Eurasia.”
So, why Russia was standing one step closer to Iran during the Tehran summit, was forced to choose Turkey in Sochi? Let us say… During this process, Russia has seen the serious intentions of Turkey. Ankara’s resoluteness, as well as diplomatic attacks on the field, gave a practical result.
It is evident that Turkey’s concentration of the military on the border and sending them to the regions under its control, thus demonstrating its readiness for various scenarios (up to the military); as well as the statements made by Turkish President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the US media, left no other choice for Russia.
What if there was no consensus in Sochi? Let’s suppose:
- The Astana process would collapse;
- Turkey-Russia-Iran would cease their membership in the Alliance, and would become opponents;
- Turkey and Russia would be on the verge of conflict. This conflict would not be limited only by Turkey and Russia, Iran and Syria would confront Turkey as well;
- Parallel to this, Turkey would fall under the wing of the West, and Turkey’s foreign policy position would be severely affected;
- Russia’s borders (and, of course, Iran’s) would not be as safe as before;
- The turning point in relations between Turkey, Russia, and Iran would not only affect the foreign policy of these countries but would also lead to a radical transformation in domestic politics and economy.
Therefore, the regional war was prevented in Sochi, together with a number of operations aimed at changing the political situation in the region Although the Astana process seems to have been saved in Sochi, it is Turkey-Russia cooperation, which is at the center of the “Eurasia axis” project.
All these crises tell us following about Turkish-Russian relations:
- The relations between the two countries do not have a structural framework. At the tactical level, they have a conjunctural character;
- There is a consensus between the parties that are trying to be developed within the scope of common threat perceptions;
- The problem of mistrust is still relevant;
- The Iran factor, as well as the US factor, should not be ignored;
- As Turkey and Russia need each other, despite all, they are interested in cooperation with each other.
The importance of Turkey from the point of view of Russia is as follows:
- Turkey is, to some extent, a “guarantor of security” of Russia’s near abroad;
- Russia cannot be an active actor in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East without Turkey (attacks on Syria after the agreements in Sochi and the destruction of the Russian aircraft are important indicators);
- Russia’s need for Turkey in the Balkans-Black Sea-Caucasian triangle has increased significantly;
- There is a new agenda for Central Asia through Afghanistan. Moscow should persuade Turkey to take its side on this issue;
- The Silk Road potentially threatens the current balances in the region. In this regard, Russia’s need for the Turkish-Islamic world is growing even more as its path leads through Turkey.
- Russia can restore the trust of the EU through Turkey;
- Turkey as a member of NATO having adversarial relationships with the US benefits the interests of Russia.
Therefore, Russia realizes that the loss of Turkey will be a huge mistake. Putin refrained from this fatal error that Stalin committed in 1945; he made the right choice in Sochi choosing between Turkey and Iran.