Thursday July 21, 2022

Putin, Erdogan, Raisi pursue separate agendas

Putin, Erdogan, Raisi pursue separate agendas

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, center, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a photo at the Saadabad palace, in Tehran, Iran. AP

The Tehran summit meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held on Tuesday was ostensibly about ending the 11-year-old civil war in Syria, and there was a dissonant note with Erdogan expressing the need to fight the Kurdish rebels operating on the Syria-Turkey border because for Turkey the Kurds are the enemy.

Russia was silent on the Kurdish issue and Erdogan’s stance, and Raisi made it clear that the Kurdish problem of Turkey cannot be solved through military action. So, the main issue for which the summit was convened ran into troubled waters as it were. It would be an exaggeration to describe the Putin-Erdogan-Raisi summit as a counter to the Jeddah summit in which United States President Joe Biden had participated and Saudi Arabia hosted it and it was attended by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.

Syria is of strategic concern to the three participants at the Tehran summit. Russia and Iran support the Bashar Assad government while the United States’ stated policy is to replace the Baathist regime in Damascus, and the 2011 Arab Spring failed to dislodge the Assad government. But these 11 years have been traumatic and destructive for ordinary Syrians, who were caught in the crossfire of the supporters and opponents of Assad. It is now clear that the United States even used the Daesh in Syria to fight Assad, but the ploy failed.

The Kurdish party in Syria fought off the Daesh. Turkey is opposed to Assad and the civil war has burdened Ankara with a large chunk of Syrian refugees as European countries refused to accept the Syrian people fleeing the civil war at home.

Interestingly, Iran and Russia have more in common with each other than Iran and Turkey, and there are strategic linkages between Russia and Turkey. The three, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, have less in common. Two of them, Russia, and Iran, want to keep the Americans out of Syria because a pro-American government in Damascus would end the Iranian influence in that country.

Syria is part of the geopolitical hot spots in the Middle East. Israel and Iran are at loggerheads, and so are Syria and Israel. It is indeed an untidy picture but there do not seem to be easy solutions to the Syrian problem. Turkey under Erdogan has adopted a hard stance against Israel, but it is a strategic ploy. Turkey is not averse to dealing with Israel.

Most Arab states are concerned about Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and if Tehran were to hold itself back from interfering in the internal politics of these countries, then the Arab states have no problem with Iran.

But Iran remains an ambitious state and it wants to be an important player in the region, and it is this that makes regional power equations unstable. Russia and Turkey, on the other hand, are not keen supporters of Iran exerting its influence in the region. Both Turkey and Russia also want close ties with GCC. The Tehran summit is a meeting of the leaders of three countries each with his own agenda, and there are not too many common points among Putin, Erdogan and Raisi. And it is not surprising either. It is quite possible that each of them would have achieved in a limited way the agenda of their respective countries.

Russia needed the Iranian route to move its exports, and Iran is willing to keep its Russian card in its battle with America, and Erdogan had to press his anti-Kurd point at a Middle Eastern forum and Tehran gave him the space to do so.

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