On May 10, an earlier announced meeting of the foreign ministers of the Astana format participants – Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria – took place in Moscow. It should be noted that this summit of representatives of the Quartet took the baton from the heads of defense departments. The latter shows that Russia, as the initiator of the Middle East dialogue on the settlement of the Syrian crisis, demonstrates a systematic approach covering all important aspects of the remaining contradictions between Damascus and Ankara.
Accordingly, the meetings of the heads of foreign intelligence agencies, defense and diplomatic departments of Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria are designed to discuss and find new opportunities to resolve the Syrian crisis, as well as to develop proposals for the preparation of the summit at the highest level. It is no secret that the main subject of the Quartet’s meetings in this format was the restoration of Turkish-Syrian relations and the resolution of sharp contradictions.
The fact that the Moscow summit of foreign ministers took place three days before the general elections in Turkey, to which the attention of key regional and global players is riveted, suggests that the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is positive about restoring relations with Syria while satisfying Turkish interests (primarily in the field of security).
Moreover, more than a million Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons who found themselves in neighboring Turkey have now become participants in local elections. The topic of Syrian refugees (IDPs) for election purposes is actively used by the opposition to criticize the Turkish authorities. In turn, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Popular Republican Party and the “Popular Alliance” bloc, has already indicated the restoration of relations with Syria and the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland as one of his policy theses should he win.
In addition to the political context, the topic of Syrian refugees has an important socio-economic aspect for Turkey in the situation of the devastating earthquake and severe financial and economic crisis.
That is why President Erdoğan is forced to show a more flexible stance in terms of Turkish-Syrian relations, exclude new conflict approaches and aim at a constructive dialogue with Syria in cooperation with influential regional players such as Russia and Iran.
Of course, the general public does yet not know the full content of the talks held in Moscow and the agreements, or at least the understandings and hopes, reached. After the two Moscow summits of the Quartet, both Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke positively about the talks that took place and expressed their satisfaction and hopes for their continuation.
Çavuşoğlu assessed the Moscow summit positively: “The meeting was constructive and effective. As parties to the process, we reaffirmed our commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity, we have a common approach to combating terrorism, we emphasized the importance of the political process and joint work on humanitarian issues.”
From this short opinion of the main Turkish diplomat it follows that Turkey recognizes the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) with the exclusion of any new quasi-entities in its Kurdish-populated provinces. In other words, Ankara, together with Moscow, Tehran and Damascus, opposes the American course of speculation on the suffering of Syria’s Kurdish population. There is nothing new in the approach of Turkey and Syria, because in the twentieth century all Middle Eastern countries with the historical Kurdish community (particularly Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran), despite the presence of various interstate controversies, have always found an understanding and a common approach to the threat of ethnic separatism (in this case the Kurdish question), heated from the outside.
Accordingly, at the Moscow table, the parties found a “common approach to combating terrorism.” Translated from diplomatic language, this could mean that Turkey, together with Syria and its other partners (the Russian Federation and the IRI), regards pro-American Kurdish and other militant organizations as terrorist organizations that must be eliminated and destroyed.
It is no coincidence that at a meeting with his Iranian, Turkish and Syrian counterparts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the US has stepped up work to create a so-called Army of Free Syria around Raqqa, involving fighters from ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia), representatives of other terrorist groups and members of local Arab tribes. Washington’s goal is to destabilize the situation in Syria through the use of fighters against the legitimate authorities of the SAR. Accordingly, in the face of such a threat, Turkey and Syria, based on their national interests, find a unified approach against the forces of international terrorism.
The issues of the subsequent withdrawal of Turkish troops from part of the northern territories of Syria and the return of Syrian refugees from the south-eastern regions of Turkey will require, firstly, time, secondly, the continuation of the political process of dialogue and, thirdly, humanitarian cooperation. As a result, Turkey and Syria decided to continue constructive negotiations.
In his turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, positively assessing the May meeting with his colleagues, rightly stressed that the success of the Turkish-Syrian relations will provide new prospects and opportunities for the “Astana format” of resolving the Syrian crisis and strengthening Middle East security.
The resolution of the acute Turkish-Syrian contradictions with Russia’s assistance and Iran’s participation will certainly create new realities in the Middle East. In fact, the US and its diplomacy will lose ground in the region, where key players will show determination to restore peace and order in Syria with their own capabilities. Following this, a new page of successful diplomacy could open for Turkey to form a sustainable regional security in partnership with Russia, Iran, Syria (other countries of the Arab East) and China. Is this not the prospect of the real embodiment of Ahmet Davutoğlu’s neo-Ottoman thesis of “zero problems with neighbors”?
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.”