Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan held their first face-to-face meeting in Tehran on Tuesday since the Kremlin launched its troops into Ukraine on February 24. Both leaders held a three-way summit with the president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, in which they confirmed progress in the negotiations to unblock the transport of grain through the Black Sea. In a statement released by the three parties, “they reaffirmed their determination to continue their ongoing cooperation to definitively liquidate terrorist individuals, groups, projects and entities, guaranteeing the safety of civilians and their infrastructure in compliance with international law.” “It is impossible to expect Turkey to remain inactive, without responding,” Erdogan warned of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militias in northern Syria.
The good harmony was palpable despite the geopolitical clashes between Turkey and Russia on half the planet, from Libya to Central Asia, passing through Syria, the Caucasus and Ukraine. According to the Kremlin, they did not address the shipment of Turkish drones to kyiv. “We have made progress thanks to your mediation. Not all problems have been resolved yet, but the fact that there is movement is good,” Putin told Erdogan during their bilateral meeting.
In a later meeting with Russian journalists, Putin recounted more details about his talk with Erdogan about the blockade of Ukrainian grain. He insisted that the West not only lift its sanctions on Russian fertilizers, “which no one has opposed, not even the Americans,” but also on its grain exports, of which he promised up to 30 million tons.
Ankara, the fractious member of NATO, has been erected these months in the great bridge with Moscow for the West. In Istanbul, both the unsuccessful peace negotiations with kyiv, in a deadlock since the end of March, and the talks to unblock the transit of grain through the Black Sea have been carried out.
The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who supported the invasion of Ukraine, also spoke about the conflict. “If NATO had not been stopped, after a while [Occidente] would have waged a war under the pretext of Crimea. The West does not want a strong Russia,” Khamenei said, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA.
The first international summit organized by the ultra-conservative Raisi since he came to power last year could not be more timely. It takes place days after the US president, Joe Biden, made a tour of the Middle East in which he has visited the other two great enemies of Tehran: Israel and Saudi Arabia.
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The leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia had a lot to talk about. The three form the Astana process, protected by resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council to seek a way out of the Syrian war, which has been going on for more than 11 years. However, Ankara wants to expand its territory in Syrian Kurdistan and supports part of the rebel forces fighting Damascus, while Tehran and Moscow support Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Both Putin and Raisi pressured Turkey to oppose the United States in Syria. According to the Iranian leader, all three parties agreed that Washington must end its influence in the conflict. The Russian president also stated that the instability in the areas that Asad does not control “has been greatly facilitated by the destructive line of Western countries led by the United States.”
In the joint statement, the three leaders show “their unwavering commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.” They also denounced an “increase in the activity of terrorist groups and their affiliates, regardless of their names, in various areas of Syria” and highlighted the importance of implementing the agreements on this point “in the northern part of the country.”
Erdogan reiterated his intention to launch a new offensive in Syrian Kurdistan. “It is impossible to expect Turkey to remain inactive, without responding, while this terrorist organization continues with its separatist agenda,” he said, referring to the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militias. “I hear you, dear friends, who understand Turkey’s legitimate security concerns. I thank you, but words alone do not heal wounds”, he added while demanding that the Kurds leave a space of 30 kilometers from the Turkish border.
Khamenei warned, instead, of the risks that it would entail: “Maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria is very important and a military attack in northern Syria would definitely damage Turkey, Syria and the entire region, as well as benefit terrorists.” ”. For his part, Putin pointed out that this territory must remain under the control of El Asad because “it must be returned to Syria.”
The Turkish government wants to create what it euphemistically calls a “security zone” in Syrian Kurdistan. Damascus, however, demands that you respect its sovereignty. The Arab country’s ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, emphasized in an interview with the TASS agency that this speech contradicts his position as guarantor of the Astana format. “Erdogan is using current international events to promote a more hostile policy towards Syria,” he stated.
According to Erdogan, the short-term goal is for one million Syrians in Turkey to return to their country. “The voluntary, safe and honorable return of Syrian refugees to their countries is one of the important items on the agenda of the Astana process,” he stressed. Returning “voluntarily” millions of Syrians who have fled during the war and are now in a less friendly Turkey is a priority for Ankara. Also an argument to justify a new offensive, together with the elimination of what he defines as terrorist groups.
Erdogan’s warning about the need for an attack was not a surprise to Putin, nor to Raisi. Both oppose a military operation whose precedent in 2018 not only resulted in the death of dozens of civilians and hundreds of thousands of displaced people, but also included a security pact with the Kurdish militias, due to the withdrawal of US support at the time. of Trump. It is not surprising, therefore, that neither Russia nor Iran view it favorably. In recent weeks, the Syrian Kurds have asked Moscow and Tehran for support should it finally happen.
high level summit
Apart from the talks between leaders, Tehran also hosted a high-level summit between Iran and Turkey in the morning, in which the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, Trade, Energy, Industry and Sports of the Eurasian country were present. The delegations agreed to try to quadruple their commercial exchanges from 7,500 to 30,000 million dollars (about 29,300 million euros).
The Turkish intelligence chief was also present to address issues related to the fight against terrorism. “Whatever its name, we emphasize that any group that endangers citizens must be combated,” Raisi said. Relations between Iran and Turkey are not going through their best moment due to Ankara’s rapprochement with Israel and Saudi Arabia in recent months. Visits by delegations from these countries this summer did not sit well with Tehran.
In July, Ankara staged a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia –with Mohamed Bin Salmán present– that included agreements on energy, economy and security. The move was understood as a relaxation in the long history of disagreements between the two countries, beginning with Erdogan’s condemnation of the crown prince – without directly naming him – for the 2018 murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
If relations were tense four years ago, a few months ago Turkey judicially disposed of the murder case and transferred it to Riyadh. Today, both countries have trade agreements that can help the ailing Turkish economy.
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