The leaders of Iran, Russia, and Turkey are holding summit talks in Iran, formally on the conflict in Syria but with the turmoil caused by President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine far more in focus. Putin arrived in Iran on Tuesday to join Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and their Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the so-called Astana Format discussions on Syria, the Russian leader’s first trip outside the former Soviet Union since he ordered the Feb. 24 invasion.
While the three leaders plan a joint statement on Syria, bilateral talks on the war in Ukraine may draw greater international attention. Turkey has been negotiating with Russia and Ukraine on a possible deal to unblock exports of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports to help ease increasing global prices and a deepening hunger crisis in many poorer countries.
What are the possible reasons:
As the West pushes sanctions on Russia and the costly campaign is going on, Putin is trying to boost ties with Iran, which is a fellow target of severe U.S. sanctions and a potential military and trade partner. In recent weeks, Russian officials visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to review Tehran’s weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine, as the White House has said.
Iran rolled out a long red carpet for Putin at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, where Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji greeted him warmly before he was whisked into his presidential convoy to the city. But most crucially, the trip to Iran offers Putin a chance for a high-stakes meeting with Erdogan, who has tried to help mediate talks on a peaceful settlement of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as well as help negotiations to unblock Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
- Advertisement -
Turkey, a NATO member, has found itself opposite Russia in bloody conflicts in Azerbaijan, Libya, and Syria. It has even sold lethal drones that Ukraine has used to attack Russian troops. But Turkey hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia, making it a vital partner for Russia. Actually Facing huge inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, Turkey also relies on the Russian market. The visit has symbolic meaning for Putin’s domestic citizens as well, it shows Russia’s international clout even as it grows isolated due to a confrontation with the West
It is important to note here that this visit comes just days after U.S. President Joe Biden’s visited Israel and Saudi Arabia — Iran’s primary rivals. From Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden urged Israel and Arab countries to push back on Russian, Chinese, and Iranian influence that has expanded with the perception of America’s retreat from the region. It was tough though. Israel maintains good relations with Putin, a necessity given the Russian presence in Syria, Israel’s northeastern neighbor and frequent target of its airstrikes. Saudi Arabia and UAE have declined to pump more oil beyond a plan approved by their energy alliance with Moscow. But all the countries — despite their long-standing rivalries — could agree on drawing closer to countering Iran.
Now dumped by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government is growing up uranium enrichment, cracking down on dissent, and grabbing headlines with optimistic, hard-line stances intended to keep the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing. Without sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s important partnership with Russia has become one of survival, even as Russia seems to be undercutting Iran in the black market oil trade. Fadahossein Maleki, a member of the Iranian parliament’s influential committee on national security and foreign policy, described Russia as Iran’s “most strategic partner” on Monday. His comments are the opposite of decades of rivalry that originated from Russia’s occupation of Iran during World War II — and its refusal to leave afterward.
After his arrival, Putin held talks with Raisi that followed meetings in Moscow in January and again last month in Turkmenistan. The National Iranian Oil Company and Russia’s Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation on projects worth around $40 billion. The agreement covers the development of six oil and two gas fields, construction of gas export pipelines, gas and product swaps and the completion of the Iran LNG export terminal. Gazprom made no mention of the deal’s value and said only that the two sides had “agreed to analyze cooperation options.” Previous Iranian attempts to enter the liquefied natural gas market, including with Gazprom’s participation, have been opposed by US sanctions.
Putin will also meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to continue “trusting dialogue.” Putin said that “Our relations are developing at a good pace, noting that Moscow and Tehran “strengthen their cooperation on international security and contribute significantly to the Syrian settlement.” Raisi voiced hope that Putin’s visit would help expand cooperation on regional and international issues.
The focus of later trilateral talks among the presidents will be on the decade-old conflict in Syria, where Iran and Russia have backed Bashar Assad’s government, while Turkey has supported armed opposition factions. Russia intervened in the conflict in 2015, pooling efforts with Iranian forces and using its air power to shore up Assad’s fledgling military. Ushakov said the parties will discuss efforts to encourage a political settlement, while Erdogan is expected to take up Turkey’s threats of a new military offensive in northern Syria to drive away U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters from its borders. The operation is part of Turkey’s plan to create a safe zone along its border with Syria that would encourage the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
In a meeting with Erdogan, Khamenei delivered a stern warning against the planned Turkish incursion. He said, Any sort of military attack in northern Syria will definitely harm Turkey, Syria, and the entire region, and will benefit terrorists. Iran and Turkey signed preliminary agreements covering investment, diplomacy, media, and business, among other fields, and pledged to triple bilateral trade, to $30 billion. Erdogan called for solidarity in the fight against Kurdish militant groups as well as a network led by a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.
Humanitarian issues in Syria have also come into focus since Russia used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council last week to restrict aid deliveries to 4.1 million people in Syria’s rebel-held northwest after six months, instead of a year. Talks about lifting a Russian blockade and getting Ukraine’s grain into global markets also are on the agenda. Last week, U.N., Russian, Ukrainian, and Turkish officials reached a tentative agreement on some aspects of the deal to ensure the export of 22 million tons of desperately needed grain and other agricultural products trapped in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports by the fighting.