In a reminder of their recent cooperative efforts, Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan are meeting today with Iranian President Hussan Rouhani, as reported by the English site of the official Turkish paper Hurriyet Daily News.
The stated reason for the talks is the situation in Idlib province. Russia and Iran are allied with Syrian President Bashir Assad. Erdogan has been steadily strengthening his ties with both Putin and Rouhani, and shares a border with Syria.
The three nations come together with different positions. Turkey, as represented by Erdogan, has been in opposition to Assad and has taken in many of the Syrian refugees. They have bet against Assad’s success in the civil war and stand to lose if he firmly regains power, as the refugees will be expected to assimilate into Turkey. Russia, as represented by Putin, has been a primary backer of Assad and wants him to win, but wants it to occur in a way that will allow Putin to present Assad as a humane ruler. With such a victory, Putin would have an effective client state. Rouhani wants Assad to win and to form part of a bulwark against Western influence in the region.
Assad has one significant point of resistance left: a rebel stronghold in the Idlib province. The summit is intended to create a joint strategy between the three nations in guiding Assad’s actions.
Meanwhile, the US is reporting that Assad is readying chemical weapons to use in the area.
The obvious concern is for the hundreds of thousands of civilians who are located in the rebel strongholds. Somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand rebel fighters are living among them. In a situation familiar to those who pay attention to the middle east, they are not necessarily “good”; most analyses put the majority of the rebels as members of groups like ISIS and Nusra Front/Al Qaeda,
The concerns for the United States and other Western countries go far beyond the Syrian refugee crisis, however.
Turkey remains a NATO member and is a putative ally. Erdogan, however, has been shifting the country’s leadership steadily more authoritarian, and he has made clear his appreciation for powers such as Russia and Iran… both of whom are adversarial toward Western countries.
The leaders will also hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit, while the countries’ foreign ministers will come together separately ahead of the leaders’ summit. A joint communique is expected to be released following a joint press conference by the presidents after the meetings.Hurriyet Daily News
Turkey is currently being sanctioned by the US, and has responded with sanctions of its own. Russia, not the US, has the potential to keep Assad from launching a final, devastating strike against the rebels… which is something Erdogan fiercely desires. Meanwhile, Turkey, as a NATO member, can be highly disruptive to the treaty which Putin dislikes; and as a country bordering waterways, can be of significant aid to Putin for material transport. The bilateral talks hold the potential to be the most damaging long-term result of this summit.