About how Putin wins diplomatic victory over Erdoğan in Ankara

Russia, Turkey and Iran have decided to rewrite the Constitution of Syria

About how Putin wins diplomatic victory over Erdoğan in Ankara Photo: kremlin.ru

The summit of three states — Russia, Turkey and Iran — took place on 17 September. At the meeting in Ankara, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hassan Rouhani made the joint decision to rewrite the Constitution of Syria to end the war and signed the agreement on the need to withdraw all foreign troops from its territory. Realnoe Vremya tried to understand the web of behind-the-scenes intrigues and answer the question of what made Turkey, which supports the Syrian rebels, to meet Russia, which considers them terrorists, and why the West believes that Moscow has won a diplomatic victory over Ankara, and Putin outwitted Erdoğan.

The decision to rewrite the Constitution of Syria taken at the summit

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran, who again tried to find a peaceful way to resolve the Syrian conflict, met at the summit in Ankara. However, at the talks, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hassan Rouhani discussed a number of other events in the troubled Middle East. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Russian President's Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev represented Russia in the Turkish capital with Putin. It should be noted that the forum was held just a couple of days after the drone attack on oil plants in Saudi Arabia, forced after the fires caused by them to reduce oil production by half. The US and Saudi Arabia blamed Iranian forces for the incident.

One of the main results of the summit has become a tripartite agreement on the decision to rewrite the Constitution of Syria, which should lead to an end to the “civil war” in the country, which has been going for already nine years, Western media write. Let us remind that Syria and Russia do not consider the Syrian conflict a civil war and assure the world community that it is a war against terrorism.

A committee is to rewrite the Syrian Constitution, the agreement on the composition of which has also been reached. It has not been reported whether the committee is going to include Turkish, Iranian and Russian representatives. According to Erdoğan, earlier the parties could not come to a common agreement because of disputes over one of the members of the committee. Now, the Turkish leader hopes, this body can start working “as soon as possible”.

According to Erdoğan, earlier the parties could not come to a common agreement because of disputes over one of the members of the committee. Now, the Turkish leader hopes, this body can start working “as soon as possible”. Photo: kremlin.ru

It is also known that the committee will include both members of the current Syrian government and a number of leaders of the opposition, some of which, as you know, include some infamous figures of the Islamists — apparently, one of the members of the committee, who caused controversy, could be somehow connected with any of the Islamic groups fighting in the country. Or Turkey refused to approve any of the Syrian Kurds in the commission (Ankara considers them terrorists).

Vladimir Putin warned after the meeting that the “extremists groups” may not like the very constitutional and peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict which may try to destroy this process: “They are not interested in the final settlement, they earn on the other, they earn on the war.” The decision to rewrite the constitution in theory seems a gesture of goodwill towards those “rebels” who in Russia (and Syria) are still not considered to be extremists. However, they did not say at the summit said who are.

Turkey, supporting the rebels, still has met Russia halfway

The trilateral agreement can be considered a breakthrough of some kind, as Turkey has so far been known to support the Syrian rebels. While Russia and Iran are the main allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who, again, is opposed by Western powers (including the US) and Israel.

Let us remind that the confrontation between Turkey and Russia in the Syrian conflict has led to that the Turkish air defence forces shot down a Russian military aircraft, resulting in a “cold” Russian-Turkish war for a few months, the air traffic between the countries was interrupted, the Russians lost their favourite Turkish resorts, and Turkey, respectively, tourist income.

Vladimir Putin warned after the meeting that the “extremists groups” may not like the very constitutional and peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict which may try to destroy this process. Photo: kremlin.ru

Another key news of the summit has been the Rouhani's suggestion that the elections in Syria could take place in 2020 or 2021. It is obvious that the military conflicts between the warring factions in Syria and the official authorities will have to stop by the time of the vote in the country. It is also obvious that the most radical forces will try to destabilize the situation in every possible way.

About how Putin and Assad and 3 million refugees can force Erdoğan to “leave” Idlib

However, as even Western observers write, in Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian “rebels” (Russia considers them terrorists), the ceasefire agreement, which came into force at the end of August, continues to operate, “despite some violations”. At the summit, all three leaders agreed to further stabilize the situation in Idlib.

The decision on Idlib may be beneficial to Turkey, which has gone for it, probably, with great reluctance. The thing is that today this city is dominated by a radical group associated with Al-Qaeda (banned in Russia), called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which, according to many observers and intelligence services, is secretly supported by Turkey (the leader of the group is allegedly in Turkey). Syrian forces, backed by Russian troops, attacked the city in a four-month ground and air offensive. This, in turn, caused another wave of refugees: according to various estimates, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of Syrians (Bloomberg names the figure of 500,000), who by that time had already been moved here from other parts of Syria, and after the bombing moved to the Turkish border.

Indeed, Turkey does not need another headache associated with new refugees: there are already about 3,6 million Syrian temporary migrants in the country. The situation in Idlib has led to the accumulation on the Turkish border of another 3-4 million people (half a million of whom have already illegally moved to Turkey, Erdoğan said). Erdoğan, in fact, at the current talks pointed to this as the main problem, saying that such a “disaster” will affect not only Turkey (the opposition inside the country is attacking Erdoğan including for the unresolved problem of the refugees) but also the whole of Europe. It is clear that Europe does not need new flows of migrants either. It is the discontent of Europeans that Turkey uses, by the way, as a lever of pressure, threatening to “open the gates” so that refugees eventually flood in Europe.

Indeed, Turkey does not need another headache associated with new refugees: there are already about 3,6 million Syrian temporary migrants in the country. The situation in Idlib has led to the accumulation on the Turkish border of another 3-4 million people. Photo: aa.com.tr

Ankara is able to convince Americans to leave Syria

It has been already the fifth such meeting of the leaders of the two countries. But this time, Turkey and Russia have reached a key agreement on the need to withdraw all foreign troops from Syria after defeating the terrorists, as a result of which the territorial integrity of Syria must be restored. This news, of course, will not like Turkey's ally in the Syrian conflict — the United States: it was the American forces that helped control the Turkish border. However, subsequently, contradictions arose between the countries, as the Americans support the Syrian Kurdish groups, but Ankara considers them terrorists and now demands from the United States a buffer zone free from conflict. There Turkey plans to resettle 3 million refugees who have accumulated on the Turkish border. The Americans and the Turks seemed to agree in August to create a safe zone — but progress has not been observed.

The agreement on the withdrawal of all foreign troops, adopted at the summit, of course, theoretically means the withdrawal of the US military as well (Russia considers their presence in Syria illegal). However, given that there was no American representative at the summit, the United States can ignore the agreement, and the only thing that Putin can count on is the Turks to help convince the Americans to finally leave the conflict zone.

However, let us remind that in recent years the relations between the United States and Turkey, to put it mildly, have cooled, and the Americans in recent days have even threatened Ankara with sanctions: they did not like the decision of the Turks to purchase and deploy on its territory the Russian system S-400. Turkey ignored the Americans' discontent and just before the summit had said that the system could be deployed and launched in April 2020. We would add that the US president, contrary to the warnings of his military advisers, last year declared the need for the withdrawal of US troops from Syria — but they have not yet been fully withdrawn.

Russia wins diplomatic victory over Turkey

Not everyone believes that the disagreements between Turkey and Russia are over. Thus, Western media noted that Erdoğan now considers the Kurdish militants the only threat in the north-east of Syria, while Putin believes sleeping cells of ISIS (banned in Russia) to be the main danger, thereby “needling” the Turkish counterpart. In addition, the relations between Turkey and Syria, Russia's ally, remain strained.

One of the key news of the summit was Rouhani's suggestion that elections in Syria could take place in 2020 or 2021. Photo: kremlin.ru

Today, both countries share a 911-kilometre border. During the conflict, Turkey placed 12 military observation posts in the border region (it agreed on this at a similar summit in 2017). Late last week, Erdoğan warned that Turkey would respond to any attack by the Syrian government forces on Turkish posts.

Since Russian forces may also be behind the Syrian troops, it is not yet possible to completely discount the danger of another Turkish-Russian conflict. Analysts point out that although Russia has actually won a diplomatic victory over Turkey, it will not be ready to launch a full-scale offensive in Idlib without Ankara's approval. And the Turks one way or another will have to negotiate with the Americans.

Putin suggested that Saudi Arabia should buy S-300 or S-400…

The summit also revealed hidden contradictions between Russia and Iran, where no one expected them. Commenting on the drone attack on the Saudi oil plant, Vladimir Putin suddenly said that Russia... “is ready to help Saudi Arabia, if necessary”, and even offered to buy Russian weapons. The Russian president said that the Saudi Arabia government would have made a wise decision, the same as Iran once took, buying the S-300, and Turkey, buying the latest air defence system S-400.

Such weapons could protect any infrastructure facilities in Saudi Arabia, he said. Putin's statement was immediately replicated by the world media. However, at the same press conference held after the summit, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the attacks on the Saudi factories a retaliatory measure of the “Yemeni people” who themselves had been attacked. He said the Yemenis had only exercised their legitimate right to defend themselves, and the attack was a reaction to the aggression against Yemen in recent years.

Commenting on the drone attack on the Saudi oil plant, Vladimir Putin suddenly said that Russia... “is ready to help Saudi Arabia, if necessary” and even offered to buy Russian weapons. Photo: wikipedia.org

...to protect the infrastructure actually from Iran, a Russia’s ally

Let us remind that the responsibility for the attack on the Arabian factories has been taken by the Yemenis-Houthis, whom Iran supports. Western sources, citing representatives of the administration of US President Donald Trump, after the attack wrote that Iran was behind the drones. The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia also blamed Tehran for the attack. Only Russia urged not to jump to conclusions.

Thus, the Putin's proposal and the statements of the Iranian leader led to a paradoxical situation: Russia actually offered Saudi Arabia protection from its own ally, Iran. However, New York Times notes in its article that Rouhani, sitting at the conference next to Putin, after hearing the latter's words about buying the air defence system, laughed, apparently not taking the proposal seriously. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also chuckled to himself as he listened to the Russian president. Erdoğan at the meeting also supported the position of Iran, calling to remember who first dropped bombs on Yemen. Answering this question, he said, one can immediately find the answer about the cause of what had happened in Saudi Arabia.

By Sergey Afanasyev