The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visited Turkey to meet his counterpart in Ankara Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in August. There the outgoing Lavrov made various statements regarding the ongoing Syrian War and Russia’s role in bringing the war to an end. He also further emphasised on the Astana format initiated by Russia and due to its success, Russia’s adversary the USA imposed sanctions as a response. He joined Çavuşoğlu the Turkish foreign minister in a joint press conference discussing various international issues. Among the issues discussed were the ongoing situations in North Africa, the Middle East, Caucasus, Ukraine, Central Asia and the Black Sea region.
From this visit, it is evident that Turkey and Russia are working closely in Syria. This does not imply Turkey is protecting the interests of Russia in the region, nor does it mean that Turkey will be protecting the government in Damascus, but this indicates towards an understanding between the conflicting sides in the Syrian War. Primarily, Turkey has played a key role in instigating the Syrian War with Western backing and Gulf Arab funding. Turkey started with the ‘regime change’ narrative. However, due to frictions arising between the Turkish and the Americans, the Turks have started to take a more neutral position between Russian backed Iran, Syria, Hezbollah against the Gulf and Western alliance. One of the main reasons behind Turkey opting to cooperate with Moscow was an imminent threat a destabilised Northern Syria poses to Turkey’s security concerns. Also, a rise of the Kurdish military outfit (SDF) in region backed by the US is a serious concern for Ankara.
As a response to Turkish tilt or preference to work with the opposing side to the US, they responded quite aggressively by sanctioning Turkey along with Russia and Iran. This makes things far complicated in the NATO structure. Turkey is a major player in NATO and the US the primary decision maker of NATO and the sanctioning is very disturbing from a NATO perspective. NATO’s recent adversary has been Russia as it opposes NATO expansion to Eastern Europe. Turkey responded with harsh political responses to the US’s radical decision. The Trump administration has been the most unpredictable and unstable decision-making body in recent US history. With these swift radical approaches from the US, it proves an emerging decline of the US hegemony in the global stage. The radical unpredictable sanctions and trade wars that are being undertaken by the US rather proves the point of US decline.
The Astana format in Syria is a fundamental point of the decline of US’s importance in the region. The Americans are losing political influence and Russia after its success in Syria is emerging as a major political and security partner in the region. Russia still faces challenges of getting the Saudis and Iranians to cooperate on a political level. However, Russia is being clearly seen as a peace broker far more effective than the rather dictating and one-sided US. The US has a bloody history in the Middle East where regime changes, sanctions and all-out wars have been conducted. This further tarnishes the US reputation in the region. As Russia came out with the support of a cornered government against an aggressive proxy war waged against it, shows Russia is there to side with governments despite their political stance in the international arena. Some would argue Russia is serving its own interests in Syria, however, Russia has little interests in Syria and it is strategically less important to Russia. By solving the crisis in Syria Russia is sending a critical message to its neighbours who have more strategic importance to Russia, i.e, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel.
Traditionally Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been major allies of the US. However, that has always been on the arrangement of US providing security against a common threat, first against the USSR now Iran. However, as the events in Syria prove, Iran isn’t a direct threat to neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia (although they are engaged in a proxy war in Yemen). Russia is attempting to bring all the major players in the region on the negotiating table which the US has failed to do for over half a century. Rather the US policies further embroiled further conflicts in the region. The sanctions by the US were criticised by both the Turkish and the Russian sides for being unspirited to free trade something the US claims to stand for.
The US imposed sanctions on Russia and with a major surprise Turkey backed out from joining the sanctions against Russia. This proved a decisive point to the US’s structure of the unipolar world order. Furthermore, the Turkish and the Russians have negotiated the situations in Syria. Mainly the province of Idlib which has reached an agreement between the two sides popularly known as the de-escalation zone, as the Turkish military occupies the area and the Syrian government forces are in the surrounding areas. The main reason for Turkey to get engaged was the looming threat of SDF in Northern Syrian areas. Turkey got involved in the war by taking up rebel areas in the area close to the North Western province of Idlib.
The Turkish and the Russians have cooperated effectively and have come to agreements on the de-escalation zones in Syria. They have released joint statements that provided a glimpse of the understanding of the two sides in Syria. After the sanctions imposed by the USA supported by the Western countries according to the Russian officials, this is bringing Iran, Turkey and Russia closer together and proves the success of the Astana format. This is due to cooperation from all the sides to ensure long-term peace in the country whereby Western political, Gulf Arab financial and Anglo-American intelligence support the Wahhabist proxies gained traction. These Wahhabist elements were whitewashed as ‘moderate rebels’ fighting for democracy. Rather, they were fundamentalist militants who were fighting against a secular establishment, more importantly, an anti-imperialist one in Damascus.
However, peace is still to be reached there are various issues arising across the region. With Qatar leaving the OPEC arrangement and Iran supporting Qatar also Turkey moving against Saudi Arabia due to the Khashoggi incident. Saudi Arabia recently started cooperating with Russia, now this brings a new challenge for Moscow’s diplomatic efforts. While making traction with Turkey, but its usual partner in the region Iran and now along with Qatar are in an adversarial role against Saudi who is considered quite important for the Russians. A balancing challenge emerges for Moscow and it will be important to observe how these events play out in the coming future.
Also, Israel has been assured by Russia that Hezbollah outfit and other anti-Zionist military entities will be restricted against any hostilities against the Zionist Israeli state. This brings arguably the strongest military in the region the Zionist State of Israel to an understanding of Russia’s intentions in the region. There are multiple interested sides in the resourceful Middle East. Russia is attempting to play its cards cautiously as it moves closer with each side and ultimately removing the US/Western powers. This should be welcoming for the long-term peace seekers in the region, as the one-sided and self-beneficiary role from the US only brewed conflict in the region and not peace.