Since Trump does not talk to Erdoğan, Putin does
A very interesting dialogue is occurring between Turkey and Russia on serious security matters, as the distance between Turkey and its biggest ally in the Western defense alliance NATO grows.
On Aug. 24, following a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu with his host, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, he was also received by President Vladimir Putin, but not alone. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and the Director of Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Hakan Fidan were with him.
What is more interesting, that was Akar and Fidan’s second visit to Moscow in a week. On Aug. 17, the two were in Moscow again to carry out talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Sergei Naryshkin. Naryshkin was in Istanbul on May 13 to talk to Fidan about cooperation on issues including terrorism and the Middle East, as the media were told. Shoigu was in Istanbul on July 2, right before the fifth round of Astana talks when Akar was still Chief of General Staff, before being named defense minister on July 9.
The Aug. 24 talks in Moscow are a follow up, or rather a roundup, of the former talks with the presence of the top diplomats of the both countries, Lavrov and Çavuşoğlu. After the talks, the Russian side told the media Shoigu has presented Moscow’s proposals to Ankara on the current and future situations in Syria.
Within that week, between Aug. 17 and Aug. 24, two incidents took place involving Turkey, Russia and NATO. On Aug. 21, British Typhoon jets taking off from Romania’s Mihail Kogaliceanu air base near Constanta on the Black Sea Coast intercepted two Russian Su-30 jets claiming their way to NATO airspace, which is Romania. On Aug. 23, two Typhoon jets again taking off from the same base intercepted a Russian maritime Be-12 type electronic intelligence plane, flying southwest of the Ukraine’s Russian annexed territory of Crimea towards Romania.
A statement by United Kingdom Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson about the interception was made on Aug. 24, almost at the same time when Putin was receiving the Turkish delegation. British jets have been deployed in Romania last April as part of a NATO reinforcement in the Black Sea region, also with Turkish approval. (London, by the way is silently in talks with Ankara over lucrative and even strategic deals.)
On Aug. 26, Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami arrived in Damascus to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Recently, defying United States President Donald Trump’s warnings about leaving Syria immediately, who was also echoing Israel’s demands, Ali Akbar Velayati, the Special Envoy of Iran’s religious leader Ali Khamanei said Iran would stay in Syria and Iraq as long as the legal governments of both countries wish so.
Iran, Turkey and Russia are partners in the Astana process to maintain de-escalation zones in Syria and monitor ceasefire in those zones. One of them and the most crucial one is the city of Idlib near Turkish border. Having built 12 military observation posts around the city, Turkey says a regime attack on the entire city because of the terrorist elements there could trigger another wave of migration into Turkey. That is one of the key issues discussed between Turkey and Russia nowadays.
And a new factor in the Syrian theater, which has created a bit of optimism in Ankara, is the new U.S. Department of State Syria coordinator James Jeffrey. Having worked under the Bush and Obama administrations, Jeffrey has served as ambassadors to Baghdad and Ankara and worked on Iran files during his post as Deputy National Security Adviser.
So, there is much more in the Turkish delegation’s talks in Moscow than an invitation from Erdoğan to Putin for a “meeting at a fish restaurant by the Bosphorus,” as extended by Çavuşoğlu. It seems there is more to it than “making the other jealous,” as Erdoğan told Putin a month ago in South Africa on July 26.
The picture is really complicated, isn’t it? But there is another important detail. Since Trump refuses to talk to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan until the release of the evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who by the way might feel quite uncomfortable for having been made the political material of a crisis, others do. Not only Putin but from Angela Merkel to Emmanuel Macron, from Hassan Rouhani to Tamim al-Thani and Xi Jinping, leaders are talking to Erdoğan thinking there is a gap to be filled in the absence of the U.S.