On the same day that top U.S. and Russian diplomats claim they do not have the luxury to entertain a rivalry between them, Forbes Magazine has announced its list of the world’s most powerful people, with U.S. President Barack Obama coming in at the top followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last Thursday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with the U.N. Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi to look for a common strategy to end the Syria crisis. Washington and Moscow had so far publicly called each other to back down rather than work toward any form of cooperation on an international strategy. For more than a year, the United States has criticized Russia for shielding Syria and Moscow has accused Washington for demanding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be ousted, ultimately opening the door to military action. Even though neither side has shifted from their original position nor does their meeting promise any future compromise, both countries have apparently come to terms with the fact that they cannot afford to be at loggerheads all the time. Lavrov confirmed this reality by saying both countries, “for understandable reasons, acknowledge their special responsibility for international security.”
The same logic goes for Turkey and Russia. Putin just visited Turkey for the third meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council, which concluded with a happy ending. The two countries ensured they won’t let their disagreements over Syria jeopardize their strong economic ties, energy supplies and mutual security interests. President Putin stressed that they shared common goals for the future of Syria even though they differ over methods on how to reach these goals. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s words are especially worth noting. Peskov said that there are many serious disagreements in international issues that don’t affect bilateral ties, but that differences on regional issues are substantial. Translation: We cannot afford not to cooperate on regional issues.
Within this picture, Turkey’s unique status needs a specific focus. On the one hand, NATO will soon deploy Patriot anti-missile systems along the Turkish-Syrian border despite strong warnings from Russia. This will follow the deployment of the NATO early warning radar system earlier this year in Kürecik, in the eastern Turkish province of Malatya. These steps reinforce Turkey’s strategic alignment with the Western Alliance. Following Putin’s visit to Turkey news spread that Russia was speeding up its lobbying activities to sell missiles to Ankara, which is probably the main reason behind Russia’s opposition to NATO Patriots. In addition, Turkey, who is Russia’s second largest natural gas consumer, requested additional gas from Gazprom as U.S.-led sanctions on Iran force Turkey to cut imports of Iranian gas. A quite complicated and intermingled, yet crystal clear picture emerges.