Turkish-Russian cooperation, from foe to partnership

Turkish-Russian cooperation, from foe to partnership

One of the most important points of the agreement reached last Monday on Sept. 17 in Sochi is that the functions of the joint Iranian-Russian-Turkish coordination center will be enlarged.

The need to strengthen the role of this center relates to the measures that will be taken to monitor the ceasefire regime in the de-escalation zone in Idlib.

The fact that a NATO country, another one that has positioned itself in a historical and ideological framework as an opponent of NATO and a third one that carries the identity of an Islamic Republic came together to enter into cooperation in a military framework is a situation worth focusing on.

There is no need to mention that the center will assume a fundamental role from the perspective of the maintenance of the ceasefire in Idlib, which at this stage is the most crucial turning point in terms of Syria’s future.

The trilateral coordination center is part of the declaration in May 2017 of four different de-escalation zones in Syria during the Astana process established by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

The launch of this center was made public in September 2017 together with the creation of a number of military observation posts to monitor the ceasefire in Idlib.

The observation posts foreseen in the agreement took shape over the maps prepared by the military authorities of three countries.

While Turkey took a hold on the interior part of the border line that separates the opposition and regime zones with its observation posts, Russian and Iranian observation posts were largely set up on the direct opposite site and close distance to the Turkish ones.

These observation posts have brought with it a close working relationship between the military authorities of these three countries. The resulting bilateral cooperation axis between Russia and Turkey was one of the most interesting developments of the recent past, especially at a time when Idlib became the top of the international agenda.

The fact that Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, accompanied by Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Agency went to Moscow twice in one week last August to meet his Russian counterpart is self-explanatory in terms of the intensity of talks in this field. In the statement made in Moscow following the meeting on Aug. 24, it was said the Russian side made proposals to their Turkish counterparts “to normalize the situation in Syria’s northwest.”

Looking from this perspective, the mechanisms made public last Monday in Sochi have not immediately come to life. Most of these should be seen as the results of the concretization of the views that have been put on the table reciprocally since August.

For instance, the proposals about the highways in Idlib came from the Turkish side.

First, the establishment of observation posts in the field and the coordination that started at the trilateral format, followed by the close working relationship that was shaped after long and complicated negotiations will enter a new phase by the monitoring of the zone to be demilitarized in potential conflict regions.

If everything works in the way desired and if the targeted aims in Idlib are reached, we believe the reciprocal trust between Turkish and Russian military authorities may be strengthened and this would open the way for closer cooperation in the period ahead.

It is possible now to add the military dimension to the web of cooperation between Russia and Turkey, which have entered recently into a meaningful political and economic rapprochement.

We can equally guess that similar cooperation patterns have been established between the intelligence services of the two countries.

The current level of cooperation in the defense field attest to a very high point that one could not have imagined at the time when one recalls how relations have taken a nose dive after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian war plane in Turkish airspace on Nov. 25, 2015.

No doubt Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia has given additional momentum to this rapprochement.

In the end, the emergence of close cooperation between Russia and Turkey following years of contention marked by the Cold War and the addition of Iran to this formula is an unprecedented formation brought to the international relations system by the 21st century.

Sedat Ergin,