Illegal US pressure and interference in the increasingly dangerous case of Venezuela is only one first-class show piece of how far good Russian-Turkish relations may reach. Biggest challenge today, however, is a constructive solution to contradictions in Syria, which are situated much closer to both partners and their troops. And, of course the third partner in the Astana process, Iran, should never be forgotten.
Last Wednesday's meeting of the two presidents became necessary, after Turkey's failure to achieve the promised progress in Idlib province coincided unhappily with Turkish plans on establishment of a "25-30 km" (Erdoğan, joint press conference) security belt on Syrian territory against YPG presence, which might then easily grow into a full-fledged Turkish invasion of north-eastern territories currently under PYD administration - while the Idlib province occupation remains still unsolved. The present situation there is further aggravated by a CNN report, that additional US troops were brought into eastern Syria, allegedly to cover the retreat of US troops, illegally and unauthorizedly stationed there since years. This report was filed after the US officially acknowledged, that a small US convoy had been attacked by an IS/Daesh suicide bomber.
In this difficult and multi-pronged situation, listening carefully to the joint press conference of last Wednesday may help any meaningful assessment.
- Both sides agreed in further development of successful cooperation in business, energy, tourism, culture and humanitarian issues.
- Both sides stressed important progress in each of these fields, trade reaching 26 bln. US$ in 2018, transgressing 23 bln. US$ of 2017. Akkuyu nuclear power plant and TurkStream gas project are progressing continuously and successfully. President Erdoğan mentioned Russian tourists as the biggest chunk in the whole business area, numbering six million in 2018 - considerable increase expected in 2019.
- Both sides stressed continued ongoing and intensified efforts to find commune solutions to actual problems, including strengthened coordination.
- Both sides expressed strong interest in early and complete departure of US troops from Syria.
- President Putin has mentioned expressedly, that US troops were present in Syria without invitation from the legitimate government of Syria and without any authorization by the UN Security Council. But he did not mention the comparably awkward presence of Turkish troops in this context - certainly in good faith for constructive commune solutions. Which need time.
- President Erdoğan has expressedly linked the return of 300'000 of the overall 3.5 million refugees from Syria to their Syrian homes as success of both of Turkey's military operations "Euphrates Shield" and "Olive Branch". Which is certainly his right to his own viewpoint - but Syrians, as all other people in the world, tend to prefer life without uninvited foreign interference.
- Both sides agreed to Russia as the main future host of further important conferences, with Erdoğan even going so far as to thank Putin for Russian hospitality in this regard.
President Putin has mentioned the 1998 Adana protocol in his answer given to a Turkish journalist. The Adana agreement between Syria and Turkey states clearly, that Syria is stopping all PKK-related activities directed against its Turkish neighbor - and announces set-up of a joint Syrian-Turkish monitoring and cooperating mechanism. However, a right of the Turkish side to enter Syria in pursuit of its legitimate rights to safeguard its security is not being established by the Adana protocol, independently of Erdoğan's most recent claims to the opposite. This type of agenda setting may not improve finding a joint constructive solution to all problems, including legitimate Turkish requirements for safeguarding its country and people.
Even further reaches a statement by Turkish foreign minister Çavuşoğlu, whose statement reiterated Turkey's differences with Syrian president Assad and stressed unwillingness to maintain high-level contacts, while at the same time admitting to lower level talks. In the past even Washington had stopped its previous demands of Assad stepping down. The mentioning of this problem may hint at a potential subject of top level contacts, as it is up to the Syrian people alone to define its own leadership. That there is a good potential between Russian, Turkish and Iranian partners was stressed by both presidents in the press conference in the case of members of the Syrian constitutional committee, right in the face of joint counter activities from Germany, France and UK towards the UN Secretary General to hinder any consensual approach by UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura to these successful examples of agreements by the Astana group.
Important US interest now is to create trouble between Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Already German media are quoting shadowy rumored firefights between pro-Assad militia units. If Russia were of Washingtonian mindset, it could itself adopt Kurdish nationalist aspirations - which it does not and is not even considering. Turkey's leadership is putting itself in the awkward situation of feeding Ottoman nationalists more than actual supply stockpiles allow. Main issue in the difficult time frame of IS/Daesh turning into a mere terror organization exploding motorcycles here and there before being crushed completely, is to stay on course, build and expand continuity - and the range of fine-tuned coordination of cooperation.
In this regard any constructive solution to the Idlib crisis should contain these objectives: Terrorists should be driven from the Turkish border to the inside of Syria, to avoid waves of refugees to unwillingly provide cover to fleeing terrorists. The eastern border corridor of the Idlib area would then serve as necessary containment wall to help maintain overall Syrian security. Segmental progress of cleansing sweeps may provide for shelter for temporary dislocation of civilians inside Syrian Idlib territory, without affecting Turkey's hitherto generous hospitality. Further Turkish excursions into Syrian territory without parallel balanced withdrawals from the presently 12 Turkish strongholds in the Idlib region may cause unwanted hurdles to the united peace efforts.
General outlook to the whole process remains good, if the three Astana guarantor countries stay well on increasingly fine-tuned track with their honest care for peaceful solutions in Syria. And if the Syrian government continues improved interior multilogue with its own people. Overall peace comes from within AND from outside Syria.