Expectations and choices for Erdoğan and Putin at the Sochi summit
Next week, September 29, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will travel to Sochi to deliver a speech at a bilateral summit at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One of the reasons that makes this visit more important than others is the situation in Idleb, Syria today. The Kremlin has already confirmed that, compared to other visits, this visit will focus on much broader and critical topics.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday preparations were underway for Erdoğan’s next visit to Sochi, Russia.
“This will be the most comprehensive agenda since the start of bilateral relations. These relations are multifaceted and the leaders always have something to say in this context, ”Peskov told reporters.
Although all the world capitals, especially Ankara, seem to be focusing on the question of Afghanistan, the lack of a political solution in Syria, with the terrorist threat and the ongoing migration crisis, will be the most critical question on the table in Sochi.
In Idlib, recent attacks on Turkish soldiers are being closely watched by Ankara. Although there was relative calm after the agreement reached with Russia on March 5, 2020, attacks on civilians by the terrorist organizations al-Qaida and Daesh as well as the Syrian branch of the PKK YPG continue. There has been a recent increase in harassment targeting Turkey-created observation posts on the M4 motorway in Idlib. Three Turkish soldiers have been killed in recent attacks.
On the other hand, the recent airstrikes on Russian and Syrian planes based in Idlib are also forcing Ankara to review existing agreements. This is why, during the Erdoğan-Putin meeting, Ankara will seek answers to many questions from Moscow.
The agreement between the two countries was signed in Sochi on September 17, 2018, according to which a de-escalation zone would be established in Idlib. This agreement provided for a withdrawal of the disarmament strip 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep and 250 kilometers long. After that, the Syrian army postponed Operation Idlib, which it had been planning for some time. However, since then it has also been observed that Moscow has failed to fulfill the requirements of the agreement in the joint fight against the terrorist organizations appearing on the ground and targeting Turkey while continuing their criticism of Turkey. In addition, it was found that Moscow has not increased the pressure on Bashar Assad since then.
Every moment, Turkey is sending a message to Moscow saying: “We respect the agreements, we expect Moscow to assume the same responsibilities. At the same time, it is of concern to Turkey that the Syrian regime and Russia continue to carry out airstrikes in the Idlib region. Whether Russia uses these attacks as a deterrent against Turkey, and whether it will truly honor the commitments of the agreement from now on, will be one of the important outcomes of the Sochi summit for Ankara.
In other words, Erdoğan will ask Putin in Sochi for a clear answer on his intentions regarding keeping the terms of the deal. As Turkey’s struggle with all terrorist organizations, in particular al-Qaida, Daesh and the YPG / PKK, continues steadfastly, it will also signal its objection to the increase in attacks against Turkish troops.
Turkey also takes into account the fact that the presence of Daesh and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan could have a domino effect in Syria. This suggests the need for Moscow to be even more closely linked to its agreements with Ankara. It also raises questions about Moscow’s effectiveness on the ground, given the US airstrike targeting a senior Al-Qaida official in Idlib in the previous days.
Moreover, despite the agreements reached between Moscow and Ankara over the past three years, the greatest risk that may arise in the face of deteriorating security and stability in Idlib is a new wave of migration. Turkey will not tolerate a new wave of migration, as President Erdoğan expressed in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday. He also stressed that Turkey is fighting against terrorist organizations while hosting 4 million Syrians and urged the UN Security Council to show strong will for a political solution in Syria.
“Decoupling between terrorist organizations in the region, using them as subcontractors is not accepted,” he added. It was clear that the message was aimed at the United States and Russia.
Erdoğan also stressed that the world is facing the possibility of a new influx of migrants from Afghanistan, and stressed that Turkey no longer has the capacity or tolerance to deal with new waves of irregular migration.
Despite all this, Turkey, on the one hand, continues to make life easier for the Syrian people and heal their wounds. However, Turkey’s capacity is limited and it cannot lift this burden on its own. Erdoğan will also explain to Putin how important Turkey’s military presence in the region is to maintain stability and prevent further attacks that will trigger a new wave of migration.
On the other hand, it is clear that Russia will continue to recognize Assad, whom it welcomed to the Kremlin last week, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and will support him politically, economically and militarily. However, in the coming period, Moscow will have to increase its sanctions and pressure on Assad in order to reach an agreement with Turkey. While Ankara may conduct backdoor communications in necessary areas with the regime, it is also a fact that it does not recognize the Assad regime as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The continuation of these contacts depends on the answers and the decision of Moscow, which is the political mentor of Assad.
The Sochi summit, which will take place in the shadow of all these questions, will have a lot more meaning for Moscow in the answers it brings to Turkey. It is also very critical in terms of Russia’s willingness to choose a genuine and reliable partner to find lasting solutions and maintain stability in Syria for all parties. Given the new alliances being forged in the Indo-Pacific, the Anglo-Atlantic, Eurasia and the Eastern Mediterranean, this Sochi summit is assuming an even more important role determined by Putin’s choices.