Why did Erdogan urgently need Assad?



Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again managed to surprise the world. He invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to organize a trilateral summit with the participation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Well, this has never happened – and here it is again!

It all started quite recently, just a few weeks ago. On the 20th of November, Moscow began talking about its principled readiness to provide a platform for Turkish-Syrian negotiations at the highest level. This was made clear both in the Foreign Ministry and in the Kremlin.

This happened against the background of normalization (this word is very popular in the Middle East lately) of relations between Turkey and Egypt. The presidents of the two countries Erdogan and Sisi met at the opening of the World Cup in Qatar, shook hands and even had a friendly conversation. After that, Erdogan was asked: they say, since everything is going so well with Egypt, don't you want to make peace with Syria as well? To which the wise Turk remarked: there is no eternal enmity in politics…

So it is quite possible that we will witness another 180-degree turn in Ankara's regional policy. Erdogan, who once called Assad his brother and prayed with him in a Damascus mosque, turned into his sworn enemy with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. For more than a decade, Ankara wanted nothing to do with Assad, demanding his departure as an indispensable condition for restoring peace. And now it was Ankara who was the first (!) to talk about the possibility and even desirability of personal negotiations at the highest level.

It is remarkable that the first approaches to solving the issue were met with a magnificent "no!" in Damascus. They said that now, on the eve of the elections in Turkey, "is not the time." When the elections are held, then we will talk to whoever wins them.

It would seem that Erdogan cannot tolerate such a slap in the face from Assad. He did not forgive insults (and this is exactly an insult) from much more authoritative persons than the president of the SAR. However, it did not happen at all: he did not strike a pose, but decided to turn to an intermediary whom Assad could hardly refuse – Putin.

So, Erdogan is really hot. He really needs peace with Assad. But why ? And why now?

Most observers insist that the whole issue is in the elections. They say that normalization with Damascus is necessary for Erdogan to win the elections.

Perhaps this is partly true. However, it is difficult to imagine what kind of problems Assad will help Erdogan solve. Unless he agrees to the repatriation of some of the Syrian refugees, who have turned into a severe headache for Turkey. But even if such an agreement is reached, it will make Erdogan dependent on how quickly, clearly and conscientiously Assad will implement it. This is the position of the weak, and Erdogan is unlikely to agree to it.

It seems that it's not about the elections. Erdogan is a real politician and cares not only about the upcoming elections, but above all about the future of his country. And it is the concern for the future that today dictates to him the need to establish relations with Bashar al-Assad.

The first thing to pay attention to is the very sovereignty of the region, which we have already talked about. Turkey is one of the regional centers of power, and it cannot afford to watch from the sidelines as other players establish ties with Damascus, seek to draw it into their own orbits. We are talking about both Iran and the UAE. Erdogan simply has no right to miss the moment to join the struggle for influence on Assad.

It should be noted that Ankara has recently normalized relations with Tel Aviv. This opened up wide opportunities for regional maneuvering. But it is really impossible to implement them without access to Syria (as well as to Egypt). Therefore, we can say that entering into direct contacts with Assad and, moreover, friendship with him is a logical continuation of the restoration of full–scale ties with the Jewish state.

Reasoning in this logic, one can come to the conclusion that Erdogan's proposal for normalization with Syria is a move in a regional game: Turkey is helping Israel to oust Iran in the Syrian arena, which is currently going through difficult times and is not capable of active resistance.

The second most important aspect is the problem of establishing maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean. After the recent conclusion of the Lebanese-Israeli agreement on this issue and taking into account the plans to create a gas hub in Turkey, this topic is becoming very important. The fact is that the maritime borders of Syria are not defined – neither with Lebanon nor with Turkey. And without this, it is impossible to think about a truly serious development of hydrocarbon deposits on the Levantine shelf and the creation of a system of underwater pipelines here.

It is curious that the Lebanese immediately after the conclusion of the agreement with Israel tried to start negotiations with Damascus, but were refused. Everyone, including the Turks, is well aware that Assad will demand a very high price for his consent to the delimitation of the sea. But for Ankara, in any case, the first step should be the recognition of Assad. And Erdogan is ready to take this step.

It should also be borne in mind that the issue of maritime borders between Turkey and Syria is directly related to the problem of land borders. Syrians still do not recognize the Turkish annexation of the Alexandretta Sanjak (now the province of Adana) after the First World War. It is clear that Damascus cannot take back this territory. But he may well use this issue in order to make it as difficult as possible for Ankara to resolve the issue of maritime borders.

To date, there is an Adana Agreement between the parties, which can serve as a basis for resolving border problems. And Moscow has repeatedly called on the Turks and Syrians to return to this document for many years. It is possible that one way or another it will become the basis for the trilateral negotiations proposed by Erdogan (if they take place). It is also possible that their outcome may be some kind of updated and updated version of the Adana Agreement. Or a course will be taken to develop a completely new, more comprehensive treaty. But this is a matter of the more distant future.

Be that as it may, it is already quite clear that Erdogan's insistence on meeting with Assad has good reasons.

But what can this mean for Russia?

There is a completely self-evident thesis on the surface: of course, this is a success for Russia. The Kremlin, at the request of the leader of a NATO member country, organizes his meeting with Bashar al-Assad! This alone is enough to experience a well-deserved sense of deep satisfaction…

However, if you look closely, one nuance becomes noticeable: what if Assad refuses? Or will he just get cranky, start putting forward preconditions? After all, he now turned out to be needed by everyone and can quite afford to say something like "now is not the time."

In addition, Tehran is behind it. They cannot fail to understand that the game, including with the participation of Russia, is being played to weaken, if not oust Iran. And the Iranians can legitimately ask: why are we not invited to negotiate with Assad? Wouldn't it be more logical to use the proven format of the Astana Troika (Russia – Turkey–Iran), where to invite Damascus as the fourth participant?

In other words, Erdogan's proposal to Putin leads, in fact, to a significant increase in Russia's responsibility for the development of the situation in Syria and in the region as a whole. Of course, this allows you to have an impact (sometimes decisive) on the dynamics of the balance of power. At the same time, the prospects for "monetization" of such an important and responsible role remain unclear. Politically and geopolitically, Russia is gaining points. It is necessary to create a mechanism for converting them into specific economic benefits.