By Anthony Marcus, for Eurasia Business News, July 19, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet on July 19 in Tehran, as part of the Astana process, their Iranian counterpart, the president Ebrahim Raisi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tehran on Tuesday, where he will attend a summit of the “Astana process” and hold separate talks with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts. This meeting is an opportunity for Moscow to send several important signals to the powers of the Middle East.

The Kremlin chief’s last visit to Iran was in the fall of 2018.

As Yuri Ushakov, an aide to the Russian president, told reporters during the visit, Vladimir Putin is due to hold talks with the country’s leaders – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, who has been in office since August 2021.

Vladimir Putin has already briefly communicated with Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the summit of the Five Powers of the Caspian in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) at the end of June. This time the two leaders will hold a longer meeting, during which, according to the Kremlin, the subject of Iran’s nuclear program, bilateral economic cooperation and the preparation of a new strategic agreement between Moscow and Tehran will be discussed.

“On the sidelines” of the meeting of the “Astana process”, a circle of powers guaranteeing the resolution of the armed conflict in Syria, President Vladimir Putin is also due to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two heads of state will discuss the situation in Ukraine, including the Ukrainian grain export mechanism, which is being developed with the participation of representatives of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN. In addition, the Russian president and his Turkish counterpart are expected to discuss bilateral economic projects.

At the summit in Tehran on July 19, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran will discuss the next steps for a final settlement of the conflict in Syria. Ankara’s plans to carry out a new operation against Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria should also be discussed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will get a few messages across. The first, that Russia does not intend to reduce its support for its Syrian ally. Syria is an essential component of Russian foreign policy. On June 29, Damascus even announced its decision to recognize the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, the Russian-speaking and separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.

The second message to send is to maintain the intensity of the dialogue between Moscow and Ankara. Indeed, with Turkey, Russia needs to discuss the situation of the conflict in Ukraine, the issue of the export of cereals through the Black Sea, Western sanctions, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh but also Syria and Turkish military operations against the Kurdish rebels in Syria. Turkey, a NATO member state, stands out in its policy towards Russia. On June 26, Ibrahim Kalin, the official representative of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told the press that Ankara refuses to join countries that impose sanctions in response to Russia’s military operation against Ukraine. We are not imposing sanctions on Russia following the war in Ukraine. Of course, we must protect the interests of our countryOur economic relations are of such a nature that the imposition of sanctions will cause more harm to the Turkish economy than to Russia. […]” The Turkish official then added that Ankara is pursuing a policy of balance with Moscow: “We have an energy relationship with Russia. As we depend on foreign energy sources, we develop our relations with Russia in the same way as with Iran.”

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The third message Vladimir Putin wants to send is Moscow’s desire to strengthen the relationship with Tehran, whose strategic importance has increased since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine on February 24 and the policy of isolation carried out by the West. Russia wants to strengthen and rely on the Russia-China-Iran-Syria geopolitical network, to which it would be tempted to harness India. The BRICS instrument must serve this foreign policy aimed at building an alternative international order to that of the United States and its Western allies. The Russian president and his Iranian counterpart will discuss issues related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program (JCPOA). The European Union and the United States want to conclude a new agreement. On 24th June last Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, went to Tehran to plead this issue. Iran’s leaders, skilful negotiators, announced in June their desire to join the BRICS group. Already in September 2021, the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) had approved the launch of the procedure for Iran’s entry into the organization. Moscow and Tehran clearly want to show on July 19, 2022 that a new geopolitical reality is taking place and that the West now has less power and influence than it did ten years ago. This is a real challenge for the United States and the European Union, which will have to adapt their foreign policies, their doctrines and the choice of their instruments, so as not to be overtaken on the international chessboard.

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This trilateral meeting within the framework of the “Astana process” is expected to end with the adoption of a joint declaration by the leaders, as well as their speeches to the press.

The meeting of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey was scheduled to be held in the Islamic Republic in 2020, but the event was postponed several times due to the coronavirus pandemic. The question of the possibility of reducing the format to videoconferencing has arisen on several occasions. However, as the Russian ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, recalled in an interview with the Russian news agency at TASS, “nothing can replace personal meetings, which are more effective and build trust.”

The initiators of the “Astana process”, a trilateral forum for a political settlement in Syria, are Russia, Iran and Turkey. These three powers have been acting for several years to establish themselves as the guarantors of a peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict, in the face of the failure of Western states. Damascus officials and Syrian opposition delegations are participating in the negotiations, which began on 23-24 January 2017 in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. Despite the name change from Astana to Nur-Sultan in 2019, the name of this negotiation format has remained the same. A total of seven delegations took part in the talks in 2017: Russia, Turkey, Iran, the United States and the United Nations, as well as both parties to the conflict – representatives of the official Syrian government and emissaries of armed rebel groups.

The discussions culminated in the Astana Agreement, a treaty signed on 4 May 2017 by Russia, Iran and Turkey and covering the creation of four ceasefire zones in the country. The three powers were appointed as guarantors of the truce in Syria. The treaty also provides for the implementation of a tripartite ceasefire monitoring mechanism. Seven other rounds of talks took place between February and December 2017. Three other sessions took place between May and November 2018. Discussions continued in 2019, before being suspended in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The round of meetings was re-established in February 2021 in Sochi, where multilateral and bilateral consultations of the Damascus Government and the Syrian opposition took place with the participation of the guarantor states of the Astana process – Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria.

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At the 17th round of talks, held on 21 and 22 December 2021 in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia and Turkey reaffirmed their commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, as well as to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and stressed that these principles are subject to universal observation and respect. The three guarantor powers also expressed their determination to continue their cooperation in order to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and to counter separatist plans “aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria and threatening the national security of neighboring states.

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