MOSCOW, 11 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
In Sochi, a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan took place in a face-to-face format with the participation of translators only. It is unknown who chose the date of the meeting in Sochi – September 29, but, apparently, this person is inclined to symbolism. It’s precisely the September 30 that marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the Russian military expedition in Syria at the request of Bashar al-Assad.
Following the negotiations, a very limited amount of information was announced. There were general words that the leaders “managed to fruitfully discuss the most important topics on the agenda”. The parties also decided not to hold a press conference, which suggests that “sensitive issues” were discussed, through which a certain “tactical understanding” may have been reached. In turn, this also indicates the presence of the so-called subjective factor, since Russian-Turkish relations remain personalised, and largely depend on the personal relations of the two leaders.
By the way, there were times when many Turkish experts saw this as an exceptionally positive moment. But recently there have been those who insist that “such private meetings should be recorded in the archives of the country”. In particular, the former Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is now in opposition, began to assert that “otherwise, all the problems that the state will face in the future in bilateral relations with Russia will be associated with face-to-face meetings”.
Ankara itself is partly involved in the creation of such an intrigue, which, after US President Joe Biden – despite the agreements reached earlier, refused to accept a meeting with Erdogan, who arrived to participate in the work of the UN General Assembly – began to shift the main focus in the upcoming Sochi negotiations. There were statements about the possibilities of reconciliation between Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, who visited Moscow on a working visit the day before.
Turkish media also reported that Moscow and Ankara allegedly prepared a draft agreement on Syria, which “will change the situation not only in Syria, but also in the entire Middle East”. Nothing like this happened in Sochi, and the Syrian issue, especially in the Idlib direction, was discussed, but only in the closed part of the negotiations. By all indications, Putin and Erdogan have agreed on something, but nothing is known about any specific decisions.
So far, it can only be stated that the presidents confirmed the commitments that the parties had given each other before: regarding the deradicalisation of the Syrian province of Idlib, the rejection of a military solution of the Idlib problem, the reintegration of the northeast and the preservation of the territorial integrity of Syria. Major decisions have been postponed.
But even here an intriguing plot slips through. The thing is that earlier, Erdogan, going out on the Idlib issue with Putin, held consultations with US President Joe Biden, who thus allegedly provided him with “rear”. This was not the case in Sochi, although there were reports that Biden intends to address the Syrian issue with Erdogan in the format of the upcoming G20 summit in Rome in October. Currently, Ankara and Moscow have developed an interesting pattern of relations: escalation – visit – loud “final agreements” – calm – swamp – and a new escalation due to another “stumbling block”, the main one of which since 2019 has been Idlib.
As for the so-called open part of the Putin-Erdogan talks, then, as often happens in such cases in “big diplomacy”, the main semantic context was transferred to the development of bilateral relations. The parties talked about the construction project of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, the first in Turkey.
Then Erdogan told reporters that he offered Russia to work together on the construction of two more nuclear power plants, on which the Russian side agreed to cooperate.
Erdogan also invited Putin to discuss cooperation in the military-industrial complex. According to him, “there are steps that we have already implemented, completed, and there is no way back in this regard”. The fact of restoring the level of trade and economic cooperation that fell during the pandemic was noted, it was said that Moscow and Ankara have learned to find mutually beneficial compromises. In addition, Erdogan expressed gratitude to Russia for its help in extinguishing forest fires.
It is no coincidence that some experts believe that the Sochi summit of the Turkish and Russian presidents “turned out to be overstated” and, in their opinion, the “new and stronger period” promised by Erdogan in relations between the two countries is being postponed. The parties also refused the final statements. Erdogan described the talks as “productive”.
In turn, the Russian leader noted that they “were meaningful”. The unspoken agreements of the two presidents should work further. At the same time, the parties have shown readiness to continue an active dialogue, which is necessary, at least due to the fact that the West has already curtailed its presence in Afghanistan and, it seems, is curtailing it in Syria, where the activity of terrorist groups is increasing. In such circumstances, Russia and Turkey will have to take urgent joint measures and think about how to further fight a common threat based on joint cooperation.