Vladimir Putin is waiting. For almost a minute, the head of the Kremlin stands alone in a conference room in Tehran in front of the cameras, as if ordered and not picked up – and that’s actually how it is. Putin crosses his hands in front of his stomach, shifts his feet and looks towards the door.
Finally he raises his arms in relief when his late conversation partner comes in the door. “Hello, how are you? Good?” says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as if nothing had happened, and takes Putin’s outstretched hand.
It was probably no coincidence that the official Turkish media published the video of the lonely Putin on Wednesday. “Was it revenge?” asks the Turkish news platform T24 in a headline. Turkish viewers know what that means.
Two years ago, Putin had the Turkish president wait in the Kremlin’s antechamber; At the time, Russian state television broadcast the images of the perplexed-looking president and his entourage with a seconds counter. The Turks stewed in the waiting room for almost two minutes. Now you are quits.
However, Erdogan’s little revenge in Tehran was the only tangible success for the Turkish side at the summit meeting with Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The Turkish president wanted to get the green light from Russia and Iran for a new military intervention in Syria in the Iranian capital, but failed.
A final yes from Putin to an almost completed agreement that should enable Ukrainian wheat exports through the Black Sea also failed to materialize. Erdogan had traveled to Tehran with the hope of being able to emphasize Turkey’s special role on the international stage.
After all, he is the first head of state of a NATO country to speak personally with Putin since the start of the Ukraine war. The two presidents have been working together for years and have so far been able to set aside conflicting interests in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus in favor of common goals.
Erdogan’s close contacts with Putin sometimes gave Western politicians the impression that Turkey wanted to turn its back on the West. Erdogan’s recent threat of veto against Finland and Sweden joining NATO fueled speculation about it.
Turkey is also going its own way in the Ukraine conflict. Although it supplies Ukraine with combat drones and criticizes the Russian attack on the neighboring country, it does not take part in Western sanctions against Moscow, offers itself as a mediator and tries to establish a direct line to the Kremlin.
In return, Ankara expects Russian concessions in Syria. Turkey wants the support of Russia and Iran “in the fight against terrorist organizations,” said Erdogan in Tehran, referring to the Turkish plan to expel the Kurdish militia YPG from the border area in northern Syria with a troop invasion.
But the President got a rebuff. There are differences with Russia and Iran on this issue, Erdogan had to admit to Turkish journalists on the return trip from Tehran. There was only agreement on the demand for the withdrawal of US troops from north-eastern Syria.
After the Tehran summit, it is clear that both the USA, Russia and Iran are against a new Turkish intervention to combat the YPG, Turkish journalist Murat Yetkin wrote in his blog “Yetkin Report” on Wednesday. An invasion under these circumstances would be risky, because Turkey cannot afford a confrontation with Moscow.
In Syria, Ankara needs the goodwill of the Russian government to prevent new fighting in the rebel province of Idlib and thus a new mass flight to Turkey. Economically, Turkey depends on gas and oil supplies from Russia. In 2015, the Kremlin temporarily stopped holiday flights from Russia to the Turkish Riviera due to anger with Turkey, causing serious damage to the Turkish tourism industry.
As the most important military power in Syria, Russia could make life difficult for Turkish troops if they invaded. If Putin blocks the airspace over the Turkish air force’s area of operations, Ankara will have to reckon with greater losses. Erdogan therefore apparently wants to postpone the intervention. On the return flight from Tehran, Turkey wanted “to have Russia and Iran on our side” during the invasion. However, that is currently not the case.