The Russian President, the Iranian hardliner and the head of the NATO state Turkey at one table: An unusual three-way summit is taking place in the Iranian capital Tehran this Tuesday. Vladimir Putin, Ebrahim Raisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan want to talk about the Ukraine war and the Syrian conflict when they meet and in individual meetings on the sidelines of the summit.
Their countries sometimes pursue conflicting interests – but what the three have in common is their distrust of the West. An overview.
Putin and Erdogan have been working closely together for years and are co-founders of the Russian-Turkish-Iranian summits in the so-called Astana format, which are in Tehran for the seventh time.
Over time, the two presidents have developed a relationship of trust that allows them to overcome even serious differences of opinion. Raisi, who took office last year, is new to the trio.Putin is leaving the territory of the former Soviet Union for the first time since the beginning of the Ukraine war; in June, on his first trip abroad since February, he attended a regional meeting in Turkmenistan and also met Raisi.
For the Russian head of state, Tehran is about breaking through Russia’s international isolation and securing its influence in the Middle East. The Tehran meeting comes days after US President Joe Biden left the Middle East to seek to strengthen America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, a rival of Iran.
Now the Kremlin opposes it. In the Ukraine war, however, Putin’s interlocutors are not on the Russian side. Turkey has criticized the Russian attack and is supplying combat drones to Ukraine, although not participating in Western sanctions against Moscow. Iran has so far stayed out of the conflict in Ukraine.
According to US information, Russia is trying to get Iranian combat drones for use in Ukraine. Iran has officially denied that such a deal is planned, but stressed its cooperation with Russia. The topic may come up when Putin sits down with Raisi for a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit.
Erdogan, the first NATO president to meet Putin personally since the outbreak of war, is also planning a one-on-one meeting with the Kremlin chief. Erdogan wants to talk about grain deliveries from the Black Sea region to world markets. At a meeting in Istanbul last week, outlines of an agreement between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN began to emerge. After that, mines off the Ukrainian coast are to be cleared to let grain freighters through. The ships are to be controlled because Russia fears they could be transporting weapons for Ukraine.
In the Syrian civil war, the participants at the summit also represent different interests. Russia and Iran support Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey sides with Assad’s opponents. In Tehran, Erdogan is hoping for the green light from the other two states for a new Turkish military intervention in northern Syria. There, the Turkish army wants to expel the Kurdish militia YPG from the border area.
Moscow and Tehran, which have troops stationed in Syria, have so far rejected the Turkish plan. Turkey could invade without Putin’s approval. However, it would then not be able to use the Russian-controlled airspace in the target areas west of the Euphrates, which would impede the advance.
The situation in the last rebel bastion of Idlib on the border with Turkey is likely to be addressed in Tehran. Turkey fears a new influx of refugees from Idlib if Assad’s government forces launch a new offensive on the province with Russian support.
With their tripartite meetings, Russia, Iran and Turkey want to protect their interests in Syria despite their deep differences and mutual distrust. Although Russia and Iran are allied with Assad, Moscow wants to prevent the Iranians from gaining much influence in Syria and repeatedly allows Israel to carry out airstrikes on Iranian positions in the civil war-torn country. In recent years, Erdogan has accused Iran of wanting to dominate the entire Middle East. Russia and Turkey also warn Iran against building a nuclear bomb.
Despite all differences of opinion, the three heads of state are striving to expand trade relations between their countries. The three countries are – to varying degrees – subject to Western sanctions and are increasingly looking for non-Western partners. In some areas, the summit participants are economic rivals: oil exporters Russia and Iran compete for customers like China.