Putin and Erdogan visit to Tehran: What are the interests?

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  • Meral de Bruyne

    Overseas Editor

  • Meral de Bruyne

    Overseas Editor

In the Iranian capital, Tehran, a meeting is scheduled for tomorrow between Russian President Putin, his Turkish counterpart Erdogan and the host, Iranian President Raisi. They will surely talk about the situation in Syria, where a civil war continues and in which all three play a role. But behind closed doors, many other topics are likely to be discussed. All leaders enter the meeting with their own agenda.

This is Putin’s first foreign trip outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the start of the war in Ukraine. The trip comes shortly after President Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia last week, and Iran’s nuclear program was high on the agenda.

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Putin’s interests

“It seems that Putin’s consultations with Iran and Turkey send a message to the West,” said Russia’s correspondent Iris de Graaf. Putin wants to show that he does not need the West and seeks cooperation with other allies.

In recent years, Putin has increasingly focused on relations with China, India, and the Middle East. With such visits, he wants to strengthen his relations with non-Western countries. “This is even more important to him now that the Western world has written off Russia,” de Graaf said.

The main topic of discussion in Tehran is the civil war in Syria. As early as 2017, these three countries spoke with representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups in Astana (Kazakhstan). De Graaf: “This consultation is an achievement that Putin is very proud of.”

Also, Iran is becoming an increasingly important ally of Putin, not only strategically but also economically. Putin, for example, is looking for new trade routes to get around Western sanctions. Putin will also want to discuss this with his colleague Raisi. “This visit contributes to the image that Putin wants to present: he is an influential player on the world stage. That is why he sits with leaders who do not write him off but respect him.”

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main interests

Not surprisingly, these talks are taking place in Iran. Iranian historian and expert Peyman Jafari says it is one of the countries that Russia still supports. The war in Syria has brought Russia and Iran closer.”

After the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, the slogan was: Neither the West nor the East, but the Islamic Republic, says Jaafari. “However, you can see relations between Iran and countries like Russia and China getting closer over the past decade. In 2018, President Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear agreement and then imposed severe sanctions on Iran. In order to survive, the country continues to pull .more to the East “.

Roughly speaking, al-Jaafari mentions two interests that will play a role for Iran in Tuesday’s summit. On the one hand, it’s about prestige: “My president wants a photo opportunity with Putin and Erdogan. He wants to show Iranians and world leaders that his country is not isolated.”

Second, Iran is seeking to intensify political and economic cooperation to counter the pressures of US sanctions. “Iran and Russia signed a 20-year cooperation agreement and their trade increased significantly. Recently, Iran completed their part of the North-South International Transport Corridor, the trade route linking Russia with India via Iran.”

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Erdogan’s interests

Turkish President Erdogan will also want to talk about the economy, and more specifically about the much-desired passage of Ukrainian grain. “This should be the solution to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” explains Turkey correspondent Mitra Nazar. “Russia must give guarantees to allow grain ships from Ukraine to pass. Turkey is important because this country regulates passage to and from the Black Sea and is trying to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow.”

Syria is also an important item on Erdogan’s agenda. “He has been shouting for weeks that the Turkish army is preparing for a new military offensive in northern Syria, as Turkey wants to push the Kurdish militias to retreat further,” Nizar says. For such an invasion of Syria, Turkey needs the green light from the Russians, who are providing military support to President Assad’s regime.

Turkey, a member of NATO, enjoys a special place on the world stage. The country maintains its relations with the West and the East when it comes to the war in Ukraine and the struggle in Syria. “Syria is a geopolitical chessboard,” says Nizar. “On the one hand, Turkey and Russia are facing each other there and supporting other groups in the country, and on the other hand they are also patrolling together. But the truth is that in the end Turkey cannot do anything there without being allowed to do so by Russia.”

‘sovereign states’

Before leaving for Tehran, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was already looking for agreements between Russia and Iran: the two countries have to deal with a long list of Western sanctions. According to Peskov, this is the price they pay for their sovereignty. Nor did an Iranian government official hide the Reuters news agency about Iranian interests. “We need a strong ally and Russia is a great power.”

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