What Putin’s Visit to Ankara Tells Us About Russia’s Relations with Turkey and Iran

On April 4, the Turkish capital Ankara hosted the presidents of Iran and Russia, who, together with their Turkish counterpart, held the second trilateral summit of Astana Process on the Syrian settlement. Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Turkey the day before to attend the seventh meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council.

As the most significant part of Putin’s schedule in Ankara, he joined Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, to be built by Russian state nuclear energy agency Rosatom. The two sides also reached agreements on a number of significant issues in the spheres of energy and military cooperation, including the acceleration of the delivery of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey. 

During his stay in Ankara, the Russian president also attended a bilateral meeting with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, in which the two sides discussed a range of issues of bilateral interest. 

Although the international media had mostly focused on the Syrian angle of the two days of diplomatic activities in the Turkish capital, it could be said that the meetings – both the bilateral and trilateral ones – had many things to say about the nature and direction of Russia’s relations with Iran and Turkey. 

First of all, Putin’s visit, which was a clear representation of Russia’s close and growing ties with Turkey, could be interpreted as a sign of a completely pragmatist approach in Russia’s foreign policy, according to which, Moscow is ready and able to cooperate with a diverse range of countries, based solely on the areas of mutual interest and regardless of how different their viewpoints might be in the other spheres. 

To better understand this point, one should remind that the relationship between Moscow and Ankara, which is now approaching the level of a strategic cooperation, was at one of its worst phases just two years ago, over the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish military in November 2015. Even today, the two sides are in stark differences over a variety of issues, from Turkey’s military and political plans in Syria to its membership in NATO. 

In this context, by continuing to closely work with Ankara on a mutually beneficial basis, Moscow would be able to secure two important objectives: first, it actually shows that the same pattern could be applied on its relations with the other nations with which Russia has some differences, indicating that the path toward cooperation is not closed on the Russian side. Second, Moscow is obviously showing to the world that unlike the United States, its partnership with other states is not “conditioned” to a complete consensus on foreign policy goals, nor to certain changes in the other nations’ approaches on specific issues, and it’s all about mutual interests. 

Doing this, Russia would be able to gradually absorb the more distant planets of the Western galaxy toward its own orbit, while at the same time making the non-western nations more willing to cooperate. Now, as far as Turkey is concerned, this approach has paid off, as Ankara refused to join its western partners in imposing pressure on Russia over the Scripal Case. 

As for Russia’s relations with Iran, it seems that Moscow and Tehran share the idea of regional multilateralism as a way to preserve their core national interests, bypassing the western pressures. If we consider the Astana Process in line with the other multilateral initiatives in which the both sides are involved, from the trilateral format of Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan summits to Iran’s recent desire to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, it could be said that the two nations have been in a process of devising new frameworks for mutual cooperation.

 In fact, Iran has long been of the idea that the regional problems should be solved only with the participation of regional states, without any western influence. On the other hand, the increasing western pressures on Russia since the 2014 Ukraine Crisis onward, has led Moscow to more seriously invest on strengthening its ties with the regional centers of powers in different parts of the world. This multilateral aspect is a brand new phenomenon in Iran-Russia relations, the development of which could help the relationship to finally move toward a real strategic partnership.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.