Foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey will confer on Tuesday over the future of Syria.
The talks, held in Moscow, spurred by the imminent occupation of all of Syria’s largest city Aleppo by foreign forces — including Iranian ground units and Iranian-led Iraqi and Afghan militia, supported by Russian airstrikes — alongside Assad regime units.
Russia and Iran have been essential backers of President Assad since the uprising began in March 2011, while Turkey has supported the Syrian opposition and rebels. Relations between Moscow and Ankara were at breaking point in November 2015, after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border.
However, since a reconciliation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the summer, the two sides appear to have co-operated over operations in and near Aleppo. Ankara has stood aside while pro-Assad forces besieged, bombed, and launched ground attacks, while Russia has accepted Turkey’s military intervention that has helped rebels take part of Aleppo Province from the Islamic State.
The Russian-Iranian-regime recapture of Aleppo city raises further issues. Iran undermined two agreements, brokered by Russia and Turkey, for removals from the last opposition districts in Aleppo before finally accepting terms last weekend.
Tehran may also back the Assad regime’s desire to reclaim remaining opposition areas, notably in Idlib Province in northwest Syria on the Turkish border. Russia may be more reluctant, preferring the possibility of a political resolution accepting an opposition presence while confirming Assad in power — and the Russian military in a long-term presence — across much of the country.
The meeting has also been overshadowed by Monday’s assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey as he spoke at an art gallery in Ankara. Erdoğan and Putin quickly indicated that the killing would not disrupt their cooperation.
An official from Turkey’s Foreign Minister was cautious about expectations in a Monday briefing of international media:
[The meeting] will be to understand the views of all three sides, laying out where we all stand and discuss where we go from here.
It is not a miracle meeting, but will give all sides a chance to listen to each other.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the discussion would be over a resolution of the conflict and fulfillment of UN Security Council resolutions.
After casting six vetoes in the Council over proposals for ceasefires and international intervention, Russia finally agreed with other Council members on Sunday over a measure for foreign monitors to enter Aleppo city and other parts of Syria.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to the exclusion of the US — which had tried to forge a political resolution through discussions with Moscow since September 2013 — as he told reporters yesterday:
We hope to speak in detail and concrete terms with those who can really bring about an improvement in the situation on the ground, while our Western partners are busier with rhetoric and propaganda and aren’t influencing those who listen to them.