Iranian Mediation Intensifies as Russia and Turkey Put off Crucial Talks

Iranian diplomacy sprinted into full gear hours after the recent announcement by Moscow and Ankara that bilateral talks to discuss developments and agreements regarding both Syria and Libya had been called off. The planned meeting was put off at the last minute with no official explanation as to why the decision was taken. No new date was announced for talks that were scheduled to take place in Istanbul on Sunday and Monday. The participation of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as well as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the canceled meeting reflects its importance and the significance of the topics on its agenda.

In a brief statement by the on the same day talks were supposed to take place, the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated that “Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov decided to put off the talks during a phone call. “The two countries’ deputy ministers will continue contacts and talks in the period ahead. Minister-level talks will be held at a later date,” the Ministry’s statement added.

Renewed Tension Likely Behind Meeting Cancellation

Russia and Turkey have supported opposing sides in long-standing conflicts in Syria and Libya. On the eve of the suspended Istanbul ministerial-level meeting – which coincides with the expiry of the deadline given to pro-Turkish militias and other radical and terrorist groups operating in Idlib – for reopening of the strategic M4 highway from Aleppo to Latakia via Idlib, Syrian and Russian jets raided TIP (Turkmenistan Islamic Party) bases and convoys. Dozens of vehicles, rocket launchers, truck-mounted heavy machine guns and scores of mountain motorbikes donated by Turkey last year and frequently used by terrorists in attacking army positions and in assassinations were destroyed in the raids. Numerous terrorists were killed and injured as a result of both artillery and aerial bombardment on Saturday night.

It appears as if a desperate Turkish leader Recep Erdogan has attempted, through his proxy militias in Idlib, to make at least a limited military achievement on the eve of Sunday’s scheduled meeting with the Russians in Istanbul; that scheme backfired, and that could have been the main reason why the Turkish ruler went berserk and, and ordered his Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to put off talks with the Russians at the last minute.

Turkey’s Proxy Provocations Against Russia Pile Up

Another critical factor in the Turkish dilemma was the fresh and embarrassing failure by Erdogan to honor his commitment to Russian leader Vladimir Putin regarding disarming radical groups in Idlib and reopening the M4 highway there. To add fuel to Erdogan’s raging fire and snooker him even harder into the corner with Putin, members of pro-Turkish militias who have made public their opposition to the reopening of the highway – which crosses tens of kilometers under their control in the Idlib countryside – detonated a roadside  explosive charge against a Russian armored vehicle Tuesday morning. The attack occurred as a joint Russian-Turkish patrol were driving back along the M4 after finishing its patrol, part of the recent agreement between Putin and Erdogan.

The joint air raids took place after Russian drones monitoring all sides adherence to the ceasefire deal struck between Putin and Erdogan in Moscow last March, spotted Uyghur, TIP and al Nusra terrorists mobilizing and taking offensive postures opposite Syrian Army bases in the area. The region has seen numerous breaches  and attacks launched by the same radical militias.

Saturday’s air raids, which were preceded by heavy artillery bombardment which smashed terrorist forces in al Bara, Deir Sunbul, Hantuteen and other targets around the strategic Mount al Zawiya in rural Idlib.

Another major state-level truce and deal breaker was Turkey’s deployment (for the first time since the Syrian war broke out in 2011) of at least four US-made medium-range Hawk anti-aircraft batteries in rural Idlib; a direct threat to both Syrian as well as Russian helicopters and jet fighters operating over the region.

The unilateral Turkish step, which followed and might have been instigated by Erdogan’s loss of over a dozen of its state-of-the-art military drones shot down by Syrian air defence units over Idlib earlier this year, must have exacerbated Putin’s rage even more, over Erdogan’s recurrent repeated compromising failures and defiant infringements on bilateral agreements. 

Iranian Mediation Efforts Between Ankara and Moscow

Sensing the shifting sands and rising tension between Russia and Turkey, Iran jumped in to mediate and reconcile its partners in the Syrian solution and co-guarantors of the fragile truce in Idlib. Its charismatic Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif headed first to Istanbul Monday, and later to Moscow on Wednesday for talks with his Turkish and Russian counterparts. His trips were part of an effort to iron out differences and ease up tension between the two sides.

As he hosted his Iranian counterpart on Monday, Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint press conference with Zarif that the presidents of both Turkey and Russia have “agreed to continue working together to establish a lasting ceasefire Libya.”

” What we can’t have is only two parties, Russia and Turkey, meeting and agreeing on the issues. We have to consider what the Libyans are saying. We can’t just unilaterally announce a ceasefire” Cavusoglu maintained.

Cavusoglu added that Turkey is against unilateral sanctions on Iran despite the coronavirus pandemic. Zarif commended Ankara’s stance and support, adding that his talks with his Turkish “friend” were very “productive”. The two ministers said that both Iran and Turkey were planning to reopen border and resume flights on August 1.

Iran and Russia FMs slam US, Emphasize Protection of Syria’s Territorial Integrity

In Moscow, Zarif was backed by Lavrov as he lashed out and slammed both US and UN watchdog at a joint press conference following their talks on Wednesday. “Iran will not allow” the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog to become “a tool for destroying the 2015 nuclear agreement signed between Iran and world powers” Zarif said, adding that “the job of the Trump administration is to exit international agreements and organisations” he added.

Lavrov backed Zarif’s position in the press conference, condemning US efforts to extend the UN arms embargo on Tehran beyond October 2020.

“Washington has no right to punish Iran by profiting from the Security Council’s authority and, in fact, manipulating the Security Council and, to some extent, the UN Secretariat,” Lavrov said. As far as Syria is concerned, both Russian and Iranian ministers reiterated Syria’s right to fight terrorism and liberate its territories, calling for the need to maintain the country’s territorial integrity against all foreign and foreign-backed acts of aggression.

All this comes at a time when more Syrian and Turkish as well as rebel military mobilization and reinforcements have been building up around Idlib over recent weeks, despite the fragile ceasefire which has been systematically breached. All eyes are now on the zero hour for Syria’s last major battle there. Earlier this week, a senior Syrian army officer told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “all enemy moves and forces in the area are under our watchful eyes. We and our allies are prepared for the worst, should diplomacy fail once again.”

“We are counting the breath of every terrorist and Turkish soldier here,” the Syrian Army officer said, adding that “we do not trust Erdogan or his proxies … In all honesty, I can tell you that the battle for Idlib is knocking on the door.”