Date: 30 September 2021

Sochi Meeting: Russia and Turkey Still Divided Over Syria

The long-awaited meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that took place on September 29 in Sochi did not make any breakthrough in the Russia-Turkey ties. They look good despite tensions in Syria. It seems that Erdogan sought to use the meeting with Putin as a bargaining chip in his relations with Washington.


It is little surprising that the Syrian war was high on the agenda as Putin and Erdogan met in Sochi. After all, a few days earlier, a dozen or so pro-Turkish militants were killed in Russian raids. Both leaders held neither a joint press conference nor did they deliver speeches, the fact that shows that their talks were uneasy and failed to produce a permanent agreement on the Syria issue. This could hardly come as a surprise as both states have conflicting interests in Syria where Moscow backs al-Assad and his regime while Ankara throws support to his opponents. Yet a few years ago other matters pushed the Russians and the Turks towards a compromise (Astana format) while in Idlib, or the last rebel-held province in the country, a fragile truce deal is persisting under some arrangements Putin had made with Erdogan. Had it not been for Ankara’s stance, the Russian-backed regime of al-Assad would have long ago smashed the rebel-controlled foothold. The Kremlin is preventing the government in Damascus from launching an offensive as it seeks friendly ties with Turkey. Selling Russian-made S-400 missile defense batteries to Ankara is for Moscow an efficient tool for breaking the Turkish alliance with Western nations. Turkey is also a key market for Russia’s Gazprom. Erdogan is playing the game, seeking to weaver between Russia and the United States. Once his talks with Biden proved little efficient, Erdogan immediately told U.S. media outlets that he was going to buy more Russian S-400 missile defense batteries. Erdogan added that as the United States was reluctant to rebuild its ties with Turkey, his country would see better relations with Russia. He said this just before flying to Sochi, possibly trying to push on Washington. Turkey is considering more joint steps with Russia in the defense industry, including for fighter jets and submarines, the Turkish leader told journalists on his return to Turkey. Yet it is unimaginable for a NATO member, and Turkey is one. But Moscow also prepared for that meeting. Russian army intensified its activities in Syria after Putin had met with Bashar al-Assad on September 13 in Moscow. A few days before Putin met Erdogan in Sochi, Russian air forces had carried out airstrikes in the Turkish and Syrian-controlled areas, which was an unprecedented incident. The northern enclave of Afrin, which was the target of Russian attacks, has been controlled by Turkish forces and their loyal Syrian rebel troops since 2018. Possibly Putin and Erdogan at least clarified some issues on Syria while in Sochi. Erdogan again managed to avoided al-Assad’s offensive in Idlib, but Turkish forces will make some tactical shifts in the region, for instance by handing the important M4 highway to the Syrian government forces.

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