Implications of Sochi summit for Middle Eastern politics


As a result of the U.S.'s reluctant policy on Syria, other countries are obliged to bypass it and take the lead for the sake of their national interests

The Sochi summit, a trilateral summit held in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Nov. 22, brought together three main guarantor states – Russia, Turkey and Iran. The talks among the three states were held at the three levels of a foreign ministers meeting in Antalya, the meeting of the chiefs of staff in Sochi and the summit, which brought together the presidents of the three states. Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran's Hasan Rouhani discussed critical subjects about the Syrian crisis. The summit has implications for the Syrian civil war as well as for the greater Middle East.

First of all, the three presidents held critical meetings and discussed ways to promote peace and stability in Syria. The summit covered a large range of real issues, including humanitarian aid, cleansing the country from terrorism, the return of refugees, reconstruction of the country, prisoner exchanges, holding a post-war congress for peace talks, drafting a new constitution, holding transparent elections and finding a sustainable solution to the war. The Sochi summit may lay the conditions to end the crisis in Syria. It seems that these three countries will continue to support Syria's territorial integrity and political unity. They will try to reach a final agreement and design a joint plan before the Geneva talks resume. Decisions made at the summit indicate the success of the Astana talks, which were initiated by the same three countries.

Second, the Sochi summit is a new step toward a new Middle East – a region in the process of restructuring as regional balances change by the day. Many observers and politicians claim that the summit is a turning point for the region. The unity between Putin, Erdoğan and Rouhani is an attempt to counterbalance the alliance made by U.S. President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during their visit to Riyadh. Russia, Turkey and Iran, three countries marginalized by the West, are now more interdependent than ever. They pursue a defensive policy in order to protect their security, which is under threat due to the American-led alliance, which includes Saudi Arabia and Israel. For this reason, Rouhani explained that the Sochi summit was the "right step at the right time." Turkey and Iran's responses to the U.S.-led alliance are comprehensible once we consider American policies in the region and its alliance with antagonistic regional actors such as Israel, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Saudi Arabia.

Third, the summit has implications for Turkey's regional policies as well. The United States and other Western countries have not only marginalized Turkey, but have also been indifferent to Ankara's regional concerns, especially for the last four years. The crises between Turkey and the United States started mainly during former President Barack Obama's time in office due to his administration's regional policies, which caused further security threats for Turkey and pushed Turkey to search for other allies. Therefore, collaboration with Russia and Iran is an indirect result of U.S. policy on Turkey, and particularly its support for the PYD's People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Ankara has asked its partners to work to cleanse Syria of all terrorist groups without exception, a request that the Obama administration ignored and is barely considered by the current Trump administration.

The final consequence of the summit is related to the U.S.'s role in the region. The Obama administration was indecisive and hesitant in pursuing specific and determinative policies in the Middle East, and particularly Syria. It seems that the Trump administration is no different from Obama. As a result of this reluctant policy on Syria, other countries were obliged to bypass the U.S. and take the lead for the sake of their national interests. U.S. policy is reflected in its alliance with the YPG. However, for some states, this is considered support for the partitioning of Syria and the participants of the Sochi summit resist this objective. In light of this, it is important to state that resisting U.S. policies in the region means indirectly undermining the U.S. role in the Middle East, which once again has been showing an inability to pursue effective policies in the region.

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