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October 21, 2012, Sunday

From crisis to cooperation

Expectations of finding a solution to the Syrian issue through the international organizations are fading. As a result, the Syrian issue has gradually been turning into a bilateral crisis between Syria and Turkey. Nonetheless, the interception of a Syrian passenger jet has brought Russia into this equation, with the Syrian regime hoping that Moscow will put pressure on Turkey.

However, despite their disagreements over how to tackle the Syrian issue, Russia and Turkey, mainly due to global strategic balances, have no intention of fighting with each other right now. While designing their bilateral relations, Russia and Turkey always take into consideration many divergent factors, such as the overall balance of the Black Sea basin, the energy resources trade and Russia's relations with Europe. Besides, if US President Barack Obama is re-elected, it is almost sure that Washington will continue to pursue its mild relations with Moscow.

To tell the truth, Turkey's position on Syria disturbs Iran much more than it disturbs Russia. Nevertheless, it is better to be cautious when one thinks about “Iran's position” because it is unclear that there is only one decision-making center in Iran. It seems that there are several competing power centers in the country, and sometimes these adopt quite contradictory positions.

Until now, Iran's policies on Iraq and Syria have been supported by Russia. The latter was satisfied with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-American rhetoric, with the pressure he was putting on Israel and attempts to keep the Middle East's Shiite populations under control. All these policies were allowing Russia to maintain some kind of influence over the region's affairs. Nevertheless, it was also true that the regimes supported by Iran had lost their legitimacy in their own countries. That is why it has become difficult for Russia to support these regimes, and besides, Moscow didn't want to lose its standing among the region's peoples. Moreover, Moscow was naturally aware that Iran's attitude had begun to poison Russia's relations with Turkey.

Russia was unhappy with signs that relations with Turkey were souring. By declaring that the interception of a Syrian plane flying from Moscow by Turkish authorities was a normal practice and that Turkey was within its rights to do it, Moscow has implicitly told the world that it will not allow the Syrian issue to torpedo its relations with Turkey. The Syrian regime has probably received this message, because all of a sudden Syrian provocations at the Turkish border have stopped. Similarly, Ahmadinejad, in his meeting with the Turkish prime minister during the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit in Baku, made it clear that Iran wishes to heal its relations with Turkey.

In other words, thanks to the signals sent by Russia, Syria and Iran have abandoned their attempts to provoke Turkey. Furthermore, Iran has agreed to join in regional initiatives in order to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. Three separate tripartite mechanisms (Turkey-Iran-Russia, Turkey-Egypt-Saudi Arabia and Turkey-Egypt-Iran) have been established because the actors involved did not wish to sit around the same table. These mechanisms will constitute a negotiation chain and function simultaneously in order to formulate comprehensive plans to resolve the Syrian issue and establish a roadmap to stabilize the country.

These mechanisms are promising as they include all regional actors involved in the crisis. Also, the US is not directly taking part in it, which is exactly what Russia has desired from day one.

Crises don't always offer opportunities, but it is true that the “plane crisis” has accelerated the process of finding a resolution to the Syrian issue by encouraging Russia and Turkey to launch an honest dialogue.

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