Putin in Iran for Syria summit overshadowed by war in Ukraine


Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for talks on the war in Syria at a three-party summit overshadowed by fallout from his country’s war on Ukraine.

Putin traveled abroad for only the second time since ordering the invasion of Ukraine to attend the rally also attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The summit comes days after US President Joe Biden visited the Middle East for the first time in his presidency, with stops at regional foes Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It is the first organized by Iran’s ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi since taking office last year and ostensibly aims to end more than 11 years of conflict in Syria.

All three are involved in the conflict, with Iran and Russia backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backing rebel forces.

Prior to the trilateral meeting, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Erdogan, who has repeatedly threatened to launch a new military offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria.

Khamenei warned the Turkish leader that such a move would be “damaging” to the region and called for the issue to be resolved through dialogue between Ankara, Damascus, Moscow and Tehran.

Erdogan, speaking later at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, said the Kurdish militias were causing “big problems” for both Iran and Turkey.

“We must fight against these terrorist organizations in solidarity and alliance,” he added.

The presidents also oversaw the signing of a number of agreements in different areas, including trade and the economy.

Ukrainian cereals

Erdogan has been offering to meet Putin for months in a bid to help resolve heightened global tensions.

“The date of this summit is not a coincidence,” said Russian analyst Vladimir Sotnikov.

“Turkey wants to conduct a ‘special operation’ in Syria just as Russia is setting up a ‘special operation’ in Ukraine.”

Turkey has launched waves of attacks against Syria since 2016, targeting Kurdish militias as well as Islamic State group jihadists and Assad loyalists.

During their talks, Putin and Erdogan would discuss grain export mechanisms from Ukraine, a Kremlin source said.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has massively hampered shipments from one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and other grains, raising fears of global food shortages.

Turkey – a NATO member on good terms with Russia and Ukraine – has spearheaded efforts to resume grain deliveries.

Ultimately, Erdogan hopes to get the “green light” from Putin and Raisi for Turkey’s military operation in Syria, said Sinan Ulgen, visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Monday that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports was threatening supplies for countless thousands of people vulnerable to starvation.

Borrell dubbed the problem “a life-or-death problem for many human beings.”

‘Iran-phobia’

On Sunday, a day after Biden wrapped up his Middle East tour, Iran accused the United States of causing crises in the region.

Biden had vowed that the United States would “not tolerate efforts by one country to dominate another in the region through military build-ups, incursions, and/or threats,” referring to Iran.

In a speech to a Saudi summit of Gulf Arab states as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, Biden assured those gathered that the United States would remain fully engaged in the Middle East.

“We are not going to step aside and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, a joint statement committed the leaders to “preserve regional security and stability”.

He also pointed to diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a goal the Islamic republic has always denied pursuing.

On Sunday, Iran accused the United States of having “once again resorted to the failed policy of Iranophobia, trying to create tensions and crises in the region”.

Last week, the United States alleged that Iran planned to deliver “hundreds of drones” to Russia to aid in its war against Ukraine, a charge the Islamic Republic dismissed as “baseless “.

The Islamic State is a banned terrorist organization in Russia.


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