While Russian military operations in Syria received all the headlines, there were other important foreign policy developments in both Ukraine and Turkey.
In this photo taken on Oct. 5, 2015, Russian pilots stand outside their Su-30 jet fighter before a take off at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. Photo: AP
This past week, Russian diplomacy was occupied with three main areas – the nation’s military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), developments in Ukraine, and increasingly contentious relations with Turkey.
Russia’s military activities against ISIS
On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Russian Navy ships based in the Caspian Sea launched 26 cruise missiles at ISIS positions. The missiles crossed the airspaces of Iran and Iraq before hitting their targets in Syria. With this step, Moscow achieved three Russian objectives.
First, this secured the de facto coalition with Iran and Iraq against ISIS.
Second, this demonstrated the high accuracy, reliability and efficiency of the country’s weapons and communication systems, and the global positioning system GLONASS. That is, Russia made it clear that it is a force to be reckoned with in the Caspian Region and the Middle East, being able to conduct effective military operations in those areas.
Thirdly, this was an actual wartime demonstration of Russia’s newest weapons for potential customers in the largest and ever-growing arms market in the world – the Middle East.
On that same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, supported the proposal of French President Francois Hollande to combine Syrian government troops with the “healthy opposition” in the Free Syrian Army, in order to fight ISIS.
Russia is seeking a viable Sunni opposition in Syria, and believes that only this will lead to a lasting solution of the present conflict. In the event of a likely victory over ISIS, Sunni groups will have to fill the power vacuum that is created, and in the future become part of the new Syrian establishment.
Regulation of the Ukrainian crisis
One of the results of the meeting of the Normandy Four in Paris on Oct. 2 was the extension of the Minsk Agreements, which were scheduled to expire in 2015.
In eastern Ukraine, in the regions not controlled by Kiev, with the participation of Russia, the governments there have decided to postpone the election of the heads of cities and regions to a later date, and hold them in accordance with Ukrainian legislation – in February 2016, instead of Oct. 18 and Nov. 1 as they had planned before.
Meanwhile, many Ukrainian politicians have now started talking about the disadvantages for Kiev in the extension of the Minsk Agreements. In particular, among Ukrainian nationalists, a belief is spreading that the participation of Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine in the political life of the country is not a desirable option.
There are several reasons for this point of view. For example, this would make sure that the idea of federalization in the country is put to rest, the electoral balance will remain in favor of the current authorities, and the country will have no need to restore the destroyed infrastructure in the Donbas.
Therefore, no one can feel certain that the Ukrainian government is really planning to meet its obligations. If Kiev fails to fulfill its part of the Minsk Agreements in full, the planned elections will contribute to the establishment a government in the eastern part of Ukraine, one that is independent from Kiev.
Syrian crisis puts Russian-Turkish relations to the test
Several events this past week led to some stress in the relations between Russia and Turkey, increasing the workload of the two nations’ diplomats. It is still too early to say if relations between the two countries have really been irretrievably aggravated.
Russia and Turkey have long been at odds when it comes to finding ways to solve the Syrian problem. Russia considers as a prerequisite, in any future negotiation process, the preservation of public institutions, and supports the official government in Syria.
In Turkey, by contrast, they continue to support the forces whose goal is the overthrow of President Bashar Assad.
During the September visit to Moscow of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it was already known that Moscow was planning to launch military operations against extremists in Syria, and this issue was discussed by the two leaders.
At that time, Russia’s plans seemed not to have upset the Turkish president. Therefore, such a strong reaction from Ankara after the accidental crossing of a Russian fighter jet into the skies over Turkey this week seemed rather strange.
Perhaps this incident was being used as part of the attempts to maintain the negative information background around the Russian military campaign.
Another important event, having an impact on the politics of the two countries, was the decision by Russian gas giant Gazprom to reduce gas supplies to the planned Turkish Stream pipeline by 50 percent.
However, this was a predictable decision, considering that in September, the Russian company and its European partners reached an agreement on the construction of the third and fourth lines of the Nord Stream under the Baltic Sea.
Even before this, there had been quite a few problems in negotiations with Turkey, having to do with the final prices as well as investments into the Turkish Stream project. It was obvious that Ankara considered this pipeline project as more needed by Russia than by Turkey, and therefore its officials were not inclined to compromise.
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Now President Erdogan has started talking about Turkey’s willingness to find other sources of gas, and to completely cancel its agreement with Russia. Despite the current sharp words, the fundamental interests of Russia and Turkey in the field of economic and regional policy are very similar.
The collapse of Syria will inevitably push the Kurdish issue to the forefront, and in addition, Islamic fundamentalism could become a threat to secular Turkey, as we saw this past weekend, with the terrorist attacks during a peace rally in Ankara.
The opinion of the authors may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.