Putin and Erdogan visiting Tehran: what are the stakes?

In the Iranian capital Tehran, there will be a meeting tomorrow between Russian President Putin, his Turkish counterpart Erdogan and the host, President Raisi of Iran. It is certain that they will talk about the situation in Syria, where a civil war is still raging in which all three play a role. But behind the closed doors, many more topics are likely to come to the table. The leaders each enter the meeting with their own agenda.

For Putin, it is Putins first foreign trip outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the start of the war in Ukraine. The trip follows President Bidens visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia last week, with Irans nuclear program prominently on the agenda,

โ€œPutins consultations with Iran and Turkey seem to be a message in the direction of the West,โ€ says Russia correspondent Iris de Graaf. Putin wants to show that he does not need the West and seeks cooperation with other allies.

In

recent years, Putin has increasingly focused on relations with China, India and the Middle East. With visits like this, he wants to strengthen his ties with non-western countries. โ€œThat is even more important to him now that the western world has written off Russia,โ€ says De Graaf.

The main topic of discussion in Tehran is the civil war in Syria. As early as 2017, these three countries in Astana (Kazakhstan) spoke with representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups. De Graaf: โ€œThat consultation is an achievement that Putin is proud of.โ€

Iran is also becoming an increasingly important ally for Putin, not only strategically but also economically. For example, Putin is looking for new trade routes to circumvent Western sanctions. Putin will also want to discuss this with his colleague Raisi. โ€œThis visit contributes to the image Putin wants to portray: that he is an influential player on the world stage. Thats why he sits down at the table with leaders who dont write him off, but respect him.โ€

It

is not surprising that these talks are being held in Iran. It is one of the countries that Russia still supports, says historian and Iran expert Peyman Jafari. โ€œAnd the war in Syria has brought Russia and Iran closer together.โ€

After the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, the motto was: neither the West nor the East, but the Islamic Republic, says Jafari. โ€œStill, you can see the relations between Iran and countries like Russia and China getting closer over the past decade. In 2018, President Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear agreement and then imposed severe sanctions on Iran. In order to survive, the country is increasingly moving east.โ€

Roughly speaking, Jafari mentions two interests that play a part for Iran at Tuesdays summit. On the one hand, its about prestige: โ€œRaisi wants a photo opportunity with Putin and Erdogan. He wants to show Iranians and world leaders that his country is not isolated.โ€

Secondly, Iran is about intensifying political and economic cooperation to resist the pressure of US sanctions. โ€œIran and Russia have signed a 20-year cooperation agreement and significantly increased their mutual trade. Recently, Iran completed their part of the North-South International Transport Corridor, the trade route that connects Russia to India via Iran.โ€

Turkish President Erdogan will also want to talk about economics, more specifically about the desired corridor for Ukrainian grain. โ€œThat must be the solution to the global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine,โ€ explains Turkey correspondent Mitra Nazar. โ€œRussia must give guarantees to allow grain ships from Ukraine to pass through. Turkey is important because that country regulates the passage to and from the Black Sea and tries to mediate between Kiev and Moscow.โ€

But Syria is also an important agenda item for Erdogan. โ€œHe has been calling for weeks that the Turkish army is preparing a new military offensive in northern Syria. There, Turkey wants to push Kurdish militias further back,โ€ says Nazar. For such an invasion in Syria, Turkey needs the green light from the Russians, who provide military support to President Assads regime.

NATO member country Turkey has a special position on the world stage. The country maintains relations with the West and the East both in terms of the war in Ukraine and the struggle in Syria. โ€œSyria is a geopolitical chessboard,โ€ says Nazar. โ€œOn the one hand, Turkey and Russia face each other and support other groups in the country, on the other hand, they also carry out patrols together. But the fact is that, in the end, Turkey cant do anything there without Russia allowing it.โ€

โ€œSovereign Statesโ€

Before leaving for Tehran, Putins spokesman Dmitry Peskov was already looking for agreements between Russia and Iran: both countries are dealing with a laundry list of Westernsanctions. According to Peskov, that is the price they pay for their sovereignty. An Iranian government official also made no secret of Iranian interests to Reuters news agency. โ€œWe need a strong ally and Russia is a superpower.โ€