Syria has brought three nations together, Russia, Turkey, and Iran. But the unfolding dynamic of Syria may also be the undoing of the very alliance Syria helped to form.
Ankara, Moscow and Tehran have other reasons to seek a quick end, or at least fudging-up, of the Syrian imbroglio.
Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan is facing a problematic presidential election next year under a new constitution that replaces the parliamentary system with a presidential one concentrating powers in the hands of whoever becomes president. A candidate himself, Erdogan is almost certain of winning. But the question is by what percentage. A feeble turnout and a slim majority would not give him the moral mandate and political authority to embark upon his “grand design” of which we shall speak later. Erdogan needs to win “something big” and for the time being the only chance is to get a bite at the Syrian apple.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also facing presidential election, perhaps his last, next year. He, too, is almost certain to win. But he is also concerned about the shape and size of his victory. He does not wish to end his 30-year career as a master of Russia’s destiny with the lowest backing from the electorate. With Russian economy in doldrums and the Western powers unwilling to grant Russia equal status as a major power, Putin needs a big victory which today can only come through a clever fudge-up in Syria coupled with grandiose talk of having “defeated Islamist terrorism” on the battlefield.
Putin is also concerned about rumblings among Russian Muslims, some 27 percent of the population according to most accounts. Images of the Russian air force carpet bombing cities, populated by “fellow-Muslims”, have stirred quite a bit of unease throughout the federation’s Muslim communities.
By claiming that he has two major Muslim nations, Turkey representing the Sunnis and Iran speaking for the Shiites, on his side, Putin can reassure Russian Muslims who have always voted for him in a massive way.