Following the Putin-Erdogan agreement, which after weeks of fighting and unsuccessful diplomacy between the US and Russia eventually led to the withdrawal of the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo, comes news of a three party telephone conference today Saturday 17th December 2017 between the Russian, Turkish and Iranian Foreign Ministers, Sergey Lavrov, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The purpose of the call was according to Interfax to discuss the situation in Syria following the Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo.
In parallel with Lavrov’s telephone conversations with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has also been on the telephone speaking to representatives of the Turkish and Iranian Defence Ministries and – most unusually but of potentially critical importance – to the head of Turkey’s military intelligence agency.
Turkish military intelligence is of course the organisation which tipped the Turkish government off about the attempted coup in July, forcing the coup plotters to launch their coup prematurely in the early evening rather than in the early morning hours as they had originally planned, causing the coup to fail.
The Iranian Fars news agency has as we previously reported, claimed that Turkish military intelligence in turn was tipped off about the coup by Russian intelligence, which supposedly obtained this information by intercepting signals passing between the coup plotters.
I have previously pointed out that the ambiguous language Russian and Turkish officials have used when publicly discussing this alleged tip off essentially confirms that the Fars report about it is true.
Turkish military intelligence is therefore an institution with which the Russians have a history of contacts, and to which Turkish President Erdogan owes his job and quite possibly his life.
Turkish military intelligence is also widely suspected of being the agency which has conducted Turkey’s on the ground operation in support of the Jihadis in Syria. In that capacity it was the agency which initially negotiated the Aleppo withdrawal agreement with the Russians.
All this activity involving not just the senior diplomats but also the senior militaries of Russia, Turkey and Iran points to a concerted effort by the Russians to build on the Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo to kickstart some sort of moves towards a political settlement of the Syrian crisis.
Russian President Putin whilst in Japan has spoken of the need in Syria for a renewed ceasefire. The Russians have however made clear that they are not prepared to enter into ceasefires either with ISIS or with Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria – Jabhat Al-Nusra – which has been leading the armed resistance to President Assad.
President Assad for his part has identified Idlib, in a province adjoining the Turkish border, as the next major objective of the Syrian army following consolidation of its victory in Aleppo.
A possible explanation for all this diplomatic activity is that it is an attempt by the Russians and the Iranians to secure Turkey’s commitment not to interfere with any pending Syrian army offensive against Idlib.
There is now talk of a summit meeting between the Russian, Turkish and Iranian Foreign Ministers, presumably to discuss this question.
Meanwhile the most notable fact about all these diplomatic contacts is that the US has been completely cut out of them.