It has been a busy week for Russia’s president Vladimir Putin—and the course of events in the Black Sea basin over the past several days suggest that the things that are happening are no coincidence.
On Monday, in Baku, Putin met with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani andAzeri president Ilham Aliyev for a Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan trilateral meeting. The three leaders inked documents to move ahead with new infrastructure projects designed to make the so-called north-south corridor that will link Europe and South Asia via Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran much more of a reality. Iran, having already experienced the troubles caused by international sanctions and Russia, currently dealing with Western sanctions, is anxious to develop and sustain a major keystone of the international economic system that will not be subject to U.S. or European pressure, while, for Azerbaijan, having two major trading lines—the north-south and one batch of the east-west running New Silk Road (and the southern energy corridor to Europe)—intersect in Baku heightens Azerbaijan’s geoeconomic importance. Beyond these matters, however, the three presidents also found common ground in another matter: internal political security. All three believe that the United States is quite interested in fomenting “color revolutions” against the current rulers in the Kremlin, the Saadabad Palace, and the presidential building onBaku’s Istiglaliyyat Street. Despite their political and policy differences—the three countries do not always see eye to eye on every issue (including on how the maritime zones of the Caspian Sea ought to be divided up among the littoral states), they have agreed on the principle that maintaining the status quo in one country benefits the surrounding states—and that they ought to cooperate to prevent any sort of revolutionary changes from occurring.
Rouhani reportedly asked Putin to carry this last message onward to his second meeting of the week, on the next day in St. Petersburg, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived to mend fences with Russia. The Turkish president appears to still be rattled by the coup attempt against his last month, and he and his advisors seem inclined to believe that, even if the United States did not directly inspire the coup, Washington would have been happy to live with the results.
More pragmatically, Erdogan has begun to reassess his Syria policy. Unlike American policymakers, who sometimes doggedly insist on doing the same thing (hoping that endurance or more resources thrown at the problem will bring about a different result), Erdogan can see the negative ramifications of continuing to confront Russia over Syria. Not only is Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad much less likely to fall now that it appeared last summer, the heightening of tensions with the Russians (alongside the American need to find reliable allies capable of taking the fight to the Islamic State) has made the emergence of a Syrian Kurdistan much more of a reality than at this point in 2015. In Ankara’s eyes, it would be preferable for “Assad to go” but not at the expense of seeing yet another autonomous Kurdish entity emerge on Turkey’s border.