Turkish and Russian diplomats on Tuesday declared their intention to halt the civil war in Syria, showing no signs of a rift in their warming relationship the day after the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara in a brazen shooting.
A tripartite conference here, held together with Iran, was hailed by Russian’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, as a way to “overcome the stagnation in efforts on the Syrian settlement.” The comment was a dig at the United States, which was absent from the Moscow meetings despite its own involvement in the Syrian conflict.
The shouted words of the 22-year-old assassin, who invoked the carnage in Aleppo, echoed the anger expressed by many Turks over the course of the five-year-old civil war. Russia, a stalwart ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has thrown its military weight behind Syria’s government, and launched its own punishing air raids on rebel-held areas.
For Putin, Syria holds mostly geopolitical meaning and helps Russia project power while keeping a foothold in the Middle East. He has cast Russia as a protector of legitimate leaders against the turmoil of rebellions and criticized the United States for supporting Assad’s opponents.
But Russia has faced Islamist-led rebellion in the North Caucasus and is aware that its military actions in the Middle East could bring reprisals. Putin on Tuesday called on his security and intelligence services “to take extra measures to ensure security inside Russia and outside it and tighten security of Russian missions abroad and their employees.”
Erdogan, on the other hand, presides over a country tangibly shaken by the war across its border, which has brought millions of refugees into Turkey, as well as the rising threat of militant attacks. For most of the conflict, which began in 2011, Erdogan was the Syrian rebels’ most vociferous advocate. But the rapprochement with Russia has signaled a shift toward a settlement that might keep Assad in power.