Written by Dmitri Evstafiev; Originally appeared at eurasia.expert, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
On November 22, in Sochi, an unusual summit will be held [SF comment: It already took place] – talks between the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey. At the centre of attention will be the settlement in Syria, where the three countries come out as guarantors of peace. Along with that, cooperation in the Moscow-Ankara-Tehran triangle can go beyond the Syrian scope. Professor of the NRU “Higher School of Economics” Dmitry Evstafiev assessed the prospects of the “axis” formed between the three countries and the accession of Azerbaijan.
Preparing to Redraw Maps
On the main agenda of the meeting of the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Sochi on November 22 are issues related to the necessity to start the political reconstruction process of Syria and the prevention of its transformation into a platform for the development of Islamic radicalism, however on an internal socio-economic basis. It is possible, if there are no effective political mechanisms created, reflecting the new system of interests and influence, which arose both inside and around Syria.
In addition, the three countries are concerned that in the issues of the Syrian settlement the United States are beginning to take a more and more unconstructive position, which can bring destabilisation. Especially considering that the USA in today’s Syria and Iraq will “lose” almost nothing, and they may not particularly care for the fate of their assets and allies.
It is difficult not to notice, however, that the tripartite summit of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Sochi has become a kind of an “answer” to the APEC summit of Da Nag (Vietnam) and the preceding Sino-American negotiations. Agreements between the United States and China stayed away from the “strategic partnership”, but were clearly marked as “pre-freezing” strategic rivalry between the two countries, which was seen as the epicentre of processes in the Asia-Pacific region over the last few years.
World politics abhors a vacuum, especially if politics are in a transition period. In conditions of stagnation in key economic and political terms, Asia-Pacific region (obviously in the absence of a force majeure by the DPRK) will intensify attempts to change the situation in other regions. At a minimum, approaching the new cycle of showdowns in the Asia Pacific region relations with new opportunities. And at a maximum, protecting oneself from possible economic and political destabilisation.
Neither Russia, Iran or Turkey claim for global leadership, but have the status and capacity substantially greater than what the term “regional power” attributes. Three countries, although Turkey to a lesser extent, were focused on the connecting processes for the formation of a new economic space in South-East Asia. Now comes the time for them to restructure their own relationships in order to approach the new “points of bifurcation” with the best outcome.
The Potential of the Moscow-Istanbul-Tehran «Axis»
And from this point of view the potential of the “troika” Russia-Iran-Turkey is much more than just cooperative interaction in Syria or even in the Middle East. Speaking of development prospects of the Moscow-Istanbul-Tehran “axis” it is necessary to note three conditions that makes this geopolitical project not just interesting but also potentially of leadership.
First, the basis of the Moscow-Istanbul-Tehran “axis”, without a doubt, is the economic interests. Primarily, it is the formation of the logistics corridor “North-South”, which now can be viewed in an operational way. There is sufficient transit and, most importantly, non-transit goods for it.
But beyond the economic factors the “axis” brings together a shared vision of military-political issues and security. Not only in Syria or in general in the Middle East, but also in the broader context of South Asia and partially in Africa, in the Horn of Africa.
As practice shows, political and military components of the coalition are now the most enduring elements of the partnership.
This is due to the deceleration of globalisation and preparation of key governments of the world to the significant redistribution of markets in the calculation of the new industrial revolution and the restructuring of global political institutions. As counter-examples we can cite the fate of the Trans-Atlantic economic partnership and NATO.
Second, challenges of industrial modernisation stand before the partner countries. And in circumstances when former concepts of development, based on the idea of connection to the centre of economic growth in the EU, with variations, they lose their relevance. Over a potential range of industrial goods the countries practically do not compete with each other with the exception of certain areas. But they do not appear crucial against the background and can be harmonised in the development process of foreign markets.
The countries are too different for the “intraspecific” competition to emerge. The industrial modernisation will allow to further “spread” competitive “zones”. The partner countries stand before necessary new industrial modernisation but for each it will be different at the sectorial and technological focus.
It is important as well that the “axis”, for the economic cooperation to be successful, becomes a community with a base population of over 300 million people, which is sufficient for the development and initial commercial implementation of technologically rich projects. The community potentially has good chances for the formation of self-sufficient financial investments and billing cycles, with a high level of resistance to external pressure. Problems with access to financial tools are experienced, at the least, by two of the three countries of the “core”, Russia and Iran, and it seems that in the near future, Turkey will begin to experience it as well.
Third, at the “core” the axis naturally formed its own “semi-periphery” and “periphery” countries, which objectively will be pulled in into the “core’s” economic processes and projects. Moreover, these countries are different as to their status and capabilities and development. This gives the “core” of the “axis” sufficient flexibility to secure economic and political interests at the national level.
Around the “core” partnerships can be built with other countries ranging from Syria (logistically important territories and valuable agricultural space) and ending with Qatar (financial resources and a favourable geographical position), not excluding Egypt, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and several other countries.
With such allies, each participant of the “core” can find its own specific niche interest, both political and economic. This does not mean that there will not be any conflicts. On the contrary, in such strong members of the “core” contradictions are inevitable. However, a compromise will be easier to find amid the multiplicity of opportunities, facilitating economic and political “exchanges”.
Challenges for the New Coalition
The paradox of the relations in the Russia-Iran-Turkey triangle is that separately at the level of bilateral relations, the three countries are doomed to contradictions and the absence of long-term prospects, not to mention a strategic partnership. Any bilateral partnership will trigger a reaction not only from foreign players but also from the inside of the respective states. Indeed, the economic and political interests of partner countries are more than contradictory. This is obvious by looking at the confused and not yet successful cooperation of Russia and Iran, despite the good prospects.
But within the coalition, the objectives directed not against each other but on the “development” of the outer space, these three states may well create a relatively self-contained vector with a minimum of internal contradictions, which, of course, will not be able to completely avoid.
A key issue stands in front of the three “core” countries of the coalition. The answer to it depends on how the “troika” will be able to outgrow the framework of the situational alliance. The talk is about the formation of a new system of relations in the Caspian region. And the key issue will be the resolution, or at least long-term stabilisation, of the Karabakh conflict. Otherwise the level of political risks, limited investment processes in the “core” and around it, in the North-South corridor space, will be too considerable. But most importantly, the partnership system will not be able to include Azerbaijan, which in its potential in the future may become the fourth member of the “core”. The leadership of Azerbaijan clearly has the political will and common sense to do this.
The development of the “troika” partnership with Azerbaijan could significantly change the balance of power and relations not only in the Caspian region but also in the whole post-Soviet space.
And, of course, it must be understood that the potential geo-economic “axis” Moscow-Ankara-Tehran is highly vulnerable to information and political manipulations. This requires in-depth and thoughtful interaction at the expert and information level. Moreover, such manipulations are simply predetermined by the situation not only in Syria, but also in general in the Middle East.
The future of the Moscow-Tehran-Ankara “axis” is largely a matter of development and alignment of interests, not an immediate political institutionalisation. The formation of a new coalition will unlikely to resemble a geopolitical “revolution”. Its success will be judged initially by how and in what form the inclusion of the relative “semi-peripheral” countries will occur.
It is important as well that the new geopolitical and geo-economic “troika”, if its development is successful, will become a project, in many respects, an alternative EEU, at least because of the focus on the real industrialisation, not only the formation of the free regime and participation in logistics projects. For Russia, the economic success in filling the new coalition will be a real step towards not only political, but also a geo-economic multi-direction. This will be for the Eurasian states fundamentally a new challenge.
Dmitri Evstafiev, professor NRU “Higher School of Economics”