Will relations between Iran, Turkey, and Russia remain warm? It’s up to the U.S.

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Russia, Turkey, and Iran are not natural or historical allies, and yet the three countries have grown closer in recent years.

The most common denominator is Syria. The Russians recently signed new long-term leases for military bases there, while Iran and Turkey are both supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, albeit for divergent reasons.

A recent analysis explains how it will be up to the United States to determine how long this relationship lasts, or if it lasts at all:

For centuries, Turkey and Russia were enemies, regardless of who ruled each country. To begin with, Russia considered itself (and still considers itself) the custodian of the true Eastern Orthodox Church after the fall of Byzantium to the Turks. The Ottomans regularly fought the czars, especially over Russian attempts to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey remained neutral in World War II, which benefitted Nazi Germany as much if not more than Soviet Russia. And Turkey joined NATO, giving the alliance its longest border with the Soviet Union. There was never much love between the two countries.

Turkish relations with Iran were nearly as antagonistic for some 150 years, but subsequently transformed into mutual caution and suspicion. After all, Shia Persia never came under the control of the Sunni Ottomans. That the three countries have begun to work closely together to contain the Syrian civil war is more a function of their perceived perception of American weakness than of any upsurge in mutual love.

While the Trump administration has been more active in Syria than its predecessor, supplying weapons and support to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and responding to Syrian use of chemical weapons with the April 2017 cruise missile attack on Syria’s Shayrat airbase, the memory of the Obama “red line” still lingers. It is not at all clear how much further Washington is willing to get enmeshed in Syria in the short-term, much less in the medium and long-term.

It is certainly possible that this three-way partnership will be short-lived. The national interests of the three are not congruent. Much will depend on the United States, however. Should Washington remain active in Syria, or increase its efforts there, Turkey will be far less likely to abandon the West for other partners. If, however, the United States washes its hands of Syria, the Turkish-Russian-Iranian connection may be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Source: Foreign Policy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not have the same fear of Russia that his predecessors did. Also, his relationship with NATO has deteriorated; at one point he even threatened to review it, which would never have happened during the Cold War. This comes as Ankara’s relationship with Moscow has warmed since Turkish fighter planes downed a Russian Su-24 bomber in November.

Meanwhile, Turkey agreed to bolster military cooperation with Iran in the coming months and years, something that is sure to rankle Washington and further alienate the country from the West and NATO. For all the world it sure looks like Turkey is moving away from its traditional strategic partners and is not looking to strengthen ties at all. That may — or may not — be short-lived. If not, then Turkey’s leadership has decided that some capital other than Washington will be wielding more influence over its own interests in the coming years.

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