In another ten days, it will be six months since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The news of the war no longer makes the headlines. Because it only takes time for the most unexpected, for the worst to become the new normal, like in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
The Presidents of Iran, Russia, and Türkiye met in the Astana format on July 19, 2022. President Erdogan went to Tehran to secure the understanding of his partners for a military operation against the PKK/YPG in Syria that has been on his agenda for some time. The Joint Statement issued at the end of the Tehran summit addressed Ankara’s terrorism concerns in principle, but in so far as action was concerned it fell short of his expectations.[i]
On March 18, Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping held a two-hour-long video conference. To put their meeting in perspective, one does not have to go back all the way to China’s “century of humiliation”, but a brief chronological look at the recent past, particularly the last year could be useful.
The Turkish Government has decided to close the Turkish Straits to all warships as a result of Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine. So, I thought that an updated version of a post I had written two years ago could be timely.
Two years ago, I was trying to draw attention to the risks of the politically, financially, and environmentally extravagant, and totally unnecessary “Canal Istanbul” project. With the decline of the Turkish economy, the project is unfortunately not dead yet, but it has moved way down on the Government’s agenda. Today, not only Turkey’s but the world’s attention is focused on the Russian offensive against Ukraine. Thus, the Montreux Convention has once again become a topic of interest. And this may prove the last nail in the coffin for the Canal Istanbul project.
In my last post, I said that President Putin would probably resist ordering a full-scale invasion of Ukraine because a bloody conflict will zero out his theory about the Russians and Ukrainians being one people. I proved wrong. It seems that the risks of leaving lasting scars on the Ukrainian psyche, the potential loss of life, and suffering did not stop him. Thus, despite repeated denials of any intention to take military action, President Putin ordered a premeditated full-scale invasion of Ukraine in defiance of international law, the UN Charter, and Russia’s own definition of the so-called rules-based international order. In the long term, even the people of Russia may see this invasion, not as a glorious conquest but as a sad chapter of Russian history.
Last week, Presidents Macron and Putin had a phone call. According to the Kremlin readout of the call, “at the French side’s initiative”, President Putin once again drew attention to the absence of a substantive response from the United States and NATO to the Russian initiatives. He also stressed the reluctance of the leading Western powers to encourage the Kyiv authorities to implement the Minsk agreements.
Since there is no likelihood of Russia and the West coming to an agreement soon on the Russian proposals for a new security architecture in Eurasia, the standoff at Ukraine’s borders has become a stress test for all the involved, but primarily for the people and the leadership of Ukraine.
The Russia-West standoff over Ukraine continues. The US and its European allies are warning of a serious risk of a Russian offensive against Ukraine. Moscow is claiming that the US is trying to pull Russia into an armed conflict over Ukraine that Russia does not want. The US is sending troops to Germany, Poland, and Romania. The West is waiting for the Russian response to its written proposals which Moscow says focus only on secondary issues. Lines of argument and underlying rationale are getting increasingly blurred and confusing.
On January 26, the US and NATO delivered their written responses to Russia’s security demands in Eurasia. A day later, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the media that the responses offer grounds for serious talks only on matters of secondary importance; that there is no positive response to the main issue which is continued NATO enlargement towards the east and the deployment of strike weapons that can pose a threat to Russian territory.