State media in Iran, Russia indicate growing Russia-Iran-Turkey alliance

It’s in media coverage in these countries, particularly the narratives of Press TV, RT and Sputnik that we can see the alliance emerge.

Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia pose before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey April 4, 2018 (photo credit: TOLGA BOZOGLU/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia pose before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey April 4, 2018
Iran’s Press TV tweeted in English on Wednesday with a quote from Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Nuclear power should be forbidden for all or permissible for all.” Press TV included an image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appearing to be sweating.
Iran’s message wasn’t a secret: the account tagged Erdogan and included the hashtag “#IsraelisExempt”. What is more secretive is the Iran-Turkey-Russia alliance that is emerging and illustrated via state-controlled media.
RT, a Russian television network, similarly highlights the greatness of Turkey and Iran as part of a campaign that clearly indicates Moscow’s support for the two. On Wednesday, it tweeted about Iran showcasing its drone expertise amid tensions in the Gulf. It also shared images from Erdogan’s speech in which he slammed Israel. Russian news agency Sputnik similarly highlighted comments by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday morning. “Turkey will probably never buy American aircraft again,” Sputnik noted as well.
A quick look at TRT and Al Jazeera, which reflect the views of governments in Ankara and Doha, did not reveal such strong praise for Russia and Iran. This means that in general, Tehran and Moscow appear to be using their media arms to curry favor with Turkey as part of a regional strategy aimed at a Turkey-Russia-Iran triumvirate or alliance. This alliance is positioned to upset the regional balance of power and has already been cemented through the Astana process to discuss Syria and the post-Syrian civil war era.
Initially, Russia and Iran were on one side of the Syrian civil war and Turkey on the other side, to the extent that in 2015, there were theories that they might come into conflict over Syria. But over time, things changed.
Turkey became closer to Russia – seeing a potential dealmaker that could be trusted, and finding a warm ear in Moscow when Turkey broached the subject of taking over parts of northern Syria, including Afrin. Moscow gave the green light over time, allowing Turkey to use Syria’s airspace and making sure the Syrian regime – a key ally of Russia – did not intervene. Turkey is now poised to seek to control a swath of Syria that could result in Turkish control of more than 30% of the country if Ankara gets everything it wants in eastern and northern Syria.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Iran grew closer economically, with Turkey seeking ways around US sanctions and seeking to boost trade to $30 billion from $10 billion in 2017. Turkey, Russia and Iran bond over Syria because they all oppose the US’s role. Turkey accuses the US of training terrorists in eastern Syria. Turkey, once opposed to Iran’s growing role in Iraq, has found accommodations with Tehran after an Iranian-backed Iraqi offensive into Kirkuk in the wake of the Kurdistan Regional Government referendum. Most importantly, Turkey is getting Russia’s S-400 – a deal that originated in 2017 and resulted in delivery of the system in the summer of 2019. It may go online in April 2020.
Turkey and Russia also work closely on TurkStream, the pipeline under the Black Sea that is linked to more muscular Turkish policies in the Mediterranean.
It’s in the media coverage by agencies and stations in these countries – particularly the narratives of Press TV, RT and Sputnik – that we can see the alliance emerge. These media share some basic features: criticism of the US and Israel, a clear editorial line towards praising Turkey and highlighting, with some glee, the growing divergence between Washington and Ankara.
Of course, Moscow and Tehran have different motives. Tehran wants Turkey as a market amid sanctions. It wants to use southern Syria as part of its land-bridge strategy to threaten Israel, necessitating some abeyance from Turkey. Russia wants Turkey to also smooth the way for things in northern Syria. That means that it doesn’t mind if Turkey re-settles refugees in eastern Syria, where the US and mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces are present.
This will kill two birds with one stone: it will weaken the SDF-US partnership while also moving the refugees away from Idlib. Russia’s goal is to break down the last extremist groups in Idlib. Turkey will be glad to see them go, because both Russia and Turkey want the last independent Syrian factions to evaporate, and that means defeating the SDF in the East and HTS in Idlib. It means neutralizing the last Syrian rebels by getting them to fight the SDF. Everyone gets something in this equation, except those Syrians who dared to join opposition groups.
From the Syrian regime’s perspective, this may be all a bit too much – watching its country partitioned and Moscow, Tehran and Ankara decide what is best for it. However, Syria doesn’t have much of a choice. For its part, the Syrian regime has been talking tough on the SDF more than in the past. But it must wonder if a growing Turkey-Russia-Iran alliance means permanent division of Syria into situation mirroring northern Cyprus while southern Syria is used by Iran to fight a clandestine war against Israel.
Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, says there won’t be foreign interference in Syria’s constitutional committee. Bashar al Assad met with Iran’s Ali Asghar Khaji, senior aid to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, and told him that the US was losing in Syria. Assad asked for some details about the recent tripartite meeting of Iran, Turkey and Russia regarding Syria. He wondered what they had decided about the country he claims to be president of.
He stressed the importance of Syrian-Iranian-Russian cooperation, according to Syrian state media SANA. Khaji smiled in return.