Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Sochi today, where he will meet Vladimir Putin.
Discussions will centre around Turkey’s military offensive, launched last week, to establish a 32-kilometre deep “safe zone” along its entire border with Syria. Russian-backed Syrian government forces moved into the region in response to the assault.
Putin’s recent strategy in the Middle East has been to maintain cordial relations with all the region’s at-odds players, which has allowed the Kremlin to project considerable influence. The Russian president is unlikely to push back too hard on Turkey’s safe zone plans, instead seeking to de-escalate the possibility of direct conflict between Turkey and Syria.
It is probable that an agreement will be reached between Moscow and Ankara that temporarily legitimises Turkey’s presence in Syria’s north and clearly delineates the safe zone.
An agreement would provide a popularity boost for both leaders at home. Erdogan, whose approval rating has dropped by 10 points to 44% in the last year, would be able to give that figure a considerable boost by declaring the Syrian assault a success. Meanwhile, Putin could use an agreement to demonstrate Russia’s international prestige to his domestic audience, boosting his own popularity.
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Alex is a senior analyst in the Current Developments team with a primary focus on the Americas. He also serves as an editor on The Daily Brief.