With Ukraine’s allies seeking to shore up unity against Russia’s aggression, Moscow carried out its own diplomatic initiatives on Tuesday, gathering top defense officials from Iran, Syria and NATO member Turkey for talks on Syria and presiding over a session of the U.N. Security Council in which its top diplomat depicted Russia as an ally of Arab countries and Iran.
At the Security Council session, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, sharply criticized the United States and the West, and blasted Israel’s policies. Israel’s ambassador, Gilad Erdan, walked out of the chamber in protest after delivering a speech denouncing the session as hostile toward the Jewish state.
Russia, further isolated from the West since its invasion of Ukraine, has been looking to other nations, and some have provided crucial economic or diplomatic support. The meeting on Syria, which was held in Moscow, included Tehran — a factor that was likely to be closely watched by the West, where concern has grown as Russia and Iran try to work around Western sanctions.
In a brief statement after the Syria meeting, the Russian Defense Ministry sought to cast Moscow as a peacemaker, saying the talks focused on normalizing ties between Syria and Turkey, which were damaged by Syria’s civil war.
The statement did not make any reference to Russia’s own war in Ukraine, but it did say that participants had discussed combating “all forms of terrorist threats.” Russia has long sought to justify its invasion of Ukraine by falsely claiming that the country is controlled by right-wing extremists.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that in addition to normalizing relations with Damascus, the meeting focused on possible ways for Syrian refugees in Turkey to return home. The statement did not say whether the talks had resulted in any concrete agreements, but emphasized that the four parties would meet again.
Syria has been fractured by civil war for more than a decade. President Bashar al-Assad is backed by Russia and Iran, while the United States has backed Kurdish opposition fighters, including in a campaign against Islamic State militants.
Turkey, Syria’s neighbor to the south, was for many years the most stalwart supporter of the opposition seeking to drive Mr. al-Assad from power. But there appears to have been some softening in that stance of late, driven partially by a refugee crisis.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, according to figures from the U.N. refugee agency. The challenges became even more acute in early February, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near the two countries’ border.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is up for re-election next month and he and the three other presidential candidates have promised voters to find ways to send Syrian refugees home. Mr. Erdogan has recently indicated more openness to restoring ties with Mr. al-Assad, at least in part in hopes it would help with refugee returns.
Mr. Lavrov was in New York for two days as Russia’s rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council nears its end in a few days. On Monday, he chaired a session on maintaining peace and global diplomacy. U.S. and European members of the Council rebuked Russia as hypocritical.
In his speech to the Council on Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov blamed the U.S. and Europe for policies that he said had deepened tensions and destabilized the Middle East. He portrayed Russia as supporting the Iran-Saudi rapprochement, the return of Mr. al-Assad to the Arab fold and the prospect of a peace deal in Yemen. He said the Israel-Palestinian conflict had been left out of recent positive developments in the region.