A few Russian concessions

Russia has begun marketing a peaceful solution for Syria that would include the opposition. This is the first time it has done so since getting militarily involved in the war alongside the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

The negative is that it wants to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As such, this is a bad solution that will fail because the opposition rejects Assad. Can Moscow develop its ideas to allow negotiators to reach a solution?

It has been half a year since Russia entered the war with its most advanced weapons. It has not achieved much in terms of its promise to deter Assad’s enemies, as even Aleppo – which it had pledged to liberate – is still mostly controlled by the opposition. Assad’s forces and their ally Hezbollah have achieved progress on the ground but not decisive victories, and there is nothing on the horizon to suggest there will be.

The regime’s progress is not due to Russia or Iran, but to pressures on Turkey, which has had to close routes used for the movement of armed men and the provision of funds.

This has led to a decrease in support provided by countries backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other armed groups. Nonetheless, the opposition still controls a third of Syria, the regime controls less than a third, and terrorist groups control about a third.

Making concessions to Moscow will mean making concessions to Tehran in the entire region, not just in Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed


Last month, Russia suffered its first painful defeat when some of its helicopters and a logistical depot in its military base between Aleppo and Palmyra were destroyed. Moscow denied the incident, but intelligence firm Stratfor published photos of the extent of the destruction following the attack. It is an important development that confirms the high cost of the war for everyone, not just for the Syrian people, who are being randomly barrel-bombed by an unaccountable regime.

Assad’s three major allies – Russia, Iran and Hezbollah – have come to realize that victory in Syria is impossible without a political solution. However, they face two problems. The first is their inability to progress because most Syrians are against the regime, so supporting it will not achieve permanent control on the ground even if they do achieve some victories. The second problem is the longer they fight, the greater their losses.

Exit strategy

Russia’s acceptance of a political solution that includes the opposition is Moscow’s and Tehrans’ exit strategy, but it will not be achieved without making real concessions. Meanwhile, Washington has assumed the role of referee, and hopes the game will end with a tie, or President Barack Obama’s presidential term ends without political losses in Syria.

The crisis will be passed on to his successor. Russia is increasing pressure on Washington as it aims to expand the scope of its military targets after failing to produce victories.

We must not be distracted from the core of the conflict, which is Iranian expansion in the region that aims to control Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This cannot only be addressed by a solution that pleases the Russians in Damascus. Making concessions to Moscow will mean making concessions to Tehran in the entire region, not just in Syria.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 7, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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