In the Syrian tragedy, which is approaching a critical turning point, the Russian plan seems more ingenious and coherent. It is a political, diplomatic and security “kitchen” under the supervision of the Kremlin master, the head chef.
It is not possible here to overlook the role of Sergei Lavrov, the assistant promoting a several-course meal, managing to run a long confrontation that stretched from the Middle East to the corridors of the Security Council, interspersing maneuvers, clashes and shocks.
There is no doubt that Vladimir Putin was looking for a golden opportunity for great revenge. Revenge against the unipolar world that prevailed the day after the suicide of the Soviet Union… Revenge against NATO, which moved its pawns near the borders of the Russian Federation… Revenge against the colorful revolutions that Putin believes are imported from Western “kitchens”… and revenge for the image of Soviet and Russian weapons being destroyed in Iraq, Serbia and Libya.
The Syrian tragedy provided this opportunity and Putin excelled in ripening the conditions of Russian military intervention in this country. The Russian president benefited from the confusion of decision-makers in Washington in the row over the heavy cost of military intervention in Iraq. He also benefited from Barack Obama’s desire to conclude a “historic agreement” with Iran on its nuclear program.
In spite of the change of administrations in Washington, the fate of Syria did not appear to be considered a priority worthy of going to the extent of military intervention.
Those, who look at Syria today, realize that Russia has succeeded in taking the position of the first player in this country. It is the only team that can speak to all parties. It is the mandatory crossing point for any temporary or long-term settlement.
Since the Syrian crisis is regional because of the country’s location and the spread of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and since any solution must tackle the limits of Iran’s role and Israel’s security, it can be said that Russia has imposed itself as a major player in the Middle East.
Iran itself received a great gift from the Tsar, when his forces’ intervention in Syria prevented the fall of the Syrian circle from the “crescent” that its generals boast ofGhassan Charbel
A new phase
It is clear that we are facing a new scene in the Syrian crisis. The US-Russian summit in Helsinki has reinforced this impression. The two presidents discussed the crisis under three headlines: Israel’s security, Iran’s intervention and the return of refugees. There was no reference at the press conference to the political transition or the Geneva process.
The fate of President Bashar al-Assad is no longer on the table. After resolving the military confrontation in favor of the regime, Russia succeeded in getting Assad out of the talks.
Russia is now distributing guarantees and bandages. These are the gifts of the Tsar who grabbed the strings of the game and those of the solution. Israel has received the gift of reviving the disengagement agreement between the Syrian and Israeli armies, accompanied by a Russian promise to remove Iranian militias from Israel’s border.
This means that the Syrian areas adjacent to the occupied Golan Heights will not be a threat to the Jewish state. This particular point may be one of the main reasons that facilitated the Helsinki Summit. Before that, Israel received another gift from Putin, who practically gave it the right to attack Iran’s positions and militias, despite the Russian umbrella over Syria.
Turkey also received a gift from the Tsar. He allowed it to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish “territory” on its border when it launched the “Euphrates Shield” in Jarablus and Al-Bab. He also allowed it to eliminate the dream of the Syrian Kurds to reach the Mediterranean through the “Olive Branch” operation, which was launched by the Turkish army in Afrin. Turkey can get an extra gift if Russia succeeds in returning some of the Syrians who have taken refuge in this country.
The official Lebanese delight was evident when Russia announced it would support the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians living in Lebanon. The same could be said of Jordan, whose economy has been further burdened by refugees.
A great gift
Iran itself received a great gift from the Tsar, when his forces’ intervention in Syria prevented the fall of the Syrian circle from the “crescent” that its generals boast of.
The fall of the Syrian episode would have been a resounding defeat for the policies of Khamenei and the IRGC generals, because the interruption of Iranian ground contact with “Hezbollah” is not simple. Since the Tsar is not a charity organization, Iran is expected to respond with flexibility to Israel’s security file.
Getting away from the Golan is something, and getting out of Syria is another matter. This game is complex and will see a contest to attract the Syrian regime, which has received a precious gift from the Tsar that kept it alive. Iran’s adversaries also received a gift from the Tsar, which was the belief that Russia’s Syria had prevented the establishment of an Iranian Syria.
The Tsar is handling the Syrian refugee file as a gift that could draw Europe into participating in the reconstruction of Syria, even if it was on the basisof providing the adequate conditions for the return of as many refugees as possible. This matter is important to Europe and even tempts it.
The Old Continent suffers from the burdens of the refugee file and is divided around it. Russia’s promise on the return of Syrian refugees to their country will reduce the number of boat arrivals. The European contribution, if achieved, will lead to a kind of system rehabilitation.
America itself may have received a gift from the Tsar. Ensuring Israel’s security through the Syrian front and preventing an Iranian military presence off the Golan parallel to the presence of “Hezbollah” in South Lebanon.
The head chef in the Kremlin has succeeded in finding the right recipe for Syria. He reserved his role and his seat and made himself a need and a guarantee. With the Tsar’s gifts distribution season, the Syrian crisis enters a new phase that is completely different from the previous one.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan’s Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.