Russian, Iranian and Assad camps lose interest in diplomacy
The situation over Syria is hanging on a knife edge. Instead of cooperating, the camps are opening the way to direct rivalry
Talks between the Russian, Iranian and Syrian defense ministers have raised a lot of rumors and questions. The most common explanation of the intention behind the meeting is that the three countries want to join forces to take Aleppo and drown Syria in blood, having lost interest in a diplomatic solution to the conflict. This interpretation is promoted by Syrian opposition leaders, but there is no credibility to it.
The Geneva talks are stuck, and though the truce is holding somewhat, Aleppo is in danger of complete collapse. Everything is jeopardized by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat an-Nusra and rebels who are allied with it for their survival. Neither Moscow, Tehran nor Damascus are interested in drowning Syria in blood. Their motives are led by elementary logic and self-preservation.
Russia is weakened by Western sanctions due to the Ukrainian crisis, while NATO is re-discovering its raison d’etre of deterring the Eastern aggressor. Militarism in Europe is on the rise, fuelled by broad NATO drills, dubious declarations by its secretary-general, and Moscow’s harsh responses to them. Under such circumstances, it is much more profitable to be an effective negotiator, and have influence on one of the sides, than to drown Syria in blood
The situation over Syria is hanging on a knife edge. Instead of cooperating, the camps are opening the way to direct rivalryMaria Dubovikova
Russia needs to curry favor with its counterparts to ease tensions. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning on Wednesday that his patience with Russia is limited immediately resulted in Moscow’s announcement of its strong commitment to a sustainable ceasefire in Aleppo.
However, the next day Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Washington to be more patient over Syria, and even accused the United States of using Jabhat an-Nusra for its own interests. The risk of deteriorating relations between the two nuclear powers over Syria is high and strongly undesirable, as it could lead to direct military clashes. The consequences would be unpredictable.
Russia, Iran and Syria are synchronizing their agendas against undesirable developments that have already started. NATO has said it is ready to join the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria.
However, even with these noble intentions, it would be easy for NATO to target other players. There are rumors (even if they happen to be untrustworthy) that France has a limited contingent in Syria. The increasing number of players is complicating the situation.
There are two reasons for the camps to close ranks. The first is the battle for the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. It is clear that after the liberation of Palmyra by Syrian government forces with support from Iran and Russia, Raqqa is next to be liberated. The opposing coalition cannot allow this, so there is a race to take it.
Secondly, the Geneva talks have stalled and Saudi Arabia has lost hope of an agreement, pushing coalition forces to start implementing Plan B, a military solution to the Syrian conflict. One camp is getting ready for this scenario. The other is getting ready to respond.
The situation over Syria is hanging on a knife edge. Instead of cooperating, the camps are opening the way to direct rivalry. Hopefully peace talks will resume and all sides will demonstrate the needed flexibility to reach a solution. This will allow them to unite against ISIS, rather than fight over who gets the glory for its defeat.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme
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