Assuming the veracity of Moscow’s intention to withdraw most of its troops from Syria, such a decision will likely result in the redistribution of the political cards in the region at a time when the country itself is finally about to steer itself away from war.
Paradoxically, the Russians played at first a negative role in the Syrian conflict. By failing to defeat the revolutionary forces and terrorist groups, they enabled both the Assad regime and Iran to take control. Yet, despite their earlier failings, the Russians have achieved now quite a “positive” role and contribute into the balance of the different forces in the region specifically limiting Iran and its militias on the ground.
According to the Russian news agency, President Vladimir Putin spoke clearly, retorting: “I have taken the decision to withdraw a large part of the Russian troops stationed in Syria, and to return them respectively to Russia.”
Whether by completely withdrawing from Russia or partly diminishing its influence, in both cases the Russian decision will possibly and mostly benefit the Iranians as the Khamenei regime is seeking a near-total control of Syria with the exception of Kurdish areas or neighboring Turkey. Its influence transpires though its militia centers spread across the Syrian border with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and of course in Damascus.
Russia’s motivation behind its announcement of partial withdrawal is difficult to determine. Does it come as the result of disagreements with the Iranians over the control and management of the situation on the ground, or is it part of a truce brokered with the United States which also has displayed a diminished presence in Syria?
It is quite normal for Assad’s allies to have convergent views in the aftermath of the war. On the one hand, the Iranians want to dominate the area in order to defy and further pressure the United States. On the other hand, the Russians want to establish a balance with the United States in a number of areas of conflict across the world. Both parties’ respective motives may coincide but that can only be achieved temporarily as was the case during the war. Both countries entered Syria under the pretences of fighting terrorism, yet the battles carried out by their forces were mainly directed at the Syrian armed opposition, whereas the US-led coalition alone focused on fighting ISIS.
On the one hand, the Iranians want to dominate the area in order to defy and further pressure the United States. On the other hand, the Russians want to establish a balance with the United States in a number of areas of conflict across the world. Both parties’ respective motives may coincide but that can only be achieved temporarily as was the case during the war.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Moscow has no interest in protecting and supporting Iranian forces, which formed by tens of thousands of multi-national militias recruited by Iran from different countries. So what is Iran offering the Russians in exchange of this military favor? Technically, none.
Abandoning an ally?
Yet, reducing Russia’s military presence will both weaken the Syrian regime and Iran’s militias. Is the Kremlin willing to abandon its Syrian ally and sacrifice everything it has accomplished in the region?
The future will be decided upon by both a regional and an American plan that will mainly seek to diminish the Iranian influence in Syria. The latter represents an open ground for any party respectively feeling threatened by Iran and seeking to confront it. In fact, the Syrian soil represents the prefect trap for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Actually, Iran’s militias are incapable of settling in an enemy environment, especially if all peace negotiations fail. The negotiations in question are most certainly predicted to fail as long as Assad along with Iran are hampering any solution that brings together the regime with the opposition in a government.
The partial withdrawal of the Russians and the failure of the recent negotiations in Geneva can be developed into two major themes that can, in turn, pressure the Assad regime and Iran to rethink their position and make realistic concessions.
This article is also available in Arabic.
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.
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