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May 6, 2021

A geopolitical deal in Syria?

In the turmoil of the refugee crisis, most of them Syrians coming from the conflict-devastated Middle East to the rich North of the continent (Austria, Germany, Sweden) – a genuine test to the solidity of the European Union – breaking news surfaced announcing Moscow’s direct engagement in the Syrian war by supporting the Assad regime. And, so far, therefore, from the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Kremlin got involved in its evolution by supporting the Assad regime, traditionally protected by Russia from as early a the Cold War. Yet, if this support consisted initially in mostly weapons and experts – instructors in manipulating them, as well as diplomatic initiatives (such as Russia’s well known and decisive intervention in the agreement of September 2013 regarding Syria’s Chemical Disarmament, which helped prevent a massive intercession from behalf of the West).
The local circumstances determined a certain geography in the ratio of forces, so that all the grand actors involved in Syria finally had the surprise of finding themselves in positions off partnership / alliance never before thought of and considered as impossible.
Thus, Assad – supporting Russia ended up positioning itself on the same side with Hezbollah militias, coming from Lebanon to combat various factions of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime, even the so-called Islamic caliphate (ISIS), generously fueled by the Iranian theocratic regime; while the USA, combating ISIL both in Syria and in Iraq, by aerial attacks, realizes that this enemy is also an enemy of Iran. There is nothing special in this genuine puzzle, as uncommonness is an actual feature of political evolutions, in the Middle East region. Yet, there are plenty unknown factors in this equation, that must be simplified and cleared up, in order to identify a leading thread, for better understanding.
First of all, what is Russia’s stake by its direct involvement with military forces in the civil war of Syria, that has become official and publicly acknowledged by Moscow, at the beginning of this month? A Twitter post published by Xavier Solana, the former high official of NATO and the EU, on September 21, 2015, announces the following: “Putin’s plan: Moscow handles Syria, U.S. looks after Iraq. Javier Solana ‏@javiersolana” ” So, we are supposed to understand that, actually, the leader of Kremlin decided to confront ISIS that threatens, in case of victory in Syria, to highly jeopardize the security of Russia (ISIS got already installed in Caucasus, by proclaiming a vilaet / obedient district), has already reached an agreement with the US regarding the military effort required to eliminate this threat? The article Solana links to, the one synthesized by what he calls “Putin’s plan” was published on September 21 by a well-known analyst of international relations, Raghida Dergham and this is its very title: “Putin’s plan: Moscow handles Syria, US looks after Iraq”. (http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2015/09/21/Putin-s-plan-Moscow-handles-Syria-Washington-looks-after-Iraq.html ).
The logic and the conclusion presented by the author of the article are based on information collected from the statements made by Russian diplomats at the UNO, especially V. Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the international organization. He had declared that it had become obvious that “one of the very serious concerns of the American government now is that the Assad regime will fall and [ISIS] will take over Damascus and the United States will be blamed for that.”. At the same time, Churkin considers that Washington officials “don’t want the Assad government to fall. They don’t want it to fall. They want to fight (ISIS) in a way which is not going to harm the Syrian government.” On the other hand, he says, Washington “don’t want the Syrian government to take advantage of their campaign against [ISIS]. But they don’t want to harm the Syrian government by their action”.
Mentioning that Russia wishes that Assad’s Government would be part of the peace negotiations, Churkin outlines that the logic of events determines the USA and other actors “to work with the government. We are not saying they have to sit at the same table necessarily with Assad, but they are the Syrian government and they need to work with them. They are fighting [ISIS] on the ground.” The author concludes: “The Syrian president himself may be an obstacle to any U.S.-Russian accords, but an agreement over preserving the regime could be the way out of this impasse.” Therefore, in the expert’s opinion, both Russia and the USA have the main target at this moment to destroy ISIS and this is why they intend to identify a common path to reach this target at the UNO annual general assembly, due at the end of this month, in New York. There are even rumours related to a potential meeting of Obama and Putin on this occasion, so that a general frame would be established. In the opinion of the quoted author: “The requirements of the Russian war on terror in Syria, according to the Russian president, include having Moscow in the lead. Putin is practically saying to Obama: You run the war on ISIS in Iraq, and I run the war on ISIS in Syria. This would require Washington to – publicly or tacitly – agree to Russia’s strategy to win that war in partnership with the regime.”
The second great question mark in the Syrian puzzle is the attitude of Israel. As everyone knows, Hezbollah is the terrorist organization that, on one hand, combats ISIS in Syria, by the side of the Assad regime, financially supported by Teheran and, under the given circumstances, supported by Russia, as well. Yet, at the same time, it is an official enemy of Israel as, in 2006, there was a genuine war initiated by Israel against the positions adopted by this organization in Lebanon. Recently, Israel had bombed convoys of the organization, based on information that they were carrying weapons to Southern regions of Lebanon. Does Israel accept Russia’s interference in Syria if, additionally, it means a reenforcement of Hezbollah?
We may imagine an answer to this question by following the information published regarding the visit of Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu in Moscow on Monday, September 21, where, accompanied by two military high officials, he had had conversations with the leader of Kremlin. This visit was arranged in a hurry last week. According to news published in the media, “the Israeli Prime Minister fears that Russian air cover would also allow Mr Assad’s ally Iran to smuggle advanced missiles to the Hezbollah militia in neighboring Lebanon, from where they could be used against Israel (…)”.
Similarly, it was announced that Israel had demanded “that Russia agrees not to prevent Israel carrying out more such attacks in future.”
Last, but not least, there is one more huge question mark: is Russia, by its interference in the Middle East, to escape the international isolated it has condemned itself to, after having occupied Crimea and the subsequent actions in Eastern Ukraine and, as a result of these, the economical sanctions applied by the West? It is a question that is terribly difficult to answer, but it obviously is among the set of option held by Western decision makers. It depends on how Russia’s initiative to get directly involved in Syria would be received, on whether the West (and, first of all, Washington) would accept “an agreement” on this matter – highly necessary, as another expert was pointing out in article ran by “The Financial Times” (on September 21), entitled “We must compromise with evil in Syria” – and equally, on the actual amplitude of this geopolitical agreement. We are actually facing a twist in international relations, as the refugee crisis in Europe has consequences that are hard to foresee today, and not all of them are beneficial – one may notice a certain discontentment shown by the Governments of several states regarding mandatory refugee quotas, and other states even build fences among them, openly defying EU regulations accepted by all members, the Schengen agreement needs “consolidation shots”, etc. – and limiting future waves of immigrants from the South to Europe imperatively demands an “agreement” that would adequately manage conflict areas, where this invasion had started.
How far would this necessary agreement of grand actors involved in Syria go? Would it restrict itself to eliminating the threat represented by ISIS or will it also encompass other regions as well, more or less adjacent?

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