Russia’s endgame in Syria

1st September 2015

1st September 2015

Russia’s diplomacy is bearing fruit on Syria at a critical moment of history

Syria is going from bad to worse. ISIL has strengthened; US-Turkey alliance proclaim a comprehensive battle against them but actually target the Syrian Arab Army; and Turkey’s chief Recap Erdogan’s war on the Kurds is actually meant to create a new “safe zone” for anti-Damascus terrorists.

US and Turkey know they have just six months left. The moment billions of dollars of frozen Iranian funds are returned to Tehran, it would go towards shoring up Damascus. Meanwhile, Syria and Russia have intensified their diplomatic efforts to save the last secular outpost in the Mideast. A few are listed below:

Russia-Saudi Arabia: The diplomacy between the two has grown roots in the last two months. Both now have signed up a nuclear energy cooperation agreement. President Putin and King Salman intend to visit each other by year’s end.

Russia-Syria-Saudi Arabia:  Russia had arranged a secret meeting between the Syrian Chief of Home Security and the Saudi Defense Minister in mid-July.  The gist is that Saudi Arabia has finally realized its Wahhabist spawn has become uncontrollable. Once Syria goes, the Wahhabist could turn back on its promoter, Saudi Arabia.

Saudis also treat Yemen as their prime strategic interest now that the efforts in Syria haven’t borne fruit. Saudis fear Yemen has become a base for Iranian proxies.

Russia-Saudi Arabia-Qatar: The three met in Doha recently at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting. Russia used the occasion to unveil the detail of its latest anti-ISIL initiative which sees a coalition of regional states, including Saudi Arabia, working with the Syrian government to crush the terrorists.

Russia-Syria-Iran: Almost the same time the Doha parleys took place, Russian special envoy to the Mideast, Mihail Bogdanova attended a meeting with the Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers in Tehran. An important announcement was made: Iran will soon be submitting a four-point UN proposal for resolving the Syrian crisis. It would primarily be a joint Russia-Iranian effort. Russia showed itself as capable of simultaneously conducting multiple layers of crisis diplomacy—contrary to Erdogan’s claim that Russia is going to “give up Assad.”

Russia-US:  Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met his counterpart John Kerry in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit. The most impactful news coming out was that the US and Russia had agreed to a draft UN resolution about chemical weapons use in Syria.

Syria-US:  Syria and US themselves have been contacting each other in secret. Syrian foreign minister Muallem’s visit to Oman, the first to an Arab country since the war began, might lead to a surprise meeting with his Saudi counterpart. Indeed, it could expand to a talk between Syria, Oman, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Importantly, Muallem’s Gulf visit wouldn’t have been possible had the US not authorized his hosts to initiate it.

All this could be a straw in the wind yet but all this indicates that US is willing to back down from its demand of a regime-change in Syria.

Meanwhile,  the Syrian National Coalition (SNO), the main anti-government organization opposed to president Assad, were invited over by Russia to Moscow. Then Saudi foreign minister paid a visit to Moscow.

A few important meetings that the world can’t take its eyes off are:

Erdogan Visit to Moscow: The Turkish head could visit Moscow in November to discuss the Balkan Stream pipeline which would bring Syria’s main international protagonist Putin together with its main antagonist, Erdogan. Turkey could be keen to cut deal with Russia over Syria in exchange for helpful energy pricing.

Putin-Salman meeting:  Both are expected to meet before the end of the year. It’s an acceleration of Russian-Saudi relations. In July, Saudi Arabia had announced it would invest up to $10 billion into the Russian economy.  A major announcement could also be made in the forthcoming meeting.

Thus far, it seems that Russia’s grand strategic vision is for an UN-approved and inclusive anti-ISIL coalition to take the helm in leading the fight against terrorism in the region; and that a joint Russian-Iranian diplomatic proposal can be applied in parallel to bring about an inter-Syrian reconciliation.

In the event that neither of them succeeds and in order to pre-empt what might be the US and Turkey’s final and horrific hurrah in bringing about the regime change in Syria, Russia can always resort to the fail-safe measure of embedding its active Syrian-based military advisors into the Syrian Arab Army’s frontline positions.

Three senior Syrian military officials arrived in Moscow earlier this month. The timing was perfect: to counter the escalation of the US and Turkey’s war on Syria. On the same day, the news came out that Obama had authorized the Pentagon to bomb any entity fighting against this group, including the Syrian Arab Army, if such a clash occurs.

Of course, this provocation could lead to a split-second escalation of the War on Syria and the formal American bombing of all Syrian military and government installations in as rapid of a regime change fashion as they moved in Libya, so it’s definitely taken into serious consideration by Moscow, and strategic attempts at deterring this dire scenario were most assuredly thrown about during the meeting.

While a seemingly risky suggestion to some, it is a proven fact that the US military has never directly targeted a Russian serviceman, choosing instead to rely on its proxies for such a grisly task (be it the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan or terrorists in Chechnya.) It iss clear – a direct attack by the US on a Russian military unit is a flagrant cause for war, and even under the currently tense conditions, there is no way that the US would make such an unthinkable move.

The situation in Syria has become extremely dire as of the past few weeks, with the US and Turkey threatening what appears to be their last-ditch effort at forcing regime change on the country. Russia is strictly opposed to this plot, and accordingly, it’s been doing whatever it reasonably can on the diplomatic front to prevent this from happening. Building upon its recent inroads in relations with Riyadh, Moscow has taken to courting the Kingdom in a bid to get it to pull out of the anti-government game and accept its inevitable loss.

Likewise, Russia has also sought to simultaneously strengthen its relationship with Iran so that both of Syria’s primary allies can present a united proposal aimed at solving the country’s domestic woes. Bridging everything together, Russia envisions that its ambitious anti-ISIL coalition proposal could form the basis of a realistic alternative to the US’ failed (and false-fronted) multilateral effort at fighting the terrorist group, which could take pressure off of the Syrian government and allow it to more assertively liberate its sovereign territory without fear of that said coalition one day being used against it.

It’s unrealistic to think that Syria would allow the US’ private army to march from the Turkish border all the way to Damascus without being opposed, so after a certain period of time, the two sides will inevitably cross swords, which could then open up the Pandora’s Box of US-led military pandemonium. However, if Russia makes the hard (but strategically necessary) decision to order its in-country military advisors to position themselves alongside the Syrian Arab Army’s anti-terrorist front line, then it can prevent the US from bombing its Syrian equivalent as it pounds back against its proxy, which would foil its escalatory regime change plans and save the country from a Libyan-esque fate.

This is a condensed, reworked version of an article which has appeared in Russia Insider.

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