Translated by Sufyan Jan for Fort Russ
24th February, 2016
Comments made by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, caused shock waves when he openly criticized Syrian President Bashar Assad; this has posed questions on Russia’s influence in Syria, especially when Iran supports Assad unequivocally while Russia’s stance is much more pragmatic.
Assad said in an interview that he would fight until “full control is established on Syrian territory” and that “All who carry arms against the government are terrorists”, laying his terms for a cease fire that goes against the the understanding reached by the US and Russia, which raised questions on the level of coordination between Damascus and Moscow, and the allies mutually shared goals in the Syria.
A source whose job it is to coordinate between the Syrians-Russians-Iranians had communicated to Al-Rai that, “Russia has good relations with Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel, and other middle eastern countries that don’t agree with Assad or Iran’s policy in Syria, and so Kremlin officials have to hold a pragmatic position in their policies. These policies may not meet eye to eye with Iran’s immediate stance but strategically they are no different in regards to their long term and short term goals, so Russia postponed the negotiations on the Syrian presidency until the time is right, Russia will not haste through the negotiation stages, Russia believes that Bashar Assad represents the interests of a large segment of the Syrian people, and cannot be overthrown because the Ba’thists, the Sunnis, the Alawites, and all the other minorities are all protected under Assad, whereas no candidate has this ability to unite all the sects and ethnicities of the Syrian population and at the same time ensure Russia’s strategic interests, and attempts at removing him will only cause the collapse of the entire regime, and state entities. President Vladimir Putin has said already that he will protect the Syrian state, and so Russia is not concerned with names, rather they are pushing for early elections in which Assad would be allowed to run for office, like any other Syrian citizen”.
The source explains, “Russia is holding a pragmatic position because they are on good terms with all parties that are involved in Syria, but it is fully aware of Iran’s strong presence in the Persian Gulf as an insurance to its backyard, and as a regional ally, both countries are targets of the US, NATO, and oil rich countries in the region, so cooperation between both countries is strategic, as shown by Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu’s visit to Tehran to seal a deal for S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, as well as arming the Iranians with a Sukhoi Su-30, advanced helicopters were offered, along with the idea of building an arms factory in Iran, also updating the T-72 and T-90 tanks, so as you can see the level of cooperation goes beyond Syria or comments made by Mr.Churkin”.
The source continues, “As for Iran, Bashar al-Assad is a symbol for the axis of resistance, it defends him and his regime and what he represents, especially that Assad armed the resistance in 2006, subsequently all hell broke loose in condemnation from regional countries and Israel which said that it aims the toppling of Assad because his victory would mean a victory for Iran and Hezbollah, which means a strategic defeat for Israel, who would love nothing more than the state of chaos to continue in Syria, so Tehran defends Assad and will not give up on him and won’t look for replacements either. Iran also would like to see early elections and it has full confidence as do Russia that Assad is the best candidate, because those people who live in government held areas represent the vast majority of Syrians, in contrast to Takfiri jihadi held areas, thus from this perspective the tactical difference between Russia and Iran does not affect the political relations, nor the military relations, since Iran and Russia are running ground operations together, and in some areas there are forces from both sides conducting the battles”.