THE LEVANT NEWS — by Mohammad Ali Mohtadi* —
The recent quadrilateral meeting on the conflict in Syria, which was attended by foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, was in fact, part of diplomatic efforts pursued by Russia in parallel to Moscow’s military operations in Syria. Through such diplomatic contacts, Russia is apparently trying to force countries that are playing a role in Syria crisis to accept the new situation and concede to Russia’s military intervention in Syria to fight terrorism without causing any disruption in its plan.
Some analysts believe that Russia considers the current level of military operations as adequate and, therefore, has now entered the political phase in order to resolve the Syrian crisis through political means. Recent remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov show that Moscow has drawn up a complete plan with regard to Syria. In fact, meetings such as that in Vienna represent a measure which is aimed at appeasing countries that are against the incumbent Syrian government. Moscow’s plan for Syria includes the following three stages: 1. eradicating Takfiri terrorist organizations; 2. promoting political reconciliation and holding elections attended by all political, ethnic and religious groups; and 3. reconstruction of devastation resulting from war. Therefore, the political trend purported by Russia is continuation of its military offensive against terrorism, not a process parallel to it.
At present, Russia is trying to prevent obstructionist efforts by Saudi Arabia, the United States and Turkey, which may try to block the way to fighting against terrorism. This point was also raised by Russia during the Vienna meeting. However, the opposites sides to Russia, including the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, put the highest emphasis on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They have announced time and again that any political solution to the crisis in Syria must exclude Assad. Lavrov, however, clearly noted that the fate of the Syrian president should be determined through decision of the Syrian people, not other countries. This attitude shows that Russia will not accept any agreement other than this. The most stern position on Russia’s policy in Syria was taken by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. He has been quoted as saying that Saudi Arabia will not accept Assad’s presence in power under any conditions. Al-Jubeir also repeated Saudi Arabia’s unwavering position by stipulating that any solution to Syria crisis must include deposition of Assad from power.
Of course, the United States and Turkey have adopted more lenient positions, saying that they accept Assad’s presence in power for a specific period of time, which according to Turkey, would be six months. However, the position taken by Russia and other countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, is that no other country can make a decision instead of the Syrian people and whether Assad remains in power or not should be determined through elections which must be held after the fight against terrorism is over.
Russians scored another achievement in Vienna meeting as well.
This achievement was an agreement between Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Jordan Nasser Judeh on how the two sides should coordinate military operations in Syria. According to this agreement, military flights and operations to fight against terrorism will be controlled through a joint command center. Therefore, it seems that Russia has succeeded to take Jordan out of the group of countries that oppose Assad and make it more inclined toward Moscow’s policies. The main leverage used by Russia to carry out its plans is military presence in Syria and coordination with Iran, Iraq, and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are not able to put a halt to Russia’s military operations in Syria. Russia’s military action in Syria is partially aimed at forcing the opposition to concede to the existing situation and give them an ultimatum.
Saudi Arabia, however, looks on this issue from a tribal viewpoint. The root cause of Saudis’ grudge against Syria goes back to a speech that Assad made on august 15, 2006, that is, after the Lebanese Hezbollah movement defeated Israel. At that time, Assad made an address in which he described the then Saudi King Abdullah and other Arab leaders of the Persian Gulf littoral countries as “half-men.” The description greatly enraged King Abdullah. Since that time, the Saudi security apparatus has been making plans to topple Assad. Even those who demand Assad step down know that in the absence of Bashar Assad, Syrian army will face disciplinary and spiritual problems and would not be able to continue successful operations against Daesh and other Takfiri terrorist groups. Therefore, it is only logical that if the fight against Takfiri terrorism is going to continue, it would not be possible in the absence of Assad.
At any rate, Russia is determined to maintain diplomatic contacts over Syria at the same time that is carries out military operations in the country. In line with this policy, Lavrov has been quoted as saying that other countries, including Iran and Egypt, must take part in any future meetings on Syria. However, this reality is seemingly intolerable for Saudi princes.
*University Professor & Senior Middle East Analyst