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The central issue of Wednesday's meetings in Moscow was whether Russia would give in. An immediate change of policy was obviously not on the cards since it is not in Putin's nature to make sudden concessions under pressure. But will he gradually and incrementally pull the rug from under the Syrian president?
According to Russian experts in Moscow, there are multiple reasons why the Kremlin will not. They range from concerns about future chaos in Syria in the aftermath of regime change to the damage that would be inflicted on Russia's reputation in the Middle East if it gives way to international pressure and abandons a longterm friend.
"If Putin drops Assad now, it will have very serious consequences in the region. They might dislike Russia but at least they know that Russia doesn't let its friends down like some other countries usually do," said Andrei Kortunov, the director of one of Moscow's most respected think-tanks, the Russian International Affairs Council.
Kortunov said the key questions which Russian leaders would have put to Tillerson this week concerned the ideas which the US had for a post-Assad Syria.
"What kind of business plan do you have for Syria? How can you assure us it'll be different from Iraq or Libya?" said Kortunov.
"You get rid of an authoritarian ruler: are you ready to face the consequences? In Iraq, at least you prepared for a major intervention with boots on the ground. What abut Syria? Are you ready to make a commitment to this country? Are you prepared to lead the post-conflict reconstruction of Syria?"
As the Russians see it, regime change in Syria is more than an issue of removing one man or even a hundred top figures in the Assad entourage.
What's going to happen to the army and security services, they ask. If no plans are made for them, they may join the forces of Islamist militancy.
"IS was a kind of delayed product of the US intervention, whatever you say about it now. Regionally, it came from Iraq and it contained people who used to work for Saddam Hussein and offered their skills to IS," Kortunov told MEE.
Source: Middle East Eye
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