Print Читать на русском
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
Nikolay Surkov

PhD in political science, Associate Professor, Oriental Studies Department, MGIMO of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, RIAC expert

In the run-up to the next round of talks on Syria scheduled for late January 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov and the United States Secretary of State John Kerry have had far more contact than usual. The results of their meetings and telephone conversations have prompted a cautious kind of optimism. Both have spoken about the constructive nature of their talks, and there are signs indicating that Moscow and Washington are attempting to come to a compromise on the issue of Syria.

In the run-up to the next round of talks on Syria scheduled for late January 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov and the United States Secretary of State John Kerry have had far more contact than usual. The results of their meetings and telephone conversations have prompted a cautious kind of optimism. Both have spoken about the constructive nature of their talks, and there are signs indicating that Moscow and Washington are attempting to come to a compromise on the issue of Syria.

Both sides have shown a willingness to make concessions. Lavrov, for example, has made it clear that Moscow is not against including members of the Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam groups in the delegation representing the Syrian opposition, despite the fact that Russia considers them to be terrorists. “It is not up to someone outside the UN to decide; it is up to Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to decide,” the Russian minister said (link in Russian).

It would seem that the uniting factor in bringing the sides together on the issue is their shared interest in bringing a speedy resolution to the Syrian crisis. Although their motives do differ.

Right now, it is important for Russia to demonstrate to the world that it is a global power capable of playing a constructive role in world affairs, in particular, helping to wipe out Islamic State and restore stability to Syria.


REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Yuri Barmin:
A Clash of Titans: Saudi-Iran Diplomatic Dispute


The Obama administration would like to see a relatively stable situation in the Middle East. As it stands, the region is in a worse state than when the democrats came to power.

Right now, it is important for Russia to demonstrate to the world that it is a global power capable of playing a constructive role in world affairs, in particular, helping to wipe out Islamic State and restore stability to Syria. The Kremlin is also playing the Syria card to obtain concessions from the West in other areas, primarily in relation to the Ukraine crisis, which has caused relations between Russia and the United States to reach their lowest ebb since the Cold War. There are other reasons too. The very fact that the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation is beginning to drag on gives critics of the Kremlin’s policies yet another reason to compare the country’s current intervention in Syria with the ill-fated experience of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Moscow assumes that the United States should be interested in resolving the Syrian crisis. Its motivations here are based more on domestic politics. The Obama administration would like to see a relatively stable situation in the Middle East. As it stands, the region is in a worse state than when the democrats came to power. This is not what the party needs ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. What is more, it is important for Washington and its European allies to create the right conditions for fighting Islamic State, because this group presents a real danger right now. It is impossible for the United States to leave the region (and relieve itself of its military and financial burden) with its head held high.

It looks like the United States is prepared to agree to any deal that would be advantageous to its regional allies, which have stepped up their activities, as the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar to Moscow and the intensive consultations with the Saudis demonstrate (link in Russian). It would seem that the Arabian monarchy, which supports the opposition in Syria, is interested in a peaceful resolution to the crisis, or at the very least in easing tensions in the region. Although the war is unfolding outside of their direct involvement or influence, it does require increasing amounts of resources, which is particularly worrying considering the plummeting oil prices and the prolongation of two other costly crises – in Yemen and Libya. What is more, Islamic State has clearly stopped being an obedient tool in the struggle against Iranian influence and has become more like the proverbial “trigger happy” gunman.

Putin is apparently expected to convince the President of Syria to agree to a compromise with the oppositions and possibly even leave his post at some point down the line.




If we assume that the course of the Syrian crisis will in large part follow the logic of the regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, then we can expect a zero sum game.

In these circumstances, it would appear that the Kremlin is counting on the Americans, as the de facto moderators, to get the Syrian opposition and its sponsors to form a representative delegation and then convince Bashar al-Assad’s opponents to abide by the agreements signed. Moscow would be responsible for liaising with the Syrian regime. Putin is apparently expected to convince the President of Syria to agree to a compromise with the oppositions and possibly even leave his post at some point down the line.

But this will not happen for a while. The Syrian problem is too complicated and multifaceted to expect a speedy breakthrough. It is far more likely that the Geneva III Conference on Syria scheduled for January 29, 2016 will be little more than negotiations about negotiations. The deal-making process will be long, because there are too many participants and interested parties involved. The presence of two opposition delegations in particular will complicate the matter further. It is also unclear whether the opposition’s sponsors will be able to exert enough pressure on their wards for them to agree to compromises with the government. At the same time, Moscow needs to convince al-Assad to make some serious concessions, and that is by no means an easy task.

This raises the question of what the future deal should look like, if it is to satisfy all the key players. If we assume that the course of the Syrian crisis will in large part follow the logic of the regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, then we can expect a zero sum game. That is, the existing regime will continue in some form, as will Iran’s influence over Damascus. And Saudi Arabia might be appeased by the appearance of powerful Sunni forces in Syria that will counterbalance this influence. We cannot rule out the possibility of a state entity appearing in Syria that will look very much like modern-day Libya in terms of its fragility and instability, only on a larger scale.

(no votes)
 (0 votes)

Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students