BEIRUT -- As soon as Russia launched the first stages of its military campaign in Syria, world media erupted with epic slights on President Vladimir Putin and the deprecation of Russia's strategic motives in Syria. Is this information operationsimply a recrudescence of Cold War neuralgia, or is there something more profound at work here?

One can see, too, that the U.S. administration's response to Russia's initiative has oscillated uncertainly. Initially, Washington took a "business as usual approach," suggesting that it and its allies' air campaign would proceed unchanged. But the administration then seemed blindsided by the speed and extent of the Russian action. Last week, a Russian official arrived at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to announce the immediate start to the Russian air operation in Syria, and to insist that the U.S. keep its aircraft (and personnel) out of Syrian airspace altogether that day. Since then, the Russian tempo of air attacks has been impressive, leaving little or no space to others.

Clearly, "business as usual" in these circumstance was impractical (if some calamitous air incident in the Syrian skies was to be avoided). And President Obama's opponents immediately pounced: Putin was wrong-footing America (again). Secretary of State John Kerry hotly demanded military coordination that would at least keep the U.S. coalition flying -- and in the game.

The second approach has been to try wrest at least the political initiative back into American hands -- by conceding to Russia its military role -- whilst trying to set parameters (essentially President Bashar al-Assad's removal), that would require a major reworking of the Syrian leadership, in which America would have a major say. (Britain and France similarly lifted a leg, to mark their territory of having a claim in any final outcome, too.)

During all these maneuvers and rhetorical skirmishing, however, the U.S. has also been quietly re-positioning itself towards the political settlement which it now sees as coming somewhat into focus. In London and Berlin, Secretary Kerry modified the U.S.'s initial absolute objection to President Assad remaining in office: Now, he said, Assad might remain for a transitional phase, however long that might be, "or whatever," adding that ultimately this was for the Syrian people to determine (see our last Weekly Comment). On Wednesday, Kerry went further, and said something equally significant: Exiting his discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kerry said that Syria must remain "united ... [and] be secular." This represents a huge (if barely remarked) shift: It cuts the ground from under the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the jihadists -- in fact, from all Islamists who cannot accept a secular state, which, to be clear, effectively removes pretty well all the Gulf protégés from having any significant slice of the cake. 

No doubt, Lavrov had made it plain to Kerry that Assad has told the Russians that he is open to political change and to reform (and that Russia believes him). But perhaps Lavrov also explained why the particular historical circumstances of Syria voided any prospect of a Brotherhood insertion into government being a workable prospect. In any event, Kerry changed tune.

The third U.S. tactic seems to be "containment" -- that old standby: a massive information war is underway to suggest that the Russians committed themselves only to attack ISIS, and nobody else (when Russia never made any such undertaking). Lavrov is explicit: Russia is targeting ISIS and "other terrorist groups," as they had always "said they would do." Nonetheless, the info war campaign continues in order to put pressure on Russia, and to contain its military campaign. American officials have been on record saying that "moderates" turned out to be as rare as mythical unicorns amongst the Syrian armed opposition, and that only "four or five" were in the field now -- and yet suddenly it seems that there are all these "moderate CIA trainees" under attack now. In fact, there are no "moderate jihadists." The term is an oxymoron: there are only jihadists who are more -- or less -- close to ISIS or al Qaeda. It is a parsing of definitions that simply does not interest Russia.

Tom Friedman puts a somewhat different gloss on events from his well-briefed perspective: Let Putin and his allies have a go at defeating ISIS (and good luck to them). But when they fail, and find the Sunni world has turned against them, then they (the Russians) will need a ladder out of the tree, which only Washington will be able to lend, to help Putin recover from his strategic mistake. This is too reductive. Putin well understands the difference between traditional Sunni Islam in the Levant and the very recent blow-in of militant Gulf Wahhabism, which is at odds with this traditional Sunni Islam of Syria and Iraq. He knows, too, that many Sunnis still hold to the notion of citizenship within a secular, or non-sectarian state; and that Syria and Iraq are both inheritors to venerable, old civilizations (Greater Syria and Mesopotamia); each with their own political cultures and visions. The fight against contemporary orientations of Wahhabism has never been the reductive struggle between a Shia minority (the Alawites) and a Sunni majority; it is as much a struggle to preserve the Levantine tradition against a foreign (Gulf) culture, Wahhabism, floated into the region on a tide of petrodollars

Why should President Putin understand this cultural war better than Western leaders? It is because Orthodox Christianity (of Russia) never entertained the Western binary opposition between the Roman Christianity and Islam. Orthodox Christianity and traditional Sunni Islam share many attributes together, and have a history of close relations.

So what are the Russians doing? Firstly, they are running through a "bank" of "terrorist" targets assembled by Syrian, Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah intelligence services. It is unlikely that this phase will last long -- and then, the mode will smartly change. With the primary targets destroyed, the ground offensive will begin, led by the Syrian army (with direct support from Hezbollah, and with advice from Russian and Iranian officers). What will be different now, however, is that the ground forces will have the benefit of all-weather and nighttime air support, plus real-time imagery. Whilst Russian soldiers will not be directly involved in boots-on-the-ground operations in support of the Syrian army, Russian forces will be directly involved in securing a safe area around their air base near Latakia. To the extent that this keeps Latakia secure, it will as a byproduct, free up the Syrian army from the need to station troops there, thus making them available for other tasks. 

For now, the Russians seem (as evidenced by their airstrikes) to be intent firstly on eliminating any hostile threats adjacent to their forces in the area of Latakia (the Russian air base is located some 20 miles south of Latakia). This is standard military modus operandi. Their secondary and tertiary objectives seem to be to secure the M4 highway between Latakia and Aleppo (targeting pockets of insurgent forces adjacent to the highway), and in striking insurgent-held areas along the M5 highway.

There is nothing political behind such strikes -- in the sense of strengthening one insurgent group in opposition to any other. It seems, rather, very clear that the Russians are preparing for the subsequent ground sweep by the Syrian army: the Russian air force is securing lines of logistic support to the Syrian army, and concomitantly denying those same lines to the jihadists. It is, in short, all rather military -- and in line with what Russia says are its objectives.

So, why this flood tide of snide commentary, disinformation and claims of a covert, "underhand" Russian strategy? What is it that so irks the West? Well, of course, one part of it is that Putin has put Washington on the spot, and made the West's claims to have been fighting ISIS for the last year to appear hollow. But there may be more to it than this.

For the past few decades, NATO effectively made all the decisions about war and peace. It faced no opposition and no rival. Matters of war were effectively a solely internal debate within NATO -- about whether to proceed or not, and in what way. That was it. It didn't matter much about what others thought or did. Those on the receiving end simply had to endure it. But whilst its destructive powers were evident, its strategic benefits have been far from evident -- especially across the Middle East. 

What probably irks the West most is that Russia has unfolded -- and begun -- a sophisticated military campaign in the flash of an eye. NATO bumbles along much more slowly with its complicated structures. Iraqis have long complained that in military terms, assistance promised by the NATO powers takes (literally) years to materialize, whereas requests to Russia and Iran are expeditiously met. So Tom Friedman's condescension towards the Russian military intervention does have more than a whiff of orientalism to it.

But all the hoo-ha probably stems also from the sense that this Russian initiative could mark the coming into birth of something more serious -- of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a putative military alliance. Admittedly, the "4+1 alliance" -- Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq, plus Hezbollah -- is not branded as SCO (and the coalition partners do not overlap with SCO membership), but the 4+1 allianceventure might well yet prove to be a "pilot" in non-Western, successful coalition-operating. Furthermore, its objective is precisely to preempt NATO-style regime change projects -- a prime SCO concern. This prospect certainly would irk the Western security establishment -- and would potentially change many an existing NATO calculus.

Not surprisingly, then, it might be seen in some Western quarters as hugely important to set a narrative of failure for the 4+1 alliance, and to denigrate any sense that its military example might have strategic importance for the non-Western world.



Published in Tribune
Friday, 02 October 2015 01:57

Russian role in Syria still anyone's guess.

Russia's increased aid to Syria remains the center of attention among experts and the world media, where rumors of a possible "Russian intervention" have begun circulating. Russian officials deny them, calling them speculation, but they often give evasive answers on the subject. At the same time, Moscow has emphasized that on the Syrian conflict, it will keep operating on two parallel tracks: actively opposing terrorist groups — primarily the Islamic State  and continuing the political process toward a diplomatic solution to the conflict. 

The additional support has to be understood within the framework of the first track: President Vladimir Putin has been calling for a united front to fight terrorism. At a Sept. 22 press conference in Moscow, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein-Amir Abdollahian said Tehran welcomes the Russian president's proposal.

But what will happen next? Given the ambiguity of the current situation, one can only suggest a few hypothetical scenarios.

Scenario 1

Russia doesn’t directly engage in the conflict either by land or air and limits itself to providing military/technical aid and advice to Damascus, including the development of Russia's naval base on the west coast. This situation is quite plausible, but it is unlikely that IS could be defeated in this context.

Some Middle East analysts have opined that Russia’s main objective is to ensure the safety of a future Alawite state in western Syria in the event of the country’s partition, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawite religious minority. The authors of Middle East Briefing write that one of the inevitable consequences of Russian intervention would be precisely that: the partition of Syria. Allegedly, "There are several indications that Russia is deploying its forces along the lines believed to be separating areas of strategic interest to Iran and the Assad regime [the western coastal region] from the rest of Syria. These are the lines where suggested UN forces could deploy in the future."

I am convinced that Russia isn’t preparing for such a scenario and that it will instead make every effort to help preserve Syria as a unified state.

Scenario 2

At the request of the government in Damascus, Russia participates in hostilities against IS in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Army and volunteers from neighboring countries. There are two possibilities for implementing such a scenario. The first would be to launch rocket attacks and airstrikes with the direct participation of the Russian contingent in ground operations. This is unlikely, mainly because of the inevitable losses to the Russian military that would cause an extremely negative reaction among the Russian public. However, an analogy between this situation and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan that has been circulating in some regional media is inappropriate. In the Afghanistan situation, almost all states were against Moscow, while now many regional and global players have an interest in seeing Russia participate in the fight against IS.

The second possibility would be to launch rocket attacks and airstrikes on IS positions — and possibly those of other jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra — without boots on the ground, as the Americans say. In this case, only the Syrians and their regional allies would fight on the ground. This scenario is also rather risky, as it does not offer much chance of success. In both cases, at least some limited coordination with the forces of the US-led international coalition would be needed, at the bare minimum to prevent aerial vehicles from inadvertently colliding and to avoid accidentally striking each other’s positions. Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed this very topic during recent talks in Moscow.

Scenario 3

Russia joins the international coalition already operating in Syria. However, given the current state of relations between Russia and the United States — and the West in general  it is impossible to assume that Moscow would put its armed forces under US command (and Washington will never give up control). Besides, the US administration is unlikely to cooperate with Damascus unless we suggest the unthinkable, namely that Moscow would play the role of a bridge between them and facilitate the necessary level of cooperation. This scenario is totally unrealistic.

Scenario 4

Russia creates a parallel coalition to the current one composed of Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran, with the participation of volunteer troops from neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but without getting involved in ground operations. This scenario is plausible, but in this way a full victory against IS seems hardly possible.

Scenario 5

Russia forms a wider parallel coalition by joining forces with its main strategic ally, China. While this may sound like a fantasy, it would radically change the situation, and a whole set of circumstances speaks in its favor.

First, China has an interest in strengthening its presence in the region, not only in economic terms, as before, but also in the military and political sphere. Strong evidence for this idea is provided by the naval base Beijing is building on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, where China plans to accommodate nearly 10,000 Chinese soldiers. Likewise, it plans to post units of elite Chinese counterterrorism forces — the Snow Leopard Commando Unit  in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is already talk of their likely deployment in Syria. There is participation by 1,000 Chinese peacekeepers under the UN flag in Lebanon, another 1,000 in South Sudan and 500 in Mali. In Africa, it has long been rumored — yet never verified — that workers and employees on Chinese sites in several countries such as Sudan are in fact military personnel.

Second, there is Beijing’s growing concern about the threat posed by jihadist terror organizations, heightened after a Uighur terrorist group from China known as the Turkistan Islamic Party captured a Syrian air force base.

Third, there is the ever-growing military cooperation between Chinese and Russian armed forces on a bilateral basis and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In this context, we can point to a series of military exercises in the region of Inner Mongolia. It is said that plans for the next such drill already involve not only Russia, but also new SCO members India and Pakistan. They, too, are interested in destroying IS and its "franchise" strategy, under which more and more terrorist groups are rising around the world. Will it be possible to include India and Pakistan in the fight against IS in Syria? And what if the SCO also accepts Egypt, which already has experience in joint military exercises with Russia and China and is also extremely concerned about the terrorist threat? In any event, one has to acknowledge that despite the SCO’s slow and difficult evolution, there are signs it is transforming into an organization with the characteristics of a political and military alliance.

Of course, China will have to consider some constraints. It has close ties with energy suppliers in the local market, primarily Saudi Arabia, which won’t like such a scenario. China has a difficult yet working relationship of cooperation and interdependence with the United States — and the United States is already extremely annoyed at China’s rapidly growing international activism. At the same time, there may be other considerations. Christina Lin, former director for China policy at the US Department of Defense, wrote in a blog post for The Times of Israel, "China and SCO’s entry into the war against [IS] would be a welcomed step in Washington."

If this scenario is really implemented, it will dramatically strengthen "Coalition 2" and its chances for a convincing victory over IS and other terrorist groups. For now, Al-Monitor has no concrete data on any noticeable preparation to create such a broad coalition, but circumstantial evidence gathered from Chinese diplomatic circles leads us to believe that the ground is being tested, at least.

The intrigue about Russia’s true intentions in Syria will obviously continue, at least until Putin’s Sept. 28 speech at the UN General Assembly. As befits the Russian president’s style, there may be surprises. According to Russian military affairs journalist Vladimir Gundarov, "No one knows what objectives the Kremlin has set [for] itself. The intrigue has reached such a climax that US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has spoken with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu." Now everyone is expecting the start of negotiations between the military chiefs of the two countries, as suggested by the Kremlin.

Would a new anti-terrorism coalition — parallel to the existing one  operate with the participation of Russia? What would happen to the political process then, and how would relations between Russia and the "healthy Syrian opposition forces" develop?

Published by Al Monitor: 


Published in Tribune
Sunday, 20 September 2015 11:54

What exactly is Russia doing in Syria?

Russia's increasing supply of arms and instructors to Syria are among the most controversial issues in world media. But what is really going on?

Summary⎙ Print Moscow's stance on the Syrian conflict reveals an ever-complicated web of alliances, armament and regional plays, widening the diplomacy gap between the United States and Russia on Middle East policy. 

First, Moscow has never concealed that it provides military-technical assistance to Damascus. This is done in accordance with international law and almost exclusively in the framework of signed contracts, as Russian officials constantly emphasize. At the same time, in the past, Moscow did not deliver weapons that could cause serious complications in Damascus’ relations with its neighbors. For example, in the recent past, Russia scrapped plans to supply S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Syria after Israel strongly opposed the deal on the grounds that the systems could cover practically the whole Israeli territory.

Second, the issue of fighting against the Islamic State (IS) has come to the fore. The United States and a number of coalition allies are already bombing IS positions in Syria. It is well-known that Russia has been calling for the formation of a broad coalition with the participation of global and regional powers to wage war against this evil, which Russia regards as a direct threat to its national security. Suffice it to say that from one single area in the Volga region, which is famed for its tolerance, no fewer than 200 people have already left to fight on the side of IS. This is to say nothing of the North Caucasus. The task of forming such a broad coalition is still far from being fulfilled.

Third, the moderate Syrian opposition forces, which are leading the fight on two fronts, are much weaker than the terrorists and are losing ground. According to Russian experts, the opposition controls about 5% of Syria’s territory, while almost half of the country is in the hands of IS. Under these circumstances, assistance to Damascus is viewed exclusively in the context of its struggle with the jihadists.

While Moscow has been particularly vocal in recent months on national reconciliation and developing contacts with many groups in the Syrian opposition, it continues to believe that the Syrian government is an ally to those who are fighting against IS and considers this fight a priority. As a Russian official told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity, “We believe that we aren’t helping President [Bashar al-] Assad as such, but the Syrian state, whose legitimate government sits in Damascus.”

According to reports, deliveries of arms and equipment from Russia to Syria have indeed increased. Some Russian media, citing conflict expert Yuri Lyamin — who blogs at imp-navigator — revealed a rise in the number of ships passing through the Black Sea straits in August and September. Lyamin speaks of the landing ships Novocherkassk, Azov, Karolev, Caesar Kunikov, Nikolay Filchenkov, as well as — for the first time — civilian ferry Alexander Tkachenko. Weapons, equipment, ammunition and supplies were delivered; trainers and advisers were dispatched.

Particular attention is being paid to the delivery of six supersonic interceptor MiG-31 fighter jets to Syria, in partial fulfillment of a 2007 contract, according to a Turkish news agency. It is clear that, due to their characteristics, these planes cannot be used to combat IS and are instead solely intended to protect the country’s airspace in view of potential external threats. These aircraft are able to control a frontline of 800-900 kilometers (497-559 miles).

Unsurprisingly, these reports are generating a flurry of rumors about Moscow’s direct involvement in the armed confrontation with Islamist extremists in Syria, something the Kremlin denies. When a reporter at the East Economic Forum, held Sept. 4 on Russky Island, asked whether Russia is ready to fight in the Middle East, President Vladimir Putin answered that it would be premature to address the subject: “We are considering various options, but what you mentioned is not on the agenda.”

These assurances, however, have failed to allay the concerns of the West, including the United States, as Secretary of State John Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a telephone conversation Sept. 5. According to the anonymous source, one may wonder why Western air forces are allowed to strike IS positions inside Syria, while the Syrian air force — equipped with Russian weaponry — isn’t. At the same time, Russian public opinion is clearly against the direct participation of Russian troops in combat operations in the Middle East.

Russia, however, also delivers a large amount of humanitarian aid to Syria. Bulgaria’s decision to close its airspace Sept. 1-24 to Russian aircraft carrying humanitarian aid drew a negative reaction in Moscow. To reach Syria there are other air corridors, though it appears Greece granted a US request to cancel overflight permits for Russian airplanes bound for Syria. Russia has demanded an explanation from the authorities of these countries, and efforts to close down an air corridor between Russia and Syria — which journalists call the “Syria express” — are unlikely to succeed.

Another hot topic being discussed in the world media is the potential establishment of a full-fledged Russian naval base in Syria, in addition to the Russian navy’s logistic support station in Tartus, where a total of 50 people serve. Citing a source in the military-diplomatic field, the Sept. 3 issue of the Russian newspaper Argumenty Nedeli reported the possibility that Russia could install such a base in the coastal town of Jableh — which has a population of 80,000 people — near Latakia, “for the benefit of the navy, air force and special operations forces.”

For some analysts this is totally unrealistic. Nevertheless, the newspaper hypothetically broached the possible deployment at this base (were it to be built) of Pantsir S1 and Bastion missiles, Buk-M and even S-300PMU2 air-defense systems, which — provided the Syrian interceptor fighter jets were also deployed there — could foil any plan to enforce a no-fly zone.

One shouldn’t link Moscow’s plans to continue providing assistance to Damascus to Tehran’s plans. Iran is pursuing its independent policy toward the Syrian crisis, guided by its own national interests. Russia is doing the same, while also taking into account its developing relations with the Arab Gulf states. But could it be that the scale of the fight against IS in Syria will expand without the creation of a broad coalition of regional and global players, and even the necessary coordination — a fact that can only hinder success in this struggle?

Other questions are in order: How will the unfolding new round of confrontations affect prospects for a Syrian peace process? Will the intensified war of external actors — Western states and some regional countries — with IS and other terrorist groups stall progress toward implementing the provisions of the Geneva communique issued June 30, 2012, to end the civil war? The fact that lately Russia has dramatically broadened diplomatic contacts with various opposition groups, as well as meeting with Syrian officials, Western and Arab statesmen and diplomats, confirms Moscow has an interest in finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. On this basis, it supported the plan of international mediator Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations’ special envoy for the Syria crisis. Will he be able to stop the bloodshed in Syria?


Published in Tribune

Russia is decidedly stepping up its Middle East policy, as evidenced, for example, by the number of visits to Moscow already held or planned for this year by heads of Arab states. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, are expected to visit Russia before the end of 2015. Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s upcoming visit to Moscow this year is of particular importance, as it indicates Riyadh’s serious intention to improve relations with Russia. As is widely known, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted the Saudi king’s invitation to visit Riyadh.

An impressive number of leaders of various Syrian opposition groups also visited Moscow this month. The consultations did not reveal any fundamental change in the Kremlin’s Syria policy, but they did reveal the willingness of Russian diplomacy to have more frequent contact with the opposition.

Some basic features stand out in Russia’s policy toward the Syrian crisis. The first is a commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism, with the Islamic State (IS) as a top priority. Putin has called for creation of a broad international coalition to combat this scourge, starting from the premise that Damascus must be a member of this coalition, as it is already engaged in a war with IS. In this regard, there are obvious differences between Moscow’s approach, on the one hand, and on the other, that of the Syrian opposition and influential regional and global players.

The second feature is seeking a settlement of the Syrian crisis through peaceful, diplomatic means. Commitment to this principle unites Russia and the vast majority of its partners, though disagreements over its interpretation remain. A key question concerns establishing a transitional governing body in accordance with the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012.

Russia has backed the plan of Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, which envisages an international contact group as well as four intra-Syrian working groups. The plan should be implemented as soon as possible, given the catastrophic humanitarian situation on the ground and the growing military potential of IS and other terrorist groups. However, according to sources from the diplomatic community, Washington intends to delay the creation of a contact group until October, when the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program will be definitively settled.

Unlike a number of its partners, Russia believes that only the Syrians can resolve the question of who should govern them and how, and categorically rejects any form of external interference in Syria, particularly in the form of military intervention.

Russian analysts believe Turkey’s plan to create a so-called security zone in northern Syria is unlikely to be implemented without direct Turkish intervention that could lead to a de facto Turkish-Kurdish war, as well as cause the unanimous condemnation of Arab governments. Many of those governments already consider the Turkish strikes on the territory of Iraq and Syria as a violation of the sovereignty of these two states.

Recently, however, some articles in Russian and foreign media raise the possibility that Russian commandos may be sent to Syria to evacuate Russian personnel, or to safeguard the technical maintenance unit of the Russian ships in Tartus and protect Russian arms supplies. The origin of those stories was a statement by the commander of the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV), Col. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, who told reporters Aug. 4 that the VDV “are ready to assist Syria in countering terrorists, if such a task is set by Russia’s leaders,” provided the relevant UN Security Council mandate has been given. Ruslan Gorevoy, a journalist from the Russian newspaper Nasha Versiya, even claims — very provocatively and without basis — that “the decision to send military assistance to Syria has already been taken” and “in September a ‘limited contingent’ of the Russian army may be in Damascus.” For now, this is only the fervent (if not sick) imagination of that author speaking.

Let us return to the recent talks between Russian diplomats and some groups of the Syrian opposition, which this writer attended. On Aug. 14, after the discussions, the head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, Khaled Khoja, stated, “Moscow is no longer committed to supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unconditionally, and emphasizes the need to preserve the territorial integrity of the country.” This is both true and untrue. True, because Russia does not support individual leaders, but the states they lead. Untrue, because Russia strongly disagrees with the argument put forward by the opponents of Damascus that the Syrian leader has lost his legitimacy.

Moscow is well aware that a very large segment of the Syrian population continues to support not only the regime per se, but also its leader, though the number of his opponents is also large.

One can agree with the leader of the opposition coalition, however, that the Russian position is characterized by “flexibility and understanding.” And it is this that makes it possible for Moscow to continue contacts with all opposition groups except for those designated as terrorist. It can be assumed that Russian diplomacy will persevere in its efforts to consolidate the opposition on a moderate and negotiation-oriented platform.

It is true, though, as Russian media commented on Khoja’s statements after talks in Moscow, that the National Coalition has no plans to participate in the Moscow-supervised intra-Syrian dialogue, since Russia “wants to reach a compromise between the opposition and Assad to form a coalition against terrorism.”

Likewise, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it has urged Khoja to take an active part in developing “a constructive collective platform to begin dialogue with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Mutual understanding between Moscow and opposition groups such as the National Coalition will continue to be hindered by the fact that these groups equate IS and government forces. Still, there is some cause for optimism in that this opposition, like Russia and most global and regional actors, aims at preserving all state institutions in Syria, including the army, under any reform of the country.

Moscow believes a transitional governing body should be decided by consensus during inclusive negotiations among Syrians themselves. At the same time, Russian experts would like to see greater clarity in the strategy of the Syrian opposition in relation to the transition process. This applies, for example, to the issue of the future character of the Syrian state, which is a point of contention with leaders of the Kurdish groups. Compromise formulas like “democratic decentralization” or “pluralistic decentralization” look quite convincing, but they also elicit circumspection from the supporters of a centralized unitary state as well as all Arab nationalists. Still, it is clear to them that serious guarantees for the rights of all minorities in Syria are an essential element of any settlement.

One provision in the platform of the National Coalition and a number of other opposition groups that raises questions among Russian experts is the issue of so-called “transitional justice.” In this regard, it is feared that this principle could become an excuse to exact revenge against those whom the opposition wants to convince to share, or completely relinquish power. According to many analysts, the examples of South Africa, Cambodia and other countries — those which have experienced post-conflict transition while using the tool of amnesty and refusing to take revenge — look quite appealing.


The article was initially published in Al Monitor:


Published in Tribune

Washington and Moscow have been recently trying to find common ground in resolving the Syrian crisis. Attempts have been made via phone calls between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, as well as through diplomatic contacts and expert consultations. The two sides have been assessing each other’s positions, limits and flexibility to make concessions.

Following these efforts, Obama decided to authorize air protection for U.S.-trained Syrian rebels fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by bombing any force that attacks them, including the Syrian army.

Washington is thereby pressing Moscow and Damascus, and showing them how far it is ready to go to achieve a transition in Syria, as it had previously been reluctant to involve U.S. military forces.

The decision to form an international coalition to hit ISIS in Iraq and Syria has caused much anxiety in Damascus and Moscow, as they expected Washington to use this opportunity to target the Syrian army.

By authorizing the protection of rebel forces, Washington is constricting the corridor for negotiations. Remarkably, this decision was announced just before the trilateral meeting in Doha of Russian, American and Saudi officials, whose agenda included Syria.  

Little hope of political transition

Moscow and Washington understand the importance of the transition of power in Syria. In Doha, they renewed their call for a managed political transition. The difference between Washington and Moscow is in the perception of when it should be done. Russia considers the highest priority now to be the fight against ISIS, in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a partner.

However, in a strategy that has not yet produced anything positive, Washington is trying to solve the Syrian internal problem and fight ISIS simultaneously. The problem is that the Syrian army is still one of the forces on the ground containing the spread of ISIS. Without the army, ISIS could spread further and take Damascus.

There is currently little hope for an adequate political transition, with more than 4 million Syrians as refugees, and disagreement over the mechanisms behind such a transition and the figures to be included.

Another problem is that Russia’s influence on the Syrian regime is highly overestimated. Assad is not an easy counterpart to press and to push, and will not leave his post in the near future. By threatening to hit his army if it attacks U.S.-trained rebels, Washington is trying to convince him otherwise.

As U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers, only 60 recruits have passed their training. Already half the $500 million budget has reportedly been spent. Washington expects to have 3,000 recruits by the end of the year, so it is easy to see how high expenses will rise. Taking into account the estimated size of ISIS – between 20,000 and 200,000 militants – the number of trained rebels is a drop in the ocean.

By authorizing the protection of rebel forces, Washington is constricting the corridor for negotiations. 

Maria Dubovikova

With air protection, they will hardly ever be involved in fighting as any battle will be prevented by massive U.S. airstrikes. Another problem is that if they are trained like the post-Saddam Iraqi army was, they will be virtually useless.

Thus announcing air protection for rebels is mostly a pretext for intervening in the Syrian crisis and sending a strong message to Damascus and Moscow. The possibility of a transition of power in Syria remains a distant prospect.


Published in Tribune

The well-known recent gains by jihadists in Syria and Iraq, both in the military and the political spheres, have become an issue of serious concern for the Russian leadership. Unlike the West and many regional partners in the fight against terrorism, Russia continues to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — possibly to an even greater extent than before — as an important ally in this struggle, and one who is almost single-handedly leading the fight. This is not the main point of contention, however. If those who refuse to cooperate with the government in Damascus on this basis believe that the jihadist wave will subside with Assad’s departure, in Moscow they are convinced that this will mean victory for Islamist radicals who will come to power in Damascus and then expand.

Summary⎙ Print Moscow continues to see the Syrian president as an important ally in the struggle against extremists, and its support for an inclusive national dialogue prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry to host two inter-Syrian consultative meetings that appear to have played a positive role. 
Author Vitaly NaumkinPosted June 3, 2015 
TranslatorFranco Galdini

As is known, Moscow’s support for an inclusive national dialogue as the only possible way out of the Syrian crisis prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry to hold two inter-Syrian consultative meetings this year in the Russian capital with the participation of a number of opposition and civil society groups, as well as a delegation of the Syrian government, in which I acted as a moderator. These meetings appear to have played a positive role, if only because the conflicting parties listened to one another for a few days. They reaffirmed their commitment to exclusively political and peaceful means to resolve the crisis, to the principles of the Geneva Protocol dated June 30, 2012, and to the need for a Geneva III conference. They even managed to (almost) agree on a number of very sensitive issues and that in the next phase of consultations, they would begin discussing the most difficult problem, namely a transitional governance system for the country. Intransigence on a number of the most pressing challenges interrupted the dialogue and prevented progress, however.

In the course of the second meeting, held April 6-9, representatives of the opposition forces worked to develop a joint document to submit to the government delegation, but differences continued to divide them regarding the current situation (for instance, the withdrawal of foreign fighters and militias from the country) and the future of Syria (for example, whether the country will be a unitary or a decentralized federal state). The document produced at the "Moscow platform," which consisted of 10 principles, was initially agreed upon by all parties, only to be subsequently disavowed by a number of them, who were dissatisfied with the obstinacy of the official delegation. Still, the meeting was a unique achievement that no other intermediary country can afford to hold in such a format, namely with the participation of Damascus. Some of the Syrian opposition representatives also sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the need to convene a Geneva III conference.

After the second meeting, the question arose as to whether it would be worth continuing meeting in the same format. There is no answer to this question yet, but it is possible that new initiatives are needed, and in Moscow they are currently pondering this. Russia continues to have influence on the conflicting parties and encourage them to search for compromises. In this context, Moscow is looking closely at the efforts of the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who on May 5 began in Geneva a six-week round of meetings with representatives of various Syrian groups and the Syrian government with the aim of then developing a road map for a political settlement in Syria.

After a meeting with the special envoy, Moscow-based Qadri Jamil — secretary of the People’s Will Party and a member of the leadership of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation — declared, "The positions of the parties are well known and further consultations will yield no results unless practical steps are taken to start implementing the commitments of Geneva I, held in 2012." The opposition member believes that there is now a need to make the warring parties fulfill the Geneva Protocol, as "appeals are no longer sufficient and the talks will not give any result." The diplomatic corps in the Russian capital are only trying to guess whether and to what extent Jamil’s words reflect Moscow’s official position.

Without waiting for a decision by the Kremlin on whether a Moscow III is necessary, a group of opposition members — led by Paris-based Randa Qassis, chairwoman of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society — seized the initiative to hold consultation meetings (leading some Russian analysts to suggest that French government agencies are behind this idea). They appealed to Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to organize such an event in Astana. Moscow has never sought to monopolize the role of mediator and reacted favorably to this initiative and others — including meetings in Cairo — aimed at ending the violence in the country. The Syrian government, however, has not expressed interest in participating in the meeting in Astana, which took place May 25-27. The majority of the 27 participants representing several opposition groups also managed to agree on a document of principles to solve the crisis.

Two of those principles are especially significant. The first is the decentralization of Syria, as well as granting the Kurds and the Assyrians the right to "defend their territory against any form of terrorism." The experience of the negotiations in the "Moscow platform" indicates that this idea met with sharp opposition from Arab nationalists in both the government and part of the opposition. And the Kurds, while speaking of Syria's unity, are very unlikely to renounce their already de facto autonomy in the country’s northeast.

The second is the withdrawal of all foreign fighters. If we return again to the experience of the "Moscow platform," I highlight that this statement caused heated debate among the participants. Both representatives of the government in Damascus and a whole range of opposition groups are categorically opposed to equating Hezbollah’s units with foreign jihadists. The reason is that without the help of the Lebanese Shiite militia, the country could have already fallen victim to the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra. In addition, Hezbollah fighters were invited by the legitimate government and if — purely hypothetically — their units leave the country in an organized fashion on orders from Beirut, there is no such force that would be able to compel all foreign jihadists to exit Syria.

It is not surprising that not all participants in Astana agreed to sign such a document, with six of them writing a separate statement. It is unclear whether the Kazakh government intends to convene Astana II.

As for Moscow, the rising number of extremists traveling to fight in Syria — both from within Russia and from Central Asia — is a subject of growing concern. In this context, the high-profile case of Col. Gulmurod Halimov — the commander of the Tajik elite paramilitary police unit who fled Dushanbe along with a dozen of his subordinates to join IS — was an unpleasant surprise for both the Central Asian governments and Russia. 

Not only has the commander, who clearly has no lack of charisma and has been trained in Russia and the United States, joined the ranks of the jihadists, but he has also addressed his compatriots with an appeal to come to wage jihad in a video on the Tajikistan Live web portal. Many Russian analysts fear that the colonel-turned-jihadist’s appeal can attract, in particular, some of the migrant workers from Tajikistan in Russia, whose total number exceeds 1.2 million. They can either join the 4,000 Central Asian nationals already fighting in Syria for IS, or enter the so-called sleeper cells that IS is establishing in the territory of many countries. I was told about the existence of such cells by a former IS member in Syria who spoke on condition of anonymity. As suggested by Russian analyst Arkady Dubnov, people could be drawn by the criticism leveled at Dushanbe for prohibiting Muslims "to fully celebrate their ceremonies, as well as for closing down mosques" and persecuting the legitimate Islamic Renaissance Party, which "is an alternative to radical Islamic groups."

It is easy to assume that all of this was discussed during a recent meeting between President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Sochi. Kerry stressed that Syria will not return to peace until there is a political transfer of power. Russia and the United States agreed to continue their dialogue to find a settlement for Syria in the coming weeks. Assessing the outcome of the meeting May 29, US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel said that the interests of Moscow and Washington may overlap when it comes to the situation in Yemen, Libya, Syria and the agreement with Iran.

Russia is ready to develop cooperation with the West and the countries of the region in the fight against terrorism. Speaking May 31 on the program "At the heart of events" on Russian TV channel TVC, Lavrov stated that for this cooperation to work, it requires, first of all, "developing a strategy based on a fair joint assessment under the auspices of the Security Council," and second, "adopting resolutions that will legitimize the actions to be taken to combat this threat," be it IS, Jabhat al-Nusra or any other group.

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Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 22:32

ISIS takes its fight to Russia’s backyard

More and more terrorist groups swear allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the international attempts to bring down ISIS seem in vain.

The strongest extremist organization gains the terrain, both on the ground of Syria and Iraq and in the minds of people far from the Syrian and Iraqi borders. ISIS challenges the Security Services all over the world, as the way it spreads is extremely difficult to be cut and controlled.

ISIS spreads primarily through the Internet, using it as a sophisticated instrument of propaganda, recruiting and expanding, along with personal contacts of its recruiters. Spreading over the net, they create cells as metastases, far from the Syrian and Iraqi borders – in Nigeria, in Libya, in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Algeria, in Tunisia and others. The list is already long and is becoming longer.

The alarming message has come from a Russian senior security official after a session of the SCO’s regional anti-terror body, saying that some warlords of the prohibited Emirate of Caucasus have pledged their allegiance to ISIS. This trend challenges not only Russia, over 1700 citizens of which have joined ISIS, and who fight in Syria and Iraq (this figure is an estimate, the real numbers could be higher still), but for the whole Caucasus region and the neighbouring countries.

To read the whole article:

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 12 April 2015 19:47

Iran in Yemen?

US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently Iran is “obviously” aiding the Houthi uprising in Yemen. According to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, "Iran provides financial support for the Houthis and helps them in building weapon factories and providing them with weapons.”[1] "There are 5,000 Iranians, Hezbollah and Iraqi militia on the ground in Yemen," an unnamed diplomatic official in the Gulf is reported as saying.[2] The Editor-in-Chief of the Arab Times of Kuwait calls the Houthis Iran’s “dummy”[3] and “tools” of Iran and Hezbollah.[4] In Britain, “The Telegraph” writes of “the Iranian-backed takeover of Northern Yemen”[5]

Sergei Serebrov, of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, noted that the Telegraph’s claim would be unarguably true had it been followed by the qualification “11 centuries ago.”[6] And he is far from the only observer skeptical that Iran stands behind the Houthi eruption in Yemen. Wikileaks documents analyzed on the Al-Bab website indicate the US was not convinced by the Yemeni government’s repeated claims of Iranian involvement in a series of conflicts with the Houthis over the last decade[7] — claims made by the regime of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is now allied with the Houthis (and who in 2011 found refuge in Saudi Arabia, the country now assaulting his forces from the skies). The US Embassy in Yemen, according to a leaked 2009 memo, was more concerned with the interference of Saudi Arabia and other gulf states, which it feared might make Iranian alleged involvement a self-fulfilling prophecy:


… we can think of few ways to more effectively encourage Iranian meddling in the Houthi rebellion than to have all of Yemen's Sunni neighbors line up to finance and outfit Ali Abdullah Saleh's self-described ‘Operation Scorched Earth’ against his country's Shia minority.[8]


Now, with a fragile Iran-US détente underway and sanctions a step closer to ending, Iran would be risking much more by stepping into the Yemen imbroglio than it would have in 2009. Why unnecessarily antagonize the US and jeopardize the longed-for sanctions breakout for a prize of such questionable practical value? Or for that matter, why antagonize Saudi Arabia? While it’s a widely accepted truth that Iran will get up to any mischief it possibly can against the Saudis, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made a point of calling for a mending of relations with the Kingdom soon after his election. The US National Intelligence’s annual security assessment in February also noted that Iran was still seeking to “deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”[9]

Iranian involvement in Syria and Lebanon is already a serious drain on the limited resources of an economy shackled by sanctions. From the Iranian security perspective, those countries are strategically crucial, a buffer between itself and Israel. Not only is Yemen not a buffer against a perceived threat, but its devastating poverty makes it an expensive proposition. A Houthi government under Iranian auspices would require massive financial support. What would be the motive? To reestablish the Persian Empire, the rationale repeatedly put forth the Saleh administration for alleged Iranian meddling in Yemen, according to Wikileaks? Rhetoric aside, behind the scenes the Americans were not convinced.

The smart play for Iran at this critical juncture is not to rock the boat unnecessarily, which corresponds to its official line: a denial that it provides military support to the Houthis coupled with vociferous condemnations of the bombing campaign and calls for all the warring parties to come to the negotiating table.

Whatever external factors are exacerbating the conflict in Yemen, the main spark is internal, and as related to the country’s economic problems as it is to the much-trumpeted Shia-Sunni conflict. Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries, with 50% of the population below the poverty level, despite potentially lucrative fishing and some oil. The recent Saudi withholding of funds from a promised bailout package and the sabotage of oil pipelines and electricity infrastructure in the Mareb Province of Yemen have only compounded economic woes. When President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government abolished energy subsidies last summer, causing a spike in the price of gasoline, the result was protests in the streets with the army called in to put them down. Social unrest is common, and the populace has arms and knows how to use them – some say guns far outnumber people in Yemen. Even in peaceful times, Sana’a has the feel of a Wild West town: men strolling the streets or sitting in cafes with their “ali” (AK-47) and pickups zooming by with mounted chain machine guns.

Yet Sana’a was taken by the Houthis without much of a fight. That and their dramatic advance to Aden owes much to a formidable domestic ally, former Yemeni president Saleh, ousted in Yemen’s “Arab Spring” but still commanding a great deal of loyalty in the government and military. He is a wily political survivor who has switched sides more than once in the past, this time making an advantageous alliance with his former foes. It was Saleh’s regime killed Al-Houthi, founder of the movement.

Trade and economic ties between Iran and Yemen were weak under former president Saleh; and under President Hadi they had been all but shut down. But with Hadi fleeing to Aden and the Houthis essentially taking control of the government in February, preliminary agreements were signed between Yemen and Iran on reconstructing the port of Al Hudaydah on the Red Sea and establishing regular direct Iran-Yemen passenger flights. And no wonder, with all other outside funding cut off or on hold. Apparently, the prospect of this deal too much for the Saudis and their allies. Accusations followed immediately that the flights were for military supplies from Iran, and soon after that, the bombs began coming down.

The Zaydiyyah Shia branch in Yemen, to whom the Houthis belong, differs in many ways from the Ja’fari Islam of Iran, and is similar in many ways to Sunni Islam. The two Shia schools do, however, share the concept of the Imamate, as distinct from the Sunni; and ideological resonance seems to have been increasing in recent decades. The Zaydi imamate ruled from 897 to 1962, its territory expanding and contracting, but the heartland always remaining in the mountainous northwest of Yemen, where the Houthis are now based. Like the Zaydis, Ja’faris and all Shia sects, the Houthis come into being as a force of opposition to the powers that be, in the 1990s. The founder of the Houthi movement, also known as “Ansar Allah,” was Said Hossein Al-Houthi, a Yemeni parliamentarian of aristocratic heritage and a religious education from Sa’ada, that same mountainous Zaydi heartland in the north of Yemen, bordering on Saudi Arabia. His family enjoys great respect among the tribes there, and in Yemen, tribal alliances are everything. Al-Houthi came into conflict with former president Saleh in the early 2000s. In addition to defending the interests and culture of the Zaydi minority against what he saw as an encroaching Salafi presence backed by Saleh, Al-Houthi decried Yemen’s alliance with and reliance on the US and Saudi Arabia. After increasingly tense clashes with the government, he was killed in 2004. His brothers, primarily Abdul Malik, now lead the movement, which has also made battling corruption a centerpiece of its rhetoric. Despite the Houthis’ “Death to America” chants and placards, some Yemenis’ believe that the Americans may not have been opposed, at least early on, to the Houthis’ growing power as a counterbalance to the greater evil of Al-Qaeda and other extremist Sunni groups in Yemen. Just to further muddy the waters….









[8] ibid.


Published in Tribune

The second round of the intra-Syrian talks started this Monday in Moscow. The first round took place in January and according to the press conferences that followed that four-day meeting, it left rather positive impressions and gave some hope that change was afoot.

However, the limited nature of the Syrian opposition representation during the talks, both during Moscow-I (January, 2015) and Moscow-II (April, 2015), doesn’t give us hope for a true breakthrough. Furthermore, no concrete results and agreements should be expected from these talks, as the main aim of the Moscow talks is not to find a solution but to make the sides talk and to lay the ground for the internal, intra-Syrian negotiations to bear fruit on home ground in the future.

The current negotiations are also moderated by the famous, internationally respected, Russian orientalist Vitaly Naumkin, who successfully performed as a moderator during the January session of the talks. The current meeting unites the official Damascus representatives and the Syrian opposition representatives together around the negotiation table. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) won’t attend the new round of talks, thus they are continuing to ignore Moscow’s initiative.

To read the whole article: 

Published in Tribune


We will start by re-establishing relations on a consular level or with a charge d'affaires. <...> They will be restored in a progressive manner. <...> We do not believe that our interests are served by cutting off relations with Syria. <...> We will not have an ambassador there, but Tunisia will open a consulate or put in place a charge d'affaires, and a Syria ambassador is welcome to Tunisia, if Syria wishes so. 

– Taieb Baccouche, Tunisia's Foreign Minister


The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame.<...> Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake

– Chris Gunness, U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman 

We won't get to a political transition without slowly giving and taking. 

– Randa Kassis, President of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society  

We'll see what the government delegation comes up with, including on the humanitarian front, but I am not hopeful for anything special. It'll be more of a continuation of dialogue at best.

– Anonymous Syrian opposition representative



Medical supplies need to be here yesterday. The situation is difficult.<...> We need to save the lives that can be saved.

– Marie-Claire Feghali, a spokeswoman for the ICRC

For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days.

– Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC's operations in the Near and Middle East

All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide.

– The ICRC statement

There is little point in putting an embargo on the whole country. It doesn’t make sense to punish everybody else for the behavior of one party that has been the aggressor in this situation.

– Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s representative to the UN 

We still stand by our position on dialogue and we demand its continuation despite everything that has happened, on the basis of respect and acknowledging the other. <...> We have no conditions except a halt to the aggression and sitting on the dialogue table within a specific time period <...> and any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people can oversee the dialogue.

– Saleh Ali al-Sammad, senior political figure of the Houthi movement.

We got to this position because the Houthis, over and over again, violated cease-fires, took military action, took action by force instead of engaging in a genuine way in political talks. <...> The only way out of this crisis is through a return to genuine political talks on an equal basis, and not using force.

– Peter Wilson, Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador

Throughout the Yemeni national dialogue, which lasted a year during which I served as a rapporteur on the military committee, the Houthis tried to convince us in the south that we were victims of injustice within the framework of unification. Yet now they come to us as belligerent occupiers.

General Nasser Al-Tawil, spokesman for the Retired Servicemen’s Front in Aden



A better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure, and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terror worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel. That’s a better deal. It’s achievable.

– Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister

Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

– Barak Obama, United States President 

Iran needs cash and will not agree to hold back as part of an OPEC [oil] supply–reduction deal. <...> While a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program will open up the country's energy sector for investment and eventually lead not only to a restoration of the 1 million barrels of daily output lost since sanctions were tightened against Tehran, but will also lead to a longer-term rise in both oil and gas output. 

– Chris Weafer, the founding partner of Macro Advisory

If the (final) agreement is signed in June, Russia will be the loser. Now, Iran will be more inclined toward the West. For Russia, that’s a problem.

–  Alexey Malashenko, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center 

Moscow looks at its role in the Iran talks not so much in its own terms but in how it can play into issues of more central interest to itself. <...> The West is forced to recognize Moscow's status as a global power; Iran can feel it has been a good ally; and other current or potential Russian allies can be reassured.

– Mark Galeotti, Professor of global affairs at New York University


Tweets of the week

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