Russia/Iran/Syria politics: Quick View – Putin steps up efforts for Syrian peace deal

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
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Russia, Iran, Syria


In late November the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, held consultations with political leaders from Iran, Turkey, Syria and the US in an effort to build momentum for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict.


On November 20th Mr Putin received the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. In a statement issued the following day, Mr Putin said that now that military operations in Syria were nearing a conclusion, it was time to focus on a political solution to the conflict. Mr Assad has consistently stated his desire to retake all of Syria. Yet, with great swathes of the country still controlled by various rebel forces, the goal of reasserting complete control remains unlikely. Moreover, his reliance on Russian and Iranian military and financial support leaves him unable to continue the war without the backing of at least one of those countries. As such, pressure from Mr Putin will probably persuade Mr Assad to engage in talks with a wide range of opposition forces in coming months. From Mr Putin's perspective, co-ordinating these talks will reassert and cement Russia's role as a global superpower.

Nevertheless, three issues are likely to weigh on Russian efforts to secure a lasting peace agreement. First, Iranian aims are increasingly diverging from those of Russia. The Islamic Republic is focused on cementing control of a safe land passage from Iran to Lebanon (through Iraq and Syria) to have a direct route to the Lebanese Hizbullah militia that it backs, and on constructing permanent military facilities in Syria. The construction of such facilities would result in a pick-up in airstrikes from Israel, which feels threatened by the presence of Iranian-backed forces on its border.

Second, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remains resistant to Kurdish autonomy being secured in Syria-particularly given that he is counting on anti-Kurdish Turkish nationalist sentiment to secure victory in the 2019 presidential election-meaning that crossborder raids and air strikes from Turkey will continue.

Third, a rebel group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, retains control over much of Idlib province but its links with terrorist group al-Qaida mean that world powers are unlikely to include it in any peace talks, making further conflict in Idlib almost certain.

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