By: Hamidreza Gholamzadeh

Russia maintaining its role in Middle East

October 9, 2016

In first part of roundtable, the two experts discussed the situation in president-less Lebanon and the scope of talks extended to Syria and Middle East. In second part, more attention is given to role of Russia in the Middle East region.

Grabowski: The situation in Syria is a kind of trap, basically for whole ME, not only because it is difficult to find a good solution, which will be satisfying or engages all states into this conflict; first of all, there are too many sides to the conflict; that is why it is difficult to find solutions to the crisis; compare Syria to Iraq in some form or another, the conclusion will be that Syria should find its way to get its sovereignty, there should not be interference from outside. This is the first condition to solve the conflict in Syria. The second condition is the answer to this question that should Bashar al-Assad stay in power or step down. Some countries support his reign, but some others actively oppose his rule. This is also a conflict by itself which needs solution. If we take a look at Iraq, you will find that Iraqi way out of the conflict crossed the authority and the decision sovereign nations decided for Iraq. The same sovereign nations are at play and should do the same job in Syria. If Syria fights a proxy war for other states, the conflict will be difficult to solve. In the level of analysis, some observers believe the conflict could be solved by power, but with a sort of cooperation, and an avoidance of rivalry and influence over Syria, namely, between Russian and the US. The third condition is stabilize the situation, which will be the most difficult stage in conflict solution, since there will be a process of state-building, where we have still a long way and are in the beginning of the process.

Can the solution be sought somewhere outside Syria, as you said, if Syria was fighting a proxy war on behalf of others, [I believe] not only in Syria, but in Yemen and elsewhere in the ME. In 2003, we did not have many players in the region, only Iran was a player as neighbor for its mere interests. Neither other players which are now active in Syrian crisis were present in Iraq then. In Syria, many players are in the frontlines, Iran, Russia, and even China, who are supporting Assad government, and we have the US, Turkey, and other Arab states. My first question is if you agree that as some believe, that during this recent ceasefire US could not convince the group that it supported to abide by the ceasefire and the reason they believed was that Turkey and Arabs were not buying what they did not agree with the deal US were dictating to them in Syria. I want to know if you agree with this idea that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as the main players, are not any more just followers of the US policy in the region or at least in Syria and if so how can it be solved outside Syria, I mean how Iran and Saudi Arabia, or Iran and Turkey or Russia and Qatar for example can solve it out of Syria to make it actually possible inside Syria?

Ożarowski: We had an example about this agreement and ceasefire you mentioned that there is a capability together and to reach agreement. According to me, there is the only solution even not now but even in the future that to stop war in Syria and to convince by the way all the parties fighting with each other and the best way to do this it is to reach an agreement by external players. I do not believe that Syrian parties can come to terms together with no any external help for support, it is first. Second, I think it till now and probably in the future the biggest players are US and Russia, then the second role is for Turkey and Saudi Arabia. According to me, these two states because of their military capabilities and the military support to the parties which was given by these two states.

The extension of military support does decide that these two powers can only be able to work out some positive solutions. I think that till now we can regard this ASIS fire agreement as kind of start of a positive fair solution because there was no chance for something more advanced till now and normally we need if you want to solve the work crisis we need to stop with ceasefire then we can proceed to some kind of an agreements step by step to reach the most wise agreement at the end.

And the obstacles by the way, just basically it is the violation of the agreements which can happen in any time, lucky to us after the agreement which was declared in February this year. This agreement was violated many times and that’s why they needed to come to terms once again and I think it's much more by the way regarding these two powers Russia and US, is much more complicated, because we need to take into consideration the presidential elections in the US. They will not do enough things like I think special now this moment, they will not take any advanced steps regarding Syria before the elections. It is normal for the US policy trying to be quite just before one of the main political events in the political system.

And actually from looking at the Russian side we see that Russians have bad economic conditions dealing with sanctions which are imposed after the Ukraine crisis. And I think that even if we don’t know this officially there must have talks about this issues in official way together, and then this agreement can be also regarded as some kind of an agreement between Russia and US just in order to decrease the tensions and just to calm down a little bit before elections and then instead US could have promised probably to Russia that they can also decrease their imposing policies on Russia so I think it can look like that because I can come to the beginning of my speech this moment, what I said at the beginning of my speech in this part, and that I don't believe that the internal parties in Syria, governmental forces, opposition, we have also other different parities which are not taken into consideration regarding the agreement, I mean Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS. They are labelled as terrorist groups so they are out and just excluded from any agreement but they are present, it does mean they exit; normally it is just a partial agreement when they try to estimate situation overall so we can see that it is just a partial agreement and this is the reason, according to me to name reason that Russia and the US are the most important places, it is a kind of proxy war actually which maybe it happened after the end of the summer but now it is the most visible case, we had a Russian troops actually present somehow in Syria. Of course, Putin decided to take this troops back to Russia but then they are still present in only Syrian soil and maybe just to conclude regarding this part, all noticed that Syrian war since the beginning and till now it's connected directly to the Ukrainian case also, because the case of the Ukrainian crisis and in Donbas area is something crucial for the Russian aspirations, for the Russian idea of rebuilding powerful position.

If they lose influence in Ukraine, they will never become the boss; that's why they will never let themselves to lose this control on this country. If they cannot control this country with 100%, they are still trying to have influence even in parts of the country and in keeping this state unstable. It’s kind of a policy.

Probably because there is not any official evidence for that, the engagement of Russians in Syria had to be explained. First, it was a kind of a revenge of the Ukrainian interference by external states European and the US in Ukrainian issues and Ukraine which is concerned by natural zone of influence of Russia and secondly it was kind of a forum to maintain its own influences in the ME for the military bases which is used by Russia. Tartus especially in the past and now is the only base of Russia in the Mediterranean area and they always wanted to have an influence on Mediterranean area so they did as much as they could to maintain its own influence in the ME and in Syria, because Syria was the biggest ally of Russia actually and they can let themselves lose connection with Syrian, Russian connection.

Therefore, you say that the policy that Russia is following in Syria is a sort of compensation for losing its dominance over and influence in Ukraine; right?

Ożarowski: It is not a kind of compensation; it is kind of a revenge policy. They just turned into Ukrainian case, its own policy and our natural zone of influence, so we don’t let them do things as they wanted in Syria; so from the Russian point of view, it is very rational because just imagine it is like there was a crisis in Venezuela and on the very next day there were some kind of Russian advisors, officers just in the zone influence of US in South America. Therefore, I don’t believe that the US politicians and president and administrations were really satisfied with this fact so it worked like that. So that’s a compensation out of a revenge policy and with maintaining its own influence in this country.

Because they really rely on this country under the al-Assad ruling. Actually, since the war started, Assad was busy with states. He was in Russia, in Moscow over almost a year and some months ago. It speaks for itself; it was an official support given to Assad, considering the fact that President Putin welcomed him in his own capital city and held meetings with him.

Grabowski: I think the first question to ask is if Iran would support the deal between the United States and Russia; if yes, that would be helpful, if not, it would be difficult to find a solution. The second question is how the solution should be imposed or proposed to the Syrian government: is the deal going to take place in cooperation with Assad or should it be imposed on him? Because I do not think Assad would give up his power, therefore the deal must include him as well.

End of Part 2

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