As their mutual enemy retreats, friction grows between Russia, Iran
The common cause of defeating ISIS is leading to new calculations
With the end in sight to the battle to pry contested Syrian territory from ISIS, the political and diplomatic questions regarding the country’s future have brought Tehran and Moscow’s competing interests to the fore, Anton Mardasov writes Tuesday for Al-Monitor
For one, Tehran has grown concerned that informal negotiations on Syria policy, such as recent talks between Russia and the US, are gradually replacing the Astana process, formulated by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
There is also the prospect that Iran and the Assad regime will delay negotiations in favor of a protracted war to regain losses. That could push Russia to support use of Turkish troops in the conflict. A push back from Russia to greater Iranian influence would also give Washington and Moscow room for agreement:
Since eastern Aleppo was seized, Russia has definitely increased its sway over the region. Russia turned the tide of war and helped the regime survive. However, over the war years, Tehran has gained momentum and built up a multi-layer presence in Syria that includes local Shiite militants. […]
The rise of HTS in rebel-controlled Idlib province and the use of delaying tactics in the negotiations play into the hands of Damascus and Tehran, which need a protracted military campaign to regain losses. They blame opposition groups for their ostensible loyalty to al-Qaeda. The Syrian government’s offensive to retake Idlib is a negative scenario for Russia and Turkey. Rebel forces will apparently rally to fight the common enemy. New coalitions will emerge among the moderate and radical opposition. Ultimately, the process will strengthen al-Qaeda’s position in Syria and trigger a new humanitarian and refugee crisis. Obviously, under such circumstances, the advancing troops will also suffer heavy casualties. That’s why Damascus and Iran will try to drag Russia into this new round of war.
Should the situation escalate, the Kremlin would tolerate the deployment of Turkish troops.
If the United States is genuinely intent on destroying the Iranian corridor — a piece of land carved through Syria that ultimately links Tehran through Iraq with the Mediterranean coast — Moscow and Washington will probably have something to talk about, albeit unofficially.