In the shadow of Ukraine, Russia risks losing Syria to Iran

Russia’s military debacle in Ukraine will have serious consequences for Moscow’s geopolitical position. Can’t beat any of the poorest countries in Europethe Kremlin will now find it difficult to preserve its traditional allies in the Russian sphere of influence.

This is especially true in Syria, which has been under Moscow’s strategic umbrella since the Soviet era. For example, Turkey’s recent decision to close its airspace to Russian planes transiting to Syria – seen as put pressure on Moscow on its war in Ukraine – will affect Russian military capabilities in Syria, where more than 63,000 Russian troops deployed.

Turkey’s own military adventures in Syria will further complicate Russia’s role there. Ankara has recently launched a series of strikes on the Kurdish-ruled areas of the country’s northeast, and while they do not pose an immediate threat to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the attacks could alter the support of the Russia to the Syrian leader.

As Russian expert Alexei Malashenko explains, if the civil war in Syria resumes, Moscow will have no choice but to withdraw Russian troops from the Middle Eastern countrybecause the Kremlin cannot fight two large-scale conflicts at the same time.

That of the Kremlin weak reaction Turkey’s decision to close its airspace to Russian aircraft is another sign that Russian policymakers are aware that when it comes to Syria, Ankara has the upper hand.

This may explain why Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the paramilitary group Wagner which is closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently rented Turkish actions against Kurds in Iraq and Syria saying that Ankara, engaged in its own “holy war”, has “full moral right to fight Kurdish militants”.

Such rhetoric won’t help the Kremlin appease Ankara, but Putin may recognize the futility of trying. Even though Turkey has not officially signed on to anti-Russian sanctions against Ukraine, it continues to supply arms to the Ukrainian government, and its recent actions suggest that Ankara may soon launch its own full-scale military campaign in Syria. .

Russian officials are aware of such a possibility. Semyon Bagdasarov, a Middle East expert and member of the Russian parliament, said on April 24 that Turkey’s ban on Russian flights to Syria could be part of Ankara’s efforts to resolve the situation in northern Syria. in his favour – at the expense of Russia.

“We must never forget that Turkey is a member of NATO,” Bagdasarov said, explaining why Turkish leaders had once again stabbed Russia in the back (a feeling that goes back years).

In theory, Russia could respond to Ankara’s actions in Syria by ban imports of Turkish tomatoes, or temporarily shutting down the TurkStream pipeline for “maintenance”. But given Moscow’s weak geopolitical position and the fact that its economy is already suffering from Western sanctions, the Kremlin is unlikely to do anything more to jeopardize relations with Ankara.

For Russia, the flight ban means it will have difficulty resupplying troops in Khmeimim and Tartus. It is quite possible that Turkey, under pressure from the United States, took such a decision to prevent Russia from transferring part of its air force from the Khmeimim to Ukraine.

Earlier, on February 28, Ankara restricted the passage of Russian warships through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits unless they returned to their bases in the Black Sea. In other words, unless the Turkish-backed rebels launch a full-scale offensive in Syria, Russian aid to Assad’s Syrian Arab Army will be limited. Even then, the war in Ukraine drastically reduced Russia’s ability to react.

Therefore, should the fighting in Syria escalate, Assad will likely turn to Iran rather than Russia for support. According to some reportsIranian forces have already deployed in parts of Syria previously controlled by Russian troops.

Iran is also preparing to attack fuel shortages in Syria, which have an impact on basic services and drive up food prices. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Moscow was actively supplying gasoline to Syria. But Putin’s Ukrainian adventure disrupted supply chains, and now, according to Russian sources, Iran has become the main supplier of gasoline and other fuels to the Assad regime.

None of this has changed Syria’s political allegiance, and for now at least Damascus remains loyal to Moscow. As Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad put recentlySyria “supports the Russian Federation in its opposition to Western policy based on lies and double standards”.

Syria too rented Russia’s decision to recognize the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in the Donbas region of Ukraine (although Damascus has not officially recognized the self-declared entities).

Assad appears to be pursuing a foreign policy that has been used for years by another Russian ally – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. But while Lukashenko has been balance between Russia and the WestAssad will, for the foreseeable future, balance Syria’s ties between Moscow and Tehran.

Yet, in the long term, the war in Ukraine will diminish Russia’s influence in Syria and, in doing so, open the door for Iran to replace Russia as Assad’s main backer.

This article was provided by Syndication desk, who owns the copyright.

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