Syrian President Bashar al Assad used to be able to rely upon the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it is rumored that even Russia is beginning to turn its back on Syria as the latter’s leader might have become a liability for Putin’s government. According to Arab News, former Russian diplomat Alexander Shumilin, head of the Kremlin-funded Europe-Middle East Center, recently said that the Kremlin must rid itself of the “Syrian headache.”
Putin Growing Tired of Assad’s Corruption
The Russian media is also highlighting how fragile the Assad regime is. Influential Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, renowned for being one of Putin’s proteges, exposed the chronic power cuts in 2019 that were brought about by the Assad regime selling electricity to Lebanon, even though Assad publicly claimed that was not true. Furthermore, Russian news agencies like TASS have frequently criticized Iran for causing disruption in the Middle East. Considering the Russian President has a firm grip over the Russian media, this could be a sign that his patience is running out.
It seems that Assad’s corruption and brutality might have become too much to bear for Putin, who wants to see Syria enjoy international rehabilitation. There is growing concern in Putin’s government that Iran is wielding too much influence in Damascus as well. Russia discreetly condoned Israeli air raids against Iran-affiliated targets, such as the destruction of 14 Iranian assets last week.
Nonetheless, Israeli intelligence reports state that Iran and Hezbollah have been “dramatically reducing” their military presence in Syria.
Syria Has Become Nothing More Than a Chess Piece for Many Nations
Syria has become nothing more than a chess piece for many nations seeking to exert their influence over the Middle East. The Russian-Iranian-Assad axis was useful to the three parties at one stage because they sought to reconquer much of Syria. However, there is one nation which may be exploiting this alliance, and that is Turkey.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Turkey’s state media says that Assad “does not seem to be ready to heed Russia’s advice to compromise with his enemies and lay out the country’s future.” In other words, they are urging the Russians to work with them to secure Syria’s regime in general, not Assad.
The Turkish narrative is that Syria cannot rebuild itself if Iran continues to exert its influence over the country and that Assad, who continues to receive Iranian support, is the biggest obstacle to prosperity.
The Putin-Iran-Assad Alliance is Evolving to Include Turkey
It is difficult to ascertain the truth when numerous media outlets are pushing contrasting narratives, but there are clear signs of cooperation between the three superpowers. Russia Today highlighted the greatness of Turkey and Iran as part of a campaign that indicates Moscow’s support for the two nations. Meanwhile, TRT, which reflects the views of Turkey, did not match its praise for Russia. Therefore, Moscow is using its media outlets to push for an alliance between themselves and Ankara.
Despite this, Turkey and Russia are collaborating on a pipeline under the Black Sea called TurkStream, whilst Iran is seeking to boost trade with Ankara by $30 billion from the $10 billion figure in 2017. This means that the three nations could take advantage of Assad’s weakened position and carve Syria up between them, with Iran using the south as a means to threaten Israel. Moscow and Ankara could use the north to resettle refugees.
The Putin-Iran-Assad alliance seems to be evolving to include Turkey in order to squeeze Washington’s influence out of the Middle East altogether. It is in neither party’s best interests to end the alliance if they are serious about preventing the US from determining events in the region, and the signs point toward increasing cooperation amidst all the contrasting media narratives from Turkey, Russia and Iran.
All four countries are also united in their desire to break the US’s alliance with the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.
Putin may be beginning to regard Assad as a problem, but he would rather let Turkey and Iran work with him to carve Syria up at some point than let the US determine events in Damascus.