Russia president to visit Iran
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Iran on Wednesday, according to a senior Iranian official.
Putin will attend a trilateral summit between Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan during his one-day visit, the official IRNA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour as saying today.
He said the Russian leader will also hold talks with Iranian officials on a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers as well as a host of regional issues.
Russia, Turkey and Iran vow to convene Syria ‘congress’
Russia, Turkey and Iran pledged Tuesday in Kazakhstan to bring the Syrian regime and its opponents together for a “congress” to help nudge peace efforts toward a more lasting political settlement.
Those who boycott Syrian congress may be sidelined, Russia warns
Syrian groups who choose to boycott the Russia-sponsored national congress next month risk being sidelined as the political process moves ahead, Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said on Tuesday.
Lavrentyev said the most important task of the congress was launching a process of constitutional reform.
Lavrentyev spoke to reporters after talks with Turkish and Iranian delegations, as well as Syrian government and rebel groups, in Kazakhstan which he said failed to produce finalised prisoner swap documents.
Syria's war: Russia dominates Astana talks
However, it has become extremely clear it's the Russians who are in charge of this particular show. While that may come as no surprise to Syrian observers, the depth of their influence certainly surprised me.
Speaking to some people at these talks, you get a real sense that the Russians have consolidated politics and military tactics in Syria into something all other parties failed to do. The Russians have either forced or coerced the Syrian regime into remaining quiet and doing, as they say, some analysts say. It's a strategy that certainly seems to be working.
The US role is also somewhat confusing, particularly for the Syrian opposition that eyes Russia's influence with much suspicion. The only thing the Americans seem to be consistent about in their statements is not having Assad in power, which the Russians and Iran are managing quite well.
Russia's Breakout Into the Middle East
As a result of its re-entry onto the Middle Eastern scene three year ago, Russia has re-established itself not only as a major outside player in one of the world's key regions, but also as a global player – for the first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. This re-entry has occurred mainly due to Moscow's relatively effective military intervention in Syria, but Russia's comeback has affected the Middle East way beyond that single country, and has done so in a number of ways – political and psychological, military and economic. Finally, Russia's new role in the Middle East is instrumental in implementing Moscow's new grand strategy which sees Russia as a major power in Greater Eurasia.
Thus, when in September 2015 Vladimir Putin decided on a military action in Syria, Russians were by no means stepping into the unknown. Syria has been their regional stronghold through much of the Cold War. They knew the country, and many of its senior leaders. The decision to go in was based on the concern that, absent direct outside intervention, the Assad regime was likely to be overthrown, to be replaced by the extremist "Islamic caliphate", sending shock waves across the Muslim world, including in Russia and the neighborhood.
Two years on, this calculus is largely supported by the interim results of the Russian intervention. The Syrian state has not collapsed; just the opposite, the area it controls has expanded by a factor of three. Bashar Assad is still in power in Damascus, and the opposition is engaged in various talks — even if fruitless, so far – with government representatives, in Geneva as well as in Astana. The "Islamic State" group, or ISIS, is on the defensive, losing its last strongholds in both Syria and Iraq. Most important for Moscow, extremists have been denied a chance to destabilize the Russian North Caucasus or the neighboring Central Asian states.
True, the original objective of reaching a peace settlement in Syria through joint US-Russian efforts, a sort of Dayton-a-deux, turned out impossible, because Washington was unwilling to accept Moscow as a co-equal. However, then Russia managed to achieve its second-best goal, a de facto US recognition that bringing peace to Syria was impossible without Russian cooperation.
Beyond Syria, to the surprise of many outside observers, Moscow has managed to negotiate rather successfully the many treacherous divides so common in the Middle East. The Russians have stayed in contact with everyone in the region, except for ISIS and Al-Qaeda's affiliates, whom it engaged with bombs and missiles. They have kept close relations with Israel, even as they struck a tactical military alliance with Iran; they cultivated both the Kurds and the governments of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria; they receive envoys from the rival authorities of western and eastern Libya; they offered their good offices to Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries seeking to cut Doha down to size. The list is long, and includes Hamas+Hezbollah/Israel, Iran/Saudi Arabia, and many others. Basically, Russia has made it clear from the start that it had no exclusive alliances in the region, including with Assad, but also saw no country as its sworn enemy.
In place of those now defunct concepts, a new one is emerging. Rather than positioning Russia as part of the Euro-Atlantic world — where mutual alienation between Russia and the West has become a fact – or as a centerpiece of a post-Soviet community — which would not assemble,- it places the country where it geographically is, i.e. in the north of the great continent of Eurasia. This gives Moscow a 360 degrees vision, in which countries of Europe, East, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East form a single vast neighborhood, washed by the Atlantic in the west, the Arctic in the north, the Pacific in the east, and the Indian Ocean in the south. Russia is a neighbor to all, but it does not "belong" to any bloc, whether Eurocentric or Sinocentric. Nor can it any longer insist on a Russocentric construct.