Actors’ policies and “game of pressure cards”

Will Ukraine’s war change ‘engagement rules’ in Syria?

US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (edited by Enab Baladi)

Actors’ policies and “game of pressure cards”

Will Ukraine’s war change ‘engagement rules’ in Syria?

US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (edited by Enab Baladi)

US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (edited by Enab Baladi)

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Amal Rantisi | Khaled al-Jeratli | Diana Rahima | Mamoun al-Bustani 

Syria has witnessed political, military, security, and economic moves by various international and regional actors with the aim of achieving gains from the Russian war on Ukraine as the military operations enter the sixth week.

While the US talked about the “accountability month” in Syria, Russia had begun recruiting mercenaries from the Middle East, including Syria, to fight in Ukraine.

The past weeks have also witnessed an Iranian military and diplomatic movement in Syria, which was matched by an Israeli caution in dealing with Russia in order not to reduce the momentum of the aerial bombardment on Iran’s military sites and its proxies in Syria.

In this expanded analytic file, Enab Baladi reviews the recent key movements of the actors on the Syrian ground following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and sheds light through discussions with researchers and political analysts on the impact of the invasion on changing the engagement rules in Syria, and the pressure cards that international and regional players use to achieve their goals in Syria.

Will Washington change Syria’s policy due to Ukraine’s war outcomes?

Since US President Joe Biden settled in the White House nearly 18 months ago, the US administration has taken several steps in Syria, which some described as indications of a change in the administration’s handling of the Syrian file.

The first was what was circulated about the decision to exempt northeastern and northwestern Syria from the Caesar Act sanctions.

Well-informed sources had spoken to several media outlets that the US administration would achieve the final version of the decision, which was supposed to be announced and approved in mid-March by the official in charge of the Syrian file, Ethan Goldrich.

Enab Baladi has interviewed Goldrich at the headquarters of the US Consulate in Istanbul on 8 March, where he did not confirm or deny the validity of these allegations, saying only that he “has nothing to share in this regard at the present time.”

Regarding the nature of the decision and its connection with the areas outside the control of the Syrian regime, the penman of the Caesar Act, Matthew Zweig, told Enab Baladi via email that the relationship with the government of the Syrian regime or the areas under its control directly or indirectly, constitute the basis of the penalties in the Caesar Act which does not automatically exempt important transactions for actors in areas not controlled by the regime’s government from sanctions.

He added that the US administration can exempt certain areas from the sanctions by using its authority, and this also applies to foreign persons.

The administration also has much broader exemptions in the area of ​​humanitarian activities, and it all depends on what the administration wants to do and whether there will be a major retraction from the US Congress, Zweig says.

A patrol of Russian military police in Aleppo city (Sputnik)

A patrol of Russian military police in Aleppo city (Sputnik)

No confirmation

In turn, Joel Rayburn, the former US special envoy to Syria, told Enab Baladi, “There is no complete information yet about the US administration’s plans regarding exemptions, so it is difficult to judge what they are thinking of doing.”

“If the administration plans to issue a waiver of sanctions for northern Syria as a whole, or perhaps only for northeastern Syria, it will have to overcome some significant difficulties,” he added.

Both the Assad regime and the Russians have a military presence in northeastern Syria, and a concrete US plan will be needed to ensure that the regime and its allies cannot take advantage of the concession, which may lead to obtaining revenues, and income in foreign currencies, according to the former envoy.

“There is no complete information yet about the US administration’s plans for the waivers, so it is difficult to judge what they are thinking of doing.”

Former US Special Envoy to Syria, Joel Rayburn

One of cards but not most important

The Syrian-Canadian academic Faysal ِِAbbas Mohamad believes that the US is currently using all the cards in its hand to force Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

The US focuses primarily on pushing Europe to deepen its alignment under its leadership to confront Russia, and the second important card for the US is the Chinese card, as the Biden administration intensifies pressure on China to reduce its support for Russia as much as possible, Abbas told Enab Baladi.

The Syrian card is not one of the main cards in the hands of the US, but at the same time, it is not useless in the American efforts to besiege and embarrass Russia to make it pay the highest possible price for its military adventure in Ukraine, the specialist in Middle Eastern studies says.

“The Syrian card is not one of the US main cards, but it is not useless in American efforts to besiege and embarrass Russia and make it pay the highest possible price for its military adventure in Ukraine.”

Faysal Abbas Mohamad, Syrian-Canadian analyst. Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies

Within this plan, the United States will exert pressure to some degree on the Syrian regime in order to aggravate Russia’s crisis in Ukraine, but there are limits to this American escalation in Syria.

The Caesar Act exemption of the areas controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and areas controlled by the Turkish-backed factions, in addition to the official pressure on the Syrian regime to implement Resolution 2254, fall within this plan, Abbas said.

“But it is unlikely that this will be followed by more assertive and more effective American steps,” according to the researcher.

Kenan Rahmani, a Senior Advocacy Advisor at The Syria Campaign, says that the situation in Syria is not a priority for the US administration.

“The exemptions are important for the economy of the northern regions, but they do not constitute pressure on the regime, and they are definitely not related to the situation in Ukraine,” Rahmani told Enab Baladi, as he sees no connection between the American moves and the situation in Syria.

The US administration sometimes raises issues such as exemptions to test the reaction of how it would be, even if the leaking of the exemptions draft resolution triggered a counter-move by the US Congress, according to Rahmani.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties had submitted a draft resolution tightening the screws on the Syrian regime with the aim of holding it accountable on the 11th anniversary of the Syrian revolution, describing the regime as a criminal backed by Russia and Iran for its crimes against humanity.

According to the draft resolution published by Republican Representative Joe Wilson on 15 March, the violations carried out by the regime took place since the beginning of the revolution in 2011, in which peaceful demonstrators were met by the bullets and brutality of the Syrian regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

The draft resolution enumerated the general features that dominated Syria, as the Syrian security services and affiliated “Shabiba” (The Youth) organizations flocked to write on the walls of many Syrian cities, “Assad or we burn the country.”

According to the draft resolution, the regime, with the help of Iran and Russia, used violence against workers in the vital relief aid field, in addition to massacres committed with chemical weapons on several occasions.

Waving sanctions, but no action

Enab Baladi asked Goldrich about the US intentions from the tweet of the US embassy in Damascus that Washington “is committed to​ seeking accountability for those responsible for atrocities in Syria,” adding that for 11 years, the Assad regime “has detained, tortured, and committed crimes against Syrians, but impunity will end. This month (March), we highlight how Syrians and the international community are pursuing accountability for these crimes.”

Goldrich said that the US has international mechanisms in place to hold the Syrian regime accountable, such as the efforts of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to assist in the investigation of the persons responsible for the crimes.

“We strongly support this mechanism, and we also support the efforts made by some countries to prosecute people in international courts, and of course, we have our sanctions targeting human rights violators and others close to the regime, to hold them accountable for the things they have done,” he added.

Goldrich stressed that the United States is open to imposing additional sanctions, “We are always looking for those involved with the Syrian regime who deserve to be sanctioned.” adding “that is certainly one of the ways of the international community to punish the regime, whether in the United Nations or the Human Rights Committee as these are the places where the behavior of the regime is discussed.”

He also stressed that the sanctions will remain in effect on the regime until there is a path to a lasting political solution in Syria.

Regarding the current status of the Caesar Act sanctions and all other sanctions related to Syria, the former US envoy to Syria, Joel Rayburn, believes that the US administration has not sufficiently maintained pressure through sanctions over the past 14 months.

The decline in the pace of US sanctions gave the Syrian regime and other observers the impression that the US is no longer serious about imposing sanctions, as it recorded a sharp decline in 2021, given the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury and the State Department in 2019 and 2020.

Rayburn believes that this decline was an attempt to reach agreements with the Russians on the delivery of humanitarian aid and some other issues of this kind, but with the situation in Europe, there is no longer any prospect of working with the Russians on these matters.

“This means that there should be no impediment to the US administration from fully implementing the sanctions now,” says Rayburn.

Two Russian military police with a soldier of the Syrian regime army in Damascus city - 2019 (Sputnik)

Two Russian military police with a soldier of the Syrian regime army in Damascus city – 2019 (Sputnik)

Including mercenaries recruitment 

The Russian pressure cards in Syria are field reflected

According to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Washington’s plan to host envoys of its allies in the Syrian file appeared as an opportunity to examine the impact of the Russia-Ukraine military operations on the Syrian arena.

The meeting, which took place on 3 March, resulted in a joint statement by representatives of the Arab League, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The statement, which was published by the US State Department, stated that “we acknowledge the continued suffering of the Syrian people, which is unacceptable and must end.”

Adding, “We welcomed the briefing of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen and took note of his efforts to build momentum, including through the step-for-step process, in accordance with our strong support to advance a comprehensive and inclusive political solution according to UNSCR 2254, as well as the implementation of all its aspects.”

Despite the dissatisfaction of the Syrian opposition to the statement regarding this strategy, the move seemed to be the start of an American mobilization of its allies in the Syrian file against Russia and the regime.

The statement concluded with vows to continue “to press for accountability, especially for the most serious crimes committed in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons, as well as for the release of those arbitrarily detained and full accountability.”

Russian patrols in Syria wear “Z” band

Photos circulated on Russian media showed Russian soldiers and military vehicles in observatory points near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

What was remarkable in the photos was that some soldiers took pictures of themselves wearing the “Z” band (the emblem of the Russian military campaign in Ukraine).

The Russian patrol coincided with a state of alert on the borderline, following Iranian threats to respond to the killing of two militants of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a result of an Israeli airstrike in Syria.

Warnings of an expected Iranian strike against Israel began after an Israeli bombardment of some points in the vicinity of the city of Damascus, which was carried out from south of Beirut, and led to the death of two people, according to what a military source told the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on 7 March.

This was followed by the announcement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard the next day (8 March), the killing of two of its fighters in the Israeli strike, threatening Israel “to pay the price,” according to what was reported by the Iranian Fars news agency.

Similar Russian armored vehicles and patrols bearing the Russian military emblem appeared on various occasions and regions of Syria. It appeared in the eastern countryside of Aleppo for the first time, days after the start of the Russian war on Ukraine, but its appearance near the occupied Golan territory left questions about the messages it might carry.

Wael Alwan, an analyst at Jusoor Center for Studies, told Enab Baladi that the Russian instructions to the Syrian regime are clear through several indicators, including the rallies in support of Russia and the immediate recognition of the independence of the two Ukrainian regions (Donetsk and Lugansk) as Russia recently did.

Russia considers Syria as a Russian military base, as the visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Syria and his meeting with Bashar al-Assad in Latakia city prior to the Russian war on Ukraine came as part of Russia’s arrangement for all its fronts in which the Syrian coast front is important.

Dmitry Bridzhe, a Russian political analyst interviewed by Enab Baladi, said that the Russian slogans that appeared during its war on Ukraine carried many dimensions and analyses, but the Russian narrative speaks of it being a moral slogan.

Regarding its appearance in Syria, Bridzhe said that Russia is working to unify its emblems and military symbols in the various areas of its military influence, which is why it recently appeared in Syria.

The Russian analyst ruled out that the Russian appearance with its military slogans close to the Israeli borders has any dimensions but is limited to being “similar to the fascist slogans that Hitler used in his military bases during World War II.”

Local social media accounts circulated on 3 March a video showing Russian armored vehicles in the eastern countryside of Aleppo city, bearing the same Russian military (Z) band on the contact lines with the Turkey-backed opposition areas.

Syrian mercenaries as Russian ‘weapon’

On 11 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin permitted the Russian Defense Ministry to transfer thousands of mercenaries from the Middle East to participate with Russian forces in the invasion of Ukraine.

The Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) organization published a report on the participation of Syrians in the Russian war on Ukraine, which has continued since the start of the Russian invasion on 24 February.

According to a report published by Enab Baladi, since mid-March, the northern city of Aleppo has witnessed transfers of members of Division 25 and Division 30 of the Russian-backed Fifth Corps towards the Hmeimim airbase in the Latakia region to transfer them to Ukraine.

In turn, the Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry stated that some of the Syrian “mercenaries” whom Russia asked to fight in Ukraine consider participating in the war alongside Russia as an opportunity for more escape and illegal immigration to the European Union countries.

Regarding the impact of the recruitment of Syrian “mercenaries” abroad, the specialist in Russian affairs, Mahmoud al-Hamza, said that Russia does not need this large military presence in Syria, considering that the matter will not have a profound impact on this level.

Although the Ukrainian war will affect the Syrian file in one way or another, it will not affect the Russian policy in Syria or the way Russia deals with the Syrian file, al-Hamza told Enab Baladi.

For the Russians, Syria is a military, political, economic, and geopolitical base from which they travel to the Middle East and Africa, according to the researcher.

This means that Syria today has strategic importance for the Russians, even if Russia’s entry into the Syrian arena was a dilemma that the US pushed it into, as in Ukraine recently, he added.

The outcomes of the Ukrainian war that will appear in the future will inevitably be reflected in Syria, but the Americans are the ones who have the upper hand in the Syrian file, and they have no desire to date to end the Syrian crisis, al-Hamza noted.

“Russia’s entry into the Syrian arena was a dilemma that the US pushed it into, as in Ukraine recently.”

Mahmoud al-Hamza, a researcher specializing in Russian affairs

After calm, Russian air raids escalate

Russia’s war on Ukraine coincided with the flight of Russian warplanes over the areas of control of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in the eastern Aleppo governorate, and flare bombs were thrown over them.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was preceded by a decrease in Syria’s air raids, but it has since escalated again, according to “Observatory 80,” which specializes in monitoring the movement of warplanes in Syria.

The military observatory confirmed to Enab Baladi that Russian reconnaissance aircraft do not leave the Syrian sky at all. However, the frequency of warplane overflights decreased significantly before the start of the Russian invasion, but it re-escalated immediately after.

Russian warplanes flew about 75 times in the Syrian airspace between 17 and 21 March, but the majority of their activity was concentrated in the eastern regions witnessing the presence of the Islamic State pockets and military bases of the US-led International Coalition, according to the “Observatory 80”.

While the Russian flights five weeks ago were limited to three or four flights a day towards the Syrian Badia and were absent from northwestern Syria.

On 24 February, the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) teams announced that they had found shrapnel on the roofs of houses, without any traces of aerial bombardment or destruction on the ground in the al-Bab city, east of Aleppo, according to the SCD’s Telegram account.

The SCD’s Syria Sentry, an online early warning service, said during the same day, intense air traffic of Russian warplanes and reconnaissance aircraft was monitored from the night before the Russian invasion until the next day.

Russian warplanes at Hmeimim Military Airbase in Latakia (Sputnik)

Russian warplanes at Hmeimim Military Airbase in Latakia (Sputnik)

In light of Russia’s engrossment in Ukraine

The sub-conflict in Syria, Iranian action and Israeli caution

Since the beginning of the Russian war on Ukraine, Iran has been among the actors in Syria that has worked to increase the pace of its activities, whether political, military, economic or security, taking advantage of Russia’s engrossment in Ukraine.

Since Russia intervened in Syria at the end of September 2015, it has played a major role alongside Iran, enabling the regime to restore large swathes from opposition factions at the time.

In parallel with Russian political support, the Assad regime has remained in power despite all the crimes it has committed against the Syrian people since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011.

Following the Russian intervention in Syria, the Russian military and political control over the Syrian file weakened Iran’s gains in Syria, and the Iranian-Russian competition for control of Syria’s resources in various economic, cultural, and other fields surfaced.

Sub-conflict covered by key conflict

At a time when the “Great Conflict” between Russia and the United States continues in Syria, Ukraine’s war has prompted the emergence of the “mini-conflict” between Iran and Israel on Syrian grounds once again, as the Israeli concern increased about the Iranian repositioning in Syria.

While Iran worked to activate its military and economic activities in Syria, there were Israeli moves to ensure the continuation of the coordination mechanism with Russia, under which it could continue its bombing of Iranian sites and its proxies in Syria.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine represented an opportunity for Iran in Syria, as it intensified its actions in Syria amid talk of progress in negotiations between Iran and Western powers to revive the Iranian nuclear agreement.

Hussein Amir Abdollahian, Iranian Foreign Minister, arrived with a high-level delegation in Damascus on 23 March and discussed with the Syrian regime’s Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, matters of concern to Iran and Syria, developments in the region, and common positions on what the world is witnessing after the Russian invasion, according to SANA.

Mekdad stressed the Syrian regime’s support for Iran “in its smart and creative dealings with the nuclear file,” as he described it.

The visit came in light of the rapid developments at the regional and global levels, and for the exchange of visions between the two allies, especially after Assad’s recent visit to the UAE on 18 March.

In addition to talking about the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC) in Geneva, what is happening in Ukraine, and developments related to the Iranian nuclear file, according to Damascus-based al-Watan newspaper.

During the meeting between al-Assad and Abdollahian, views and visions were exchanged on a number of political issues, including the war in Ukraine, said the pro-regime daily.

An Iranian chance as Russia engrossed in Ukraine 

Abdulwahab Assi of Jusoor Center for Studies said in an interview with Enab Baladi, “The continuation of the conflict in Ukraine may lead to a decline in Russia’s interest in the Syrian issue, and Iran will not miss this opportunity to strengthen and expand its influence in various sectors.”

“Iran is benefiting from the regime’s need for assistance and support, especially in the event of the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the West, and the consequent easing of economic restrictions on it.”

“It seems that Iran has a great opportunity to take advantage of Russia’s preoccupation with the conflict in Ukraine,” according to Assi.

The signing of the nuclear agreement guarantees Iran to release part of its frozen funds and use it to spend on its militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen and will enable it to take Russia’s place in some economic sectors, he added.

This explains Iran’s keenness on the success of efforts to normalize Arab relations with the Syrian regime because it is the best way to ensure compensation for the expenses it incurred in Syria and to consolidate its influence, including the possibility of setting the rules of engagement with Israel on the northern front directly or through non-Russian mediation, this way Russia will lose one of the most prominent files in which it was putting pressure on Iran, said the researcher.

“The continuation of the conflict in Ukraine may lead to a decline in Russia’s interest in the Syrian issue, Iran, in turn, will not miss this opportunity to consolidate and expand its influence in various sectors.”

Abdulwahab Assi, a researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies.

Indications of Iranian repositioning

The pace of Iranian activities in Syria has increased at various levels since 24 February, and it can be summarized, according to what the Jusoor Center for Studies and Enab Baladi monitored, as follows:

1- The visit of Ali Mamlouk, the Director of the National Security Office, to Tehran, on 27 February, during which he met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani.

2- The visit of the Senior Assistant to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Asghar Khaji, to Damascus, on 1 March, during which he met with al-Assad.

3- The visit of Faleh al-Fayyad, the head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Committee, to Damascus on 2 March, during which he met with al-Assad.

4- The visit of Hussein Amir Abdollahian, the Iranian Foreign Minister, to Damascus on 23 March, during which he met al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

5- An increase in the operations rate of the security cells affiliated with the Iranian militias in the areas of the US army presence in northeastern Syria.

On 3 March, Qamishli city witnessed clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Iran-backed National Defense Forces.

6- Expanding the operations of transferring weapons, reconnaissance systems, air defense, and drones from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon during the past month.

7- Military and security activity of Iranian militias in southern Daraa and As-Sweyda governorates, especially with regard to drug smuggling operations into Jordan.

8- The intense meetings between the Iranian and Syrian economic and commercial delegations in an unprecedented manner since Iran’s intervention in Syria.

Israel is cautious

Israel has taken a cautious stance in dealing with Russia and the United States, the two active powers in the Syrian file, since the beginning of Western statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention to launch a military campaign in Ukraine.

On 20 February, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that “Israel will be on the side of its traditional ally, the United States, if war breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, despite the interest in maintaining good relations with Russia.”

After Putin announced the start of Russia’s “military operation” in Ukraine, Hebrew media reported, on 25 February, that Israel was dealing with the “war” between Russia and Ukraine from the perspective of what is happening in Syria.

The Hebrew Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported at the time that, in the short term, “the Israeli angle in the war between Russia and Ukraine is what is happening in Syria, and how the Russians will react in the face of air force attacks against Iranian targets and arms shipments destined for Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah.”

The UN General Assembly adopted, on 2 March, a resolution by an overwhelming majority, calling on Russia to immediately stop the war in Ukraine and withdraw its military forces.

Israel voted in favor of the resolution along with 141 countries, while 35 countries abstained, including Iran, which is negotiating to revive its nuclear agreement, while five countries, including Syria, opposed.

Israel has reduced the intensity of the escalation with Iran in spite of striking Iranian sites in Syria. In the past weeks, Israel used ground missiles instead of airstrikes.

The Hebrew Maariv newspaper, in turn, reported on 10 March that Israel did not intend to liquidate officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Rather, the goal was related to Iran’s program for precision missiles in Syria.

Maariv said that Iran and its proxies in the region continue to threaten to respond forcefully to Israel after the killing of two Revolutionary Guards officers in the Israeli attack that targeted Damascus suburbs on 7 March.

The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in the context of talking about an imminent return to the Iranian nuclear agreement, reiterated the Israeli position rejecting the United States’ intention to cancel the designation of the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards” as a “terrorist organization.”

Bennett said on Twitter on 20 March that “the (Revolutionary Guard) is the largest and bloodiest terrorist organization in the world,” expressing regret for what he considered “a determination to sign the nuclear agreement with Iran at any cost.”

“We are very concerned about the United States’ intention to give in to Iran’s outrageous demand and remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations,” he said.

On 24 March, the American Axios website quoted two Israeli officials and two American sources, who described them as “directly familiar with the matter,” that Washington adheres to its position on the Revolutionary Guards.

Researcher Abdulwahab Assi told Enab Baladi, “As long as the upcoming nuclear agreement does not contain guarantees for Israel’s security that limit the dangers of Iranian foreign policy on the northern front, that is, Syria and Lebanon, including its missile and drone program, Tel Aviv’s options remain limited in light of Russia’s preoccupation with Ukraine, which was one of its guarantors.” according to the researcher.

These options are either “confrontation and getting more involved in Syria to determine the rules of engagement between the two parties through diplomatic negotiations, or by jumping on the military option towards diplomacy through the mediation of an Arab country, such as the UAE, for example, as long as it plays an advanced role in Syria during the next stage, Assi said.

US President Joe Biden (edited by Enab Baladi)

US President Joe Biden (edited by Enab Baladi)

No change in Syria’s engagement rules

Political and field facts in light of the developments in the international situation as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine raise questions about the impact on Syria, which is shared by international players such as Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Iran amid overlapping and conflicting interests.

Nawar Shaaban, head of the information unit at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, explained to Enab Baladi that the local forces, which are supervised by international actors, and the Syrian regime do not have a military action option.

Shaaban said that Russia and the US would not change the rules of engagement, pointing out that Turkey has also taken the principle of positive neutrality regarding the issue of the Russian war on Ukraine through its mediation between the two parties and will not take any position that endangers its relationship with Moscow.

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper quoted officials, on 25 February, as saying that the recent development in Ukraine might bring Russia closer to Iran.

But Shaaban considers that Iran has no desire to play on the sidelines since it is taking steps forward with regard to the negotiations on the nuclear file.

The researcher also confirmed to Enab Baladi that there is no need in the first place to change the rules of engagement in Syria, meaning that the Syrian file is not closely related to the developments in Ukraine.

Even with regard to the Russians and their positioning, they have not yet announced a significant positioning of forces.

On the contrary, they are still making routine movements between points, and they have not announced the withdrawal or repositioning of any weapons, and it is not clear yet whether the Russians will make a tactical change in the region, according to Shaaban.

Poll

Enab Baladi polled the Syrians about the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine in regard to the rules of engagement in Syria.

The results were very close, as 54 percent of the respondents voted that the impact is related to the use of pressure cards by the actors in Syria only, while 46 percent of the respondents considered that the effect is to bring about changes on the ground.

Future options being studied

What is currently taking place is studying options for a repositioning of forces from one side to another, Shaaban said.

Two meetings were to discuss huge security issues, one of which might be the repositioning of the Russians.

The first meeting of Ali Mamlouk, the Director of the National Security Office, with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on 28 February, and the al-Assad meeting with an Iranian delegation headed by Senior Assistant to the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Asghar Khaji in Damascus days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

If the situation in Ukraine becomes similar to the Syrian case in terms of attrition for Russia and other countries in light of the disruption of exports due to the imposition of sanctions, then it is possible that we will see a repositioning of Russian forces, and a change in the size and shape of their control in Syria, according to Shaaban.

This change is not being studied in a way that harms the current regime. The current control map and the current benefits map have become regionally adapted. For example, it is possible to study how Iran can cover the vacuum that Russia may create without causing any problems, he added.

In turn, the United States, under the administration of US President Joe Biden, will not want to put pressure on Russia in Syria, and Shaaban reasoned that America uses light and soft pressure in managing crises by waving the sanctions card.

These sanctions on a country like Russia will affect the global economy, and this is the point the Biden administration is trying to ignore.

Shaaban indicated that the matter now is not only related to military power, but the general system, whether political, military, or economic, is related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine amid bets on time by all the actors.

 

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