27.03.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Syria on the Way to a Possible Settlement of the Conflict

Syria Russia

The talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which took place in Moscow, were a great success.  The Russian leader emphasized that substantial progress in the Syrian Arab Republic’s battle against international terrorism has been made possible by the nations’ combined efforts and the vital role played by the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Syria is making steady progress toward eradicating the negative consequences of the civil war unleashed by the West and the Gulf states, thanks to significant efforts on both sides.

At the same time, Beijing made a significant contribution, allowing the Iranian-Saudi agreement, which is critical for Syria, to be concluded. Syria’s president praised the agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations, calling it a “wonderful surprise.” Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that his country is no longer a battleground in the Saudi-Iranian conflict, as it was at one point, and that Riyadh took another direction in its relations with Damascus several years ago.

Syrian government applaud Beijing’s stance on Syria and the new role China appears to be playing in the Middle East.  Beijing not only mediated the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it also publicly accused Washington of plundering Syria and demanded that the United States leave the country. Both of these issues have a long history with long-term consequences, indicating that the Syrian situation is likely to develop in unanticipated and positive ways as a result of Russia and China’s efforts.

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian recently accused the USA of “major and continued pillaging” of Syria at a recent press conference. Zhao said that US intervention, especially military intervention, has resulted in “major losses among civilians and immeasurable economic losses. It also displaced millions of people.” The United States imposed harsh coercive measures that deprived Syrians of their basic needs. Control of 80 per cent of Syrian oil by US forces further compounds the humanitarian crisis. “The US measures of aggression, sanctions and support of terrorists rendered a once prosperous nation that welcomed refugees into a destroyed country that resembles a large refugee camp,” he concluded.

This unprecedented Chinese attack on the USA has two goals. The first is the report that Beijing, which has used its veto power six times in favor of the Syrian regime against the opposition, is also an ally of Damascus. It is also an organic partner of Russia, which actively supports President Bashar al-Assad. And unlike the stances of the majority of other nations, who, under American pressure, demand that the Syrian government agree to some sort of political solution before establishing relations with Damascus, this relationship will continue.

Syrian political analyst Ayham Rifaat contends that China aims to prop up the Syrian regime by removing sanctions and ending the global boycott of the regime. That is why he is actively and justifiably trying to blame the USA for the tragedies that have occurred in Syria over the past 12 years.  The Syrian opposition was shocked by the Saudi Iranian agreement, which was initiated by Beijing, and found it to be more alarming than China’s criticism of Washington. The deal opens the door for the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between Iran, a steadfast ally of the regime, and Saudi Arabia, the biggest backer of the opposition. The Syrian government enthusiastically embraced the agreement and applauded China’s “sincere efforts,” while the opposition voiced concerns.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry made a statement that “this action will strengthen security and stability in the area” and expressed optimism that similar initiatives would continue.  The agreement is also expected to strengthen ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia, eliminate economic restrictions on the Syrian government, and pave the way for a larger Arab normalization, according to the government.

Iran has aided the Syrian regime in its protracted conflict for 12 years, much like Moscow. Via Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese militia, Tehran supported war operations financially and militarily. This had some effect on Syria’s political and military choices. Saudi Arabia, a major backer of the overthrow of the Syrian government, gave the opposition political and military assistance in the meantime. Both the opposition and the government are unsure whether Saudi Arabia or Iran will change their stances on the Syrian crisis as a result of this agreement, or the Syrian situation will be omitted and nothing will change because it is a “sensitive matter” for Washington.

China’s efforts come at a time when USA-China relations are very tense, especially after Chinese balloons were spotted over US territory and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to Beijing that would have helped mend bilateral relations. Congress debates China’s danger to US hegemony abroad while tensions over Taiwan remain high. Washington is also strengthening relations with China’s neighbors by building anti-Chinese alliances, particularly with Japan, Australia and India. Washington threatened sanctions if Beijing gave Moscow the armaments it needed to fend off Western aggression against Russia in Ukraine.

The deal also comes at a time when relations between the USA and Saudi Arabia are at an all-time low, especially in light of the latter’s decision to cut oil production in violation of American recommendations that it not do so. Yet, all of this is taking place while Russia-Saudi Arabia relations have significantly improved, and both countries’ oil policies have been aligned to equitably export their oil and carbon resources. Ironically, it is now the producing countries that choose the export policies of their vital raw materials for the entire world rather than the West.

Some in the Syrian opposition believe that Iran will struggle to keep its end of the bargain and will continue to provide substantial support to Bashar al-Assad’s legitimately elected government, including by keeping its advisers and Hezbollah volunteers in Syria. However, all of these specific requirements were spelled out in the agreement with Saudi Arabia.

The more optimistic opposition camp believes that a Saudi-Iranian agreement will bring the region’s controversies to an end. If the deal is implemented, it could be used to “put out the fire,” reducing tensions between the main opposition supporters and the official authorities. This might compel everyone involved in the Syrian conflict to abide by international resolutions pertaining to a political settlement in the nation.

“It is a victory for China to impose itself as a strategic player in the Gulf region,” according to Syrian researcher Mahmoud Othman.  The deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran represents a geopolitical challenge for Washington in the 21st century, an unprecedented historical turning point, opening not only the era of China, but also of Russia in the Middle East, and possibly worldwide. This means “any Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia will be deterred by China not the US. More accurately, Gulf security in general, and Saudi security in particular, has become China’s responsibility when in the past it was Washington’s.”

What will occur in Syria next is hard to foresee. It would be challenging for Saudi Arabia to abruptly change sides and back the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad, who was duly elected to office. The Iran deal is one thing, but one with the regime is quite different and needs to be based on a lot of other considerations and calculations. Yet, it is certain that China, which has attacked the US presence in Syria and started the agreement to reconcile Iran and Saudi Arabia, has entered a new stage in its efforts to establish itself as a significant political force in the region. Russia and China stand at the forefront to ensure the security of the entire region, not just Syria.

This is what was implied during the Russian-Syrian talks in Moscow. It is quite obvious that the multipolar world policy, developed and actively promoted by Moscow, is really making its way even in such a turbulent region as the Middle East.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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