'Russia is not naive, it knows Assad will soon leave'
Russia’s current policy in Syria is in contradiction with almost the entire Middle East, which is not normal as Moscow traditionally has very good relations with the Arab world, Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs told me yesterday.
“There are no naive people here in Moscow. [Syrian leader Beshar] Al-Assad will go, sooner rather than later. His power is veining,” Lukyanov said in a phone interview.
Military intervention to Syria is a red line for Russia according to Lukyanov. Direct military intervention still remains the very last and least desired option for Turkey, so this is not the main point where Ankara and Moscow disagree.
Their divergence of viewpoints comes in regards to the pace of al-Assad’s departure from power. The two also fail to see eye to eye on the aftermath of al-Assad.
Moscow prefers a gradual slow shift of power, according to Lukyanov, which is in contradiction to Turkey’s wish for the al-Assad regime to end as soon as possible. Each additional day al-Assad and his entourage remain in power means a greater death toll as well as the continued burden of thousands of Syrian refugees on Turkey’s shoulders.
Lukyanov has also talked about Russia’s concerns regarding the increasing role Saudi Arabia and Qatar is playing in the Syrian ordeal. Yet, it is no secret that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is in close contact with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar to secure a quick departure for al-Assad.
At this point let me also remind that you Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based newspaper al-Quds, said on BBC television’s “Dateline London” program that Moscow did not want a regime change in Damascus because it doesn’t want Syria, to become a transit route for oil and gas. A quick Google search will let us remember that only two years ago, talks were held between Erdoğan and the Emir of Qatar for Turkey on a Qatar pipeline that could pass through Syria.
While gas and oil issues, which are vital for Russia, must remain important considerations in Moscow’s policies, the ideological nature of the regime that will replace the old order in Damascus must be a much bigger concern to Russian decision makers. While an Islamist regime is not a problem for the AKP, as they have nurtured channels with them over the years, the same is not true for Russia, which fears its own “fundamentalists” on its territories.
Looking from Ankara, it might look as if Erdoğan is going to Moscow on a persuasion mission to convince Putin to drop Russia’s support for al–Assad. But looking from Moscow, the persuasion mission can take a reverse direction. Erdoğan might be subjected to pressure from Moscow to take it slowly, to distance himself and Turkey from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and to tell Syrian opposition to endorse a more conciliatory stance for a slower shift of power.
During Erdoğan’s last visit to Iran, it was obvious that the honeymoon between Tehran and the AKP government was over due to the Syrian crisis and an icy air dominated the talks. The flourishing energy cooperation between Ankara and Moscow will prevent a similar icy air yet a blunt and frank conversation with no room for mutual praises is certain to take place.