Recently, President Vladimir Putin stated, “I have taken the decision to withdraw a large part of the Russian troops stationed in Syria, and to return them respectively to Russia,” according to the Russian news agency.
If Russia completely or even partly diminishes its influence, Putin’s decision may benefit the Iranians, as the regime seeks control of Syria — with the exception of Kurdish areas or neighboring Turkey. Iran has militia centers spread across the Syrian border with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and of course in Damascus.
Meanwhile, analysts ponder Russia’s motivation, as well as that of the United States, who has also displayed a diminished presence in Syria.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, writes in an article for Al Arabiya, “It is quite normal for Assad’s allies to have convergent views in the aftermath of the war. On the one hand, the Iranians want to dominate the area in order to defy and further pressure the United States. On the other hand, the Russians want to establish a balance with the United States in a number of areas of conflict across the world. Both parties’ respective motives may coincide but that can only be achieved temporarily as was the case during the war. Both countries entered Syria under the pretenses of fighting terrorism, yet the battles carried out by their forces were mainly directed at the Syrian armed opposition, whereas the US-led coalition alone focused on fighting ISIS.”
Iranian forces are formed by tens of thousands of multi-national militias recruited by Iran from several countries. Still, some believe that a reduced Russian presence will weaken the Syrian regime and Iran’s militias.
Al-Rashed writes that the future will be decided by “both a regional and an American plan that will mainly seek to diminish the Iranian influence in Syria.” He adds that, “The partial withdrawal of the Russians and the failure of the recent negotiations in Geneva can be developed into two major themes that can, in turn, pressure the Assad regime and Iran to rethink their position and make realistic concessions.”