When the Assad regime was on the verge of collapse in July 2015, Major-General Qassem Soleimani, chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the exact nature of the discussion between the two men is not publicly known, in September that year Russian aircraft began bombing militant groups opposed to the Syrian government. Russian air support was instrumental in Iranian and allied Shia militia offensives in the Syrian civil war. However, soon their conflicting considerations became evident.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in November 2015, that Moscow did not “insist” on keeping Assad in power. It seemed that Putin was ready to sacrifice the Syrian president to reach a political solution.
IRGC chief commander, Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, responded by stating Iran’s unconditional support for Assad, “The resistance is completely dependent upon Bashar Assad in Syria and we cannot ignore this issue… After him, we do not have anyone to fill the void.”
Under the “Joint Implementation Group,” Russia and the United States moved closer to a more coordinated mission in Syria. The September 2016 agreement allowed for “integrated” yet specified air attacks.
The military adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Major-General Rahim Safavi, warned Moscow, saying that it should be on guard against letting itself be “deceived” by the United States, and “ignore Iran’s interests.”
Recently, Russia, who controls the skies over Syria, allowed Turkish fighter jets to bomb Kurdish militia targets around the city of Afrin. Turkish military incursion into territories previously held by the US-supported Kurdish People’s Protection Units followed the air operation.
in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Major-General Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, emphasized that the incursion should not “pave the way for the enemies of the Syrian nation and the Muslim world, particularly the United States and its allies.”
Moscow’s influence in Syria and the rest of the Middle East, is evident. Tehran appears to be losing ground, and may not benefit from its many sacrifices.