Last month, US President Donald Trump approved fresh sanctions against Russia, bearing in mind differences between the two countries over the latter’s annexation of Crimea, its interference in Georgia, and its continued support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
US forces and their allies in eastern and northern Syria are working to build a “national army” from Kurdish cities to engage more in the war against Daesh and other militant groups. This means the Pentagon program to train and arm Syrian rebel groups has been replaced by another project. Those groups that refuse to limit their fight only to Daesh, rather than the regime also, will not be part of the new army.
The end of US support for rebels fighting Assad means Washington does not seek regime change. Some have viewed this decision by Trump as a US concession to Russia, as Washington today relies on Moscow to limit Iran’s regional influence.
In a few days, the Assad regime will control Deir Ezzor in the east without fearing attacks in other areas. The Syrian-Iraqi border has been handed over to the Iranians, who have established a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean, at a time when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) do not want to fight the regime or seize land beyond the Kurdish areas due to Russian-Iranian-Turkish coordination.
Moscow knows that the US needs its cooperation regarding Iran’s expansionist policies in the region. In the coming months the Assad regime will work to restore its authority in eastern Syria, and 2018 is likely to see the defeat of rebel remnants in the west; no self-government in any part of the country will be allowed.
The Syrian war has had a major impact on regional affairs and it seems the biggest winner is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Iran and Turkey have succeeded in neutralizing the West, signaling the end of its role in Syria. The major issue will be Idlib province, which borders Turkey; that is why Moscow is maintaining good ties with Ankara.
It seems the biggest winner in the war is Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has become a prominent player in the Middle East. Russia is working hard to consolidate and expand the “de-escalation zones” in Syria in cooperation with its allies Turkey and Iran. The three countries are also guarantors of the Astana process.
The US is counting on a rift emerging between Russia and Iran over Syria, but that may take a long time. Tehran and Moscow have long-term strategies in the Middle East, and are able to cooperate on all levels, getting other countries to join them, including Turkey, whose relations with the EU are fast deteriorating.
The US and its allies are in a state of confusion and retreat, while Turkey, Iran and Russia remain coherent and in a state of progress regarding the liberation of Syria from terrorism and the maintenance of its territorial integrity.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub).