Russia and U.S. will have to come to agreement on Assad's future

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Source: flickr.com / Eduard Peskov, Russia's Foreign Ministry

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Source: flickr.com / Eduard Peskov, Russia's Foreign Ministry

As Moscow and Washington continue to debate how to resolve the Syrian crisis, RBTH asked several Russian experts how realistic a compromise is between the two powers and what potential scenarios await Syria.

The beginning of the fall has become an intensive period of consultations between Moscow and Washington on the Syrian issue. Not only diplomats but also military officials are participating in the talks. For now they are not discussing a joint fight against ISIS but rather how to prevent possible incidents.

A source from the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that Washington may be given all the necessary information on Moscow's collaboration with Damascus through the restored communications channel between the U.S. and Russian defense ministries.

However, the main issue of contention remains unresolved – the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. wants him to stand down, arguing that he bears responsibility for the entire conflict by waging war on his own people, while Russia insists that the Syrians themselves must decide the fate of their leader, without external involvement.

Meanwhile, news of Russia's military cooperation with Syria has alarmed Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately flew to Moscow on Sept. 21, bringing with him the heads of the country’s military.

His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin resulted in the sides agreeing to the creation of a group that will develop a mechanism for coordinating actions in the "air, sea and electromagnetic spheres," for minimizing unintended clashes and other incidents in Syria.

 

Is Washington softening its position?

Experts interviewed by RBTH believe that the settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem and Moscow's more active role in Syria could help extricate the situation from the impasse in which it is currently lodged.

Georgy Mirsky of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that recently there have been perceptible changes in Washington’s rhetoric on Assad. Even though the White House continues to insist that Assad must leave, it makes no mention of the framework for his "departure" and does not exclude sitting down with the Syrian leader at the negotiating table.

"We're prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table?" said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mirsky links the changes in Washington’s approach to the Syrian leader first and foremost to the agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

"After the deal was reached with Tehran on the Iranian nuclear program, Assad ceased to be an ally of the enemy," he said.

In his opinion, the main opponent for the U.S. in Syria is now ISIS, not Assad: "If the ISIS extremists come to power in Syria, it will be a blow to the security of the whole region. And Obama will go down in history as the American president who surrendered Damascus to the terrorists,” he said.

 

Three scenarios

Concerning Syria's future, experts see at least three scenarios: resolving the conflict with Assad, reaching a settlement without him, or the protraction of the conflict.

"The scenario in which Assad remains is the least likely because the U.S. has already spent a lot of resources on his overthrow and will not admit to defeat," said Tatyana Tyukayeva, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and expert at the Foreign Policy Analytical Center.

"For the U.S. Assad is a lesser evil if compared to ISIS,” said Georgy Mirsky. “But if Obama decides to leave Assad in place, he will be severely criticized.”

A more preferred scenario, according to experts, is one in which the Syrian regime remains but Assad leaves.

"The option of the regime formally remaining is more preferable. But the positions of influential regional players such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will hinder the realization of this option," said Tyukayeva.

"The most probable outcome is the protraction of the conflict, in the course of which Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will attempt to wear out the regime through loyal Islamist groups.”

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