WASHINGTON – June 26, 2016 – A potential schism appears to be developing between Iran and Russia over how their respective strategic interests will be served in Syria and whether they will stand by embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at all costs, according to a report by G2 Bulletin.
The problem has been simmering as Tehran seeks to back the preservation of Assad’s government, while Moscow appears to back Assad so long as national security interests are achieved, informed regional sources who insisted on anonymity tell G2 Bulletin.
The sources say their differences haven’t quite reached the point of an open break, but among rank-and-file Russian soldiers, and even among Iranian and Hezbollah fighters, there is hostility.
One source told G2 Bulletin that Russian soldiers stationed in and around Syria’s capital, Damascus, said they’re backing the Syrian military, distinguishing it from the Assad government.
And they openly scorn the Iranians who appear to be backing Assad, a fellow Shiite, to the hilt. Syria is a major conduit for Tehran to continue supplying its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, in an effort to establish a Shiite crescent from Iran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“We are closely partnering with the Syrian military but not Iran and Hezbollah,” the source quoted one Russian soldier as saying.
The differences between Moscow and Tehran, which had been simmering for months beneath the surface, became increasingly apparent following the deaths in early May of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds force soldiers in the Syrian town of Khan Tuman.
The town was attacked by anti-Assad fighters during a Russian-imposed cease-fire.
The apparent lack of Russian protection raised questions in the ranks of IRGC fighters about whether they can rely on the Russian military. In addition, the Iranians also see the Russians pursuing their own objectives without keeping Tehran informed.
A source told G2 Bulletin that the episode had made the Iranians begin to question Moscow’s objectives and whether they were in sync with those of Tehran.
Moscow has sought to reestablish a strategic presence in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War. It has enlarged its naval base at Tartous and set up an airfield at Hmeimim Airbase, just outside of Latakia in western Syria.