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Russia makes moves in Syria and Cyprus - analysis


Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia, in Sochi, Russia, in this undated picture released on October 13, 2019 (photo credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia, in Sochi, Russia, in this undated picture released on October 13, 2019
(photo credit: SPUTNIK/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went to Damascus to meet Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has been doing the usual victory lap of diplomatic meetings that make it seem like it is succeeding in the northern part of the Middle East, while the US under Mike Pompeo’s diplomacy has succeeded in the southern part and Israel. In the center lies Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, which recently had a high level meeting.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went to Damascus to meet Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad. Russia brought along Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov to show its commitment. Meanwhile Turkey’s leader was about to have a video conference with Iran’s leader. Russia knows this and has also hosted eastern Syrian Kurdish politicians recently. The Russian message is clear. It can play a key role in Syria, as it has been doing, and it wants stability there.

Syria’s regime wants Russian investment. This could include money for energy, mining and power projects. Syria has been gutted by a decade of war, hundreds of thousands dead and 10 million displaced. The conflict continues in northern Syria, which is now occupied by Turkey. The regime would like the US to leave eastern Syria as well. It’s not clear if the several hundred US troops will leave soon.
The Syrian regime is at an economic breaking point due to the Caesar act in the US which puts harsher sanctions in place. But the regime has nowhere to go, so all it can do is gut the country more. Of course the goal of the regime is to hang on with some help from Russia, Iran and maybe even China. But its neighbor Lebanon also needs $93 billion to be bailed out. Syria is an economic wasteland. Eastern Syria, where the US has influence, is also cut off. Turkey, despite stories to the UN about a $20b. investment in its occupied zone, has been robbing Syria of agriculture but doing little to help

The end result then for Assad is to try to figure out which country will buy up the country, the Russians or Iranians. Iran wants to be part of China’s new silk road of economic success and is holding discussions with India and Turkey. Maybe Iran can help Assad thread the economic needle if Russia doesn’t bring enough investment.
Russia is also launching an initiative to encourage Cyprus and Northern Cyprus to hold talks. Northern Cyprus, like Afrin and areas in Syria, is occupied by Turkey since the 1970s but is treated as an independent country by Ankara. Lavrov suggested talks now after Turkey held military drills with Northern Cyprus. This comes as the US and France are angling for arms and defense deals and agreements with Cyprus, which is part of the EU.
What is Lavrov’s point of raising the Cyprus issue now. He speaks of negotiations and a solution to the decades long division of the island. He got quite specific in comments, with differing versions in Greek and Turkish media. Greek media alludes to Turkish plans about opening up an abandoned area near Famagusta. Russia wants a comprehensive, lasting, “just and viable solution.” That sounds like language usually used for Israel and the Palestinians.
It appears Russia is in Cyprus partly relating to signing agreements but also because the US has ended an arms embargo and Russia may be concerned about Cyprus becoming too close to Washington. Russia claims to want to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean that have pitted an aggressive Turkey against Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, the EU, France and others. Turkey has also sent arms to Libya and signed a deal designed to take over part of the sea. Israel has a pipeline deal with Cyprus and Greece. Russia would like to play the mediator and thus gain influence.


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