With the escalation of tension in Ukraine and western officials’ and their corporate media warnings of “imminent” invasion of Ukraine by Russia, pundits claim that with the preoccupation of Russia with the Ukrainian scene, Putin may lose interest in Damascus or even trade it with the US for a better deal in Eastern Europe.
Of course, Syrian opposition figures got excited with these reports and started calling for nationwide protests against the government. While small protests erupted in as-Suwaida, the rest of the country stayed calm. However, there is some truth in negotiations between the US and Russia in respect to a grand compromise. Syrian local sources close to Damascus said Washington has offered Moscow in the past weeks a deal: Ukraine in exchange for Syria. What does this mean? It means the US asked Russia to leave the Syrian scene for good, in exchange for Americans’ pledge to the Russians that Ukraine would be politically subordinate to Moscow, and also pledged not to include Ukraine in the NATO alliance, and allow Moscow to reshape the political system in Ukraine, according to what Moscow deems appropriate to its interests. Is this a logical offer? Leaks from Syria say that Moscow rejected this offer and informed Washington that it is committed to Ukraine and to the alliance with Syria and the political leadership led by President Bashar al-Assad. Now, if we want to verify the credibility of these leaks, we have to check the general mood in Damascus and also the behaviour of Moscow. True enough, Russia sent last week the latest combat systems of intercontinental missiles and bomber aircraft to the Hmeimim airbase in Tartous and began preparing for Russian military manoeuvres from this base. This Russian move came at the same time as the alleged American offer to Moscow. Not only that, but Putin also sent his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu last Tuesday to Damascus to meet President Assad one day before the supposed date of the Russian attack against Ukraine. Therefore, it is safe to say that Russia’s motives are to preserve the gains in Syria and grab more gains in Eastern Europe. Putin treats his allies different from the US. The latter could get rid of its allies quickly and even bully them, such as the case with Germany, where President Biden is bullying Berlin to stop the North stream 2 project with Russia without presenting an alternative energy source for Germany. Crazy right? Germany deserves respect and most importantly, it has to secure its energy needs but the US seems to not care. In the same context, Germany and France do not want war with Russia but the aggressive policies of the US and the UK are endangering their partners in western and eastern Europe. Putin said it clearly: if Ukraine joins NATO and tries to capture Crimea, Donets and Lugansk by force, Europe will be automatically dragged to war with Russia and there will be no victorious in such wars between nuclear powers. Based on this context, Putin doesn’t see the wars in Syria and Ukraine isolated from the international struggle of power as a whole. And the recent delivery of combat systems of intercontinental missiles and bomber aircraft to the Hmeimim airbase indicates that the Russians are sending a few messages to the west: Syria is not bargainable and we are willing to force deterrence measures in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe alike to stop the entrenchment of NATO and its allies. However, the question remains: will Syria benefit from the tensions between Russia and the US? will Putin finally help the Syrian army to liberate the Eastern shores of the Euphrates from the US occupation and Idlib from Erdogan’s mercenaries? And most importantly, will war erupt in Ukraine and spread to other European countries and maybe to the Middle East?
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Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.