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Russia Wages Hidden War in Syria to Pit Factions Against Each Other

Rebel military sources claim Moscow is communicating directly with armed groups in Homs in an attempt to lure factions into entering dubious truces and sow suspicion among the opposition
Russia Wages Hidden War in Syria to Pit Factions Against Each Other

Throughout its ongoing military operations in Syria since the end of September, Russia has not achieved results affecting the entirety of the Syrian conflict, despite tens of thousands of air strikes which President Vladimir Putin says his forces have carried out in Syrian cities.

The results of Russia’s intervention have achieved limited advances for regime forces in the Aleppo countryside and the city of Palmyra in central Homs, while these forces have still been unable to retake large areas under the control of opposition factions or others the Islamic State group.

Russian Maneuver

Al-Souria Net has learned from military sources in the Homs countryside that Russia has begun to communicate directly and indirectly with a number of military factions there, in addition to contacts with aid and service agencies.

Through its current communications, Russia aims to achieve an advance in the military arena that helps its interests and the interests of the Assad regime by luring opposition factions into entering truces, which will provide protection from bombardment and secure the needs required by residents of the areas where the factions are present.

In its contacts with the factions, Russia hopes to turn them from regime opponents into neutral parties, and so they accept the terms of reconciliation provided by Russia to improve the humanitarian situation.

Items of the Agreement

One military commander who asked not to be named told Al-Souria Net that “A Russian political official proposed that we convey a proposal to the residents of Rastan,” which included:

— Regime forces would be compelled to stop all forms of shooting at civilians in Rastan and its countryside.

— All medical supplies and other necessities of life demanded by residents would be brought in, in spite of regime forces.

— If approved, negotiations and communications would be held with the high commander of Russian forces in Syria.

— Anyone from the regime side would be forbidden from entering the city of Rastan, which would remain under Russian protection.

Creating Strife

The danger of Russia’s efforts to win over opposition fighters inside Syria comes in that Moscow has proposed that the factions who accept the reconciliation be given military support under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.” According to Al-Souria Net’s communications with two factions in touch with Russia (who asked not to be identified), what they mean by terrorists is “Islamist factions and others who refuse the Russian offer.”

If opposition factions accept the conditions, the Russian proposal would fuel infighting between them and the other factions that reject it, which would achieve Russia and the Assad regime’s shared aim of using the factions against each other, thereby weakening the opposition. Meanwhile, factions that agree to the Russian offer would not be safe if Russia or the regime reneged on the offer, and would not be able to defend themselves, especially if they were drained in the battles and clashes with the factions that rejected the Russian project.

Moscow’s communications also included a maneuver to push opposition factions to agree to them. Military sources told Al-Souria Net that Russia pledged within the terms of the proposed agreement to remove Assad, or to reach a political change to be agreed on later.

The Factions’ Position

The factions which had been contacted by Russia told Al-Souria Net they had refused the offer, saying: “We can’t risk accepting the Russian proposal for several reasons, most importantly breaking ranks with the factions that reject the proposal, especially since we would also be required to fight them if we accept.”

The same factions indicated that it wasn’t possible to trust the Russian position, especially since it has spoken more than once about removing Assad and finding a political solution. They stressed that even if the American position remains in its current ambiguity, “We have no choice but to fight and return to the time before the American armament, and this is what we’re trying to do now. The doors before us are wider in the black markets for weapons, and the jihadist groups, especially Al-Qaeda, who may be our only future military ally in bringing down the regime.”

One of the military commanders of the factions in the Homs countryside told Al-Souria Net: “The Russians always suggest that the American deal with Iran has pushed them to give up on the Syrian issue, while it has pressured Saudi Arabia to stop arming the opposition, and is now pressuring Turkey.”

Targeting Aid Groups

In what appeared to be a start of implementing the Russian proposal, Al-Souria Net learned that Russia communicated with a number of civilian organizations in the Homs countryside which were either “neutral” or belonging to the Assad regime in order to fill the gap in the absence of opposition institutions.

Russia is exploiting the declining and drying up of support for a number of groups working in the Homs countryside, proposing that they offer them aid and foodstuffs, in addition to sending them reassurances they will open humanitarian crossings, with the aim of assisting the implementation of the Russian project.

The sources that spoke with Al-Souria Net expressed fear that the Russian mobilization is occurring in harmony with the United States, or in light of the latter’s acceptance of the Russian project, adding that a number of factions contacted by Moscow have not decided whether to accept or reject the Russian proposal.

They said that the Assad regime has spread rumors that the areas that have received the Russian offer to reconcile have accepted it, with the aim of sowing suspicion between the opposition groups, and pushing them indirectly to accept the Russian project.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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