Small impatient signals from Moscow against Damascus

A family in Idlib province breaks up the young Ramadan on May 4.
A family in Idlib province breaks up the young Ramadan on May 4. AAREF WATAD / AFP

Is Moscow demonstrating its impatience with Damascus publicly? The publication in mid-April of a series of articles very critical of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad aroused the curiosity of observers, who saw it as a way for the Kremlin to express its dissatisfaction .

These texts attacked the corruption of the Syrian regime and its unpopularity: an "opinion poll" thus attributed to Bashar Al-Assad only 32% of voting intentions for the presidential election of 2021. Above all, they appeared on the site RIA FAN, controlled by businessman Evgueni Prigojine, believed to be the boss of Wagner's mercenary society. In other words, the man of the Kremlin's secret works and secret missions outside Russia. Other confidential sites have taken up these elements of language, emphasizing the "Whims of the Assad family" or asking the theoretically taboo question in Moscow: "Who can replace Assad?" "

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Publications on RIA FAN have been deleted, and the site has gone so far as to mention "Computer attacks" to explain the appearance of "Fake news regarding the Syrian president". According to some observers, Mr. Prigojine may also have tried to interfere in the clan struggles that are currently tearing apart Damascus. The father and brother of Rami Makhlouf, cousin of Bashar Al-Assad who fell into disgrace, settled in Russia and had relays there.

Insoluble equation

The existence of disagreements, even conflicts, between the Russian and Syrian allies is not new, even if these remain mostly silent. The insoluble equation has been known for a long time: without Moscow, Assad lost; outside Assad, Moscow is lost.

Except that, in recent weeks, the agendas of the two parties have diverged sharply: undermined by the fall in oil prices and the epidemic due to the coronavirus, Russia wants to avoid further escalations, especially with Turkey, while Damascus pushes for confrontation in the northwest of the country, in Idlib.

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"Moscow uses diplomatic channels, political channels, these signals are sort of a complement, notes Aleksandr Choumiline, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. There had already been disagreements, but less serious. Today, Russia needs a political solution, real or fictional, to get the Syrian subject off the agenda. "

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