Iran has accused its Russian ally of being divergent on its goals of keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.
This week, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said Russia was seeking its own interests in Syria regarding the future of President Assad, and suggested that Russia may not care about keeping Assad in his post the same way the Iranians do.
Speaking at a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and other Iranian diplomats, Jafari referred to Russia as “the Northern Comrade,” and said that, while Iran’s commitment to keeping Assad in power remains unwavering, the Islamic Republic believes its Russian ally is providing military support there in pursuit of its “own interests” and suggested that Russia “may not care about the survival of al-Assad as we do.”
According to Reuters, Jafari then said, “We don’t know any better person to replace him.”
Conversely, at a press conference in Moscow, the adviser to Vice Chairman of the Russian Federal Council Andrey Baklanov emphasized that his country does not intend to take Assad out of power. According to Al-Arabiya, he said that “briefly, the Western countries should recognize that Russia does not intend to change Assad’s regime and that he will stay in power. There should be a political mediation according to that perspective, which is the survival of President Assad and the Syrian regime.”
When asked by Reuters if saving Assad was a matter of principle for Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “Absolutely not, we never said that.” She continued, “We are not saying that Assad should leave or stay,” but noted that another regime change in the region could result in a catastrophe and “could simply turn the whole region into a large black hole.”
The comments arrive a month after Russia launched a bombing raid on rebel groups within Syria who were trying to overthrow Assad. Meanwhile, a newly formed U.S.-backed Syrian rebel alliance on the ground reportedly showed signs of advancement against the Islamic State in the war-torn nation’s northeast province of Hasaka.
Iran participated in a summit in Vienna with the United States for the first time to discuss finding a solution to ending the bloody Syrian civil war. The U.S. State Department begrudgingly announced Iran’s presence at the table. It was later reported that Russia had initially extended the invitation.
A senior official who works in the region and is familiar with diplomatic contacts on Syria reportedly told Reuters that “there is no Russian-Iranian difference over the matter of Assad.”