Although diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions have isolated and harmed Russia, the chief reason behind Russia’s revision of its goals is the heavy military losses. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have claimed that more than 4,500 military vehicles belonging to the Russian Armed Forces were destroyed, severely damaged, or captured by the Ukrainian forces. Although there is no objective data on the causalities, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ statements, Russian causalities in Ukraine are more than 25,000.
The impact of the war in Ukraine on Syria and Libya
Russian military losses not only affect the Russian prospects for Ukraine, but also Russia’s military presence in the Middle East. Some Wagner units, who are Russian mercenaries and were deployed in Libya and Syria, have reportedly started withdrawing. These units redeployed in Ukraine to back Russian forces.
Accordingly, Ankara decided to close its airspace to Russian military and civilian planes flying between Russia and Syria. Thus, the route from the Hmeimim Air Base to Russia has become longer and costlier. On the other hand, as a move against Ukraine’s open-door strategy to foreign fighters, especially citizens of European countries, Moscow stated that there are volunteers from the Middle East who want to fight on its behalf.
Following this move, allegations were made from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) that Russia voluntarily registered thousands of Syrians for a possible deployment to the Donbass region. These moves speak of the impact of the Ukraine war and Russia’s losses in Syria. Russia’s possible withdrawal of military forces in Syria would diminish its influence and this would work in favor of Iran, both ally and rival of Moscow over Syria.
High-level officials from Syria and Iran had met in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and discussed the opportunities that a possible decrease of the Russian influence could create in the medium term. While the spymaster of the al-Assad regime Ali Mamlouk met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Secretary General of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani in Tehran on February 28, the president of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad received Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Asghar Haji in Damascus on March 1
The Daraa-Deir ez-Zor line will be the main region where the Iran-Russian rivalry will intensify in the coming months following the invasion of Ukraine. This is the region where the Tehran-Moscow rivalry is the most intense on the ground and is also the target of systematic airstrikes by Israel and the U.S. For this reason, in a situation where Russia’s influence decreases and Iran’s influence increases, the number of Israel-U.S. airstrikes that target Iran-backed militias will mount too.
Since the beginning of 2021, Israel has launched airstrikes against numerous Iranian targets in Damascus, Rif Damascus, Latakia, Deir ez-Zor, Tartus, Aleppo, Homs, and Quneitra. Tel Aviv was careful with the severity of attacks as not to disturb Moscow. Russia, on the other hand, did not completely prevent these attacks, both protecting its relations with Israel in the region and ensuring that Iran’s efforts to increase its influence were dealt a blow by Israel.
This opinion first appeared on Politics Today