Russia has been steadily working to consolidate its influence in Syria, entrenching itself militarily and in the economic arena through its control of the oil, gas, and phosphate industry — and pushing out Iran in the process.
The two nations have been staunch political allies, with each providing direct military, political and economic support to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Yet tensions are beginning to emerge between them, and observers say that closer alignment with Russia may turn out to be a costly proposition for Iran.
They point to the likelihood that Russia will interfere with or disrupt Iran’s foreign policy, which may in turn result in economic losses for Iran, and note that signs the balance is tipping in Russia’s favor are already evident in Syria.
Militias operating in eastern Syria under the direction of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been hemorrhaging fighters as their bases come under attack and the local population spurns Iranian hegemony.
And as fighters desert Iran-backed militias in increasing numbers, Russian recruiters are waiting to snap them up and incorporate them into their own ranks, marking a new phase of the Syrian conflict, local activists said.
“The Russian-Iranian competition is clearly evident in Syria,” said Syrian economist and Damascus University lecturer Mahmoud Mustafa.
But it is evident now, more than ever, that Iran’s share of new business opportunities has not met the Iranian regime’s aspirations and estimates, he said, as it had hoped for a huge return on its investment in the shortest possible time frame.
It seems that Russia’s plans “severely broadsided and hindered the Iranian calculations, with Russia depriving Iran of many revenue sources from which it had expected to generate money”, he said.