Dubai Russia, which sought a bigger role in the Middle East through its intervention in Syria on behalf of the Bashar Al Assad regime, is seeking to benefit from reconstruction projects once stability and peace is achieved, several analysts have said.
Moscow is in Syria to stay, and analysts said it is expected to boost its military presence at a time when regional alliances are being reshaped.
“When stability finally comes, real possibilities for mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation will emerge. And instead of funding military operations, we will be able to invest in peaceful reconstruction and improvement of the humanitarian situation. To spend the money for peace, not for war,” said Igor Matveev, an expert in Middle East and Syria with an academic and diplomatic background from Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University) in Russia.
Matveev, the former head of economic division at the Russian embassy in Damascus and author of many books on Syria, stressed in an interview with Gulf News that “it is natural to think about possible investments, and not only in G2G (Government to Government) format, but also with the participation of the Russian private sector. To analyse how to invest, how to get the money back and how to gain rational commercial profits. However, another very important task of Russia’s participation in re-building Syria is to assist in bringing stability and ensuring the true revival of socioeconomic life.”
A report in Foreign Policy earlier this month said Russia had “achieved most of its short and medium term goals in Syria” after nearly four years of military intervention in the country. It said “growing number of signs suggest Moscow is now shifting focus to another objective: The Kremlin would like Syria to provide it a financial windfall”. Moscow eyes a large chunk of the estimated $350 billion needed for reconstruction in Syria, and this would help Russia’s efforts to diversify its sources.
However, the problem is not who is going to benefit and how, the issue is where will the funds come from, said analysts.
Both the US and the European Union, which feature among top donors around the world, are expected to link their financial aid to “political transition as a precondition for re-engagement”, including allowing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to go back home, said the Foreign Policy report.
The refugees’ return is something Moscow plans to use to bring in money, said experts.
Russia, said Matveev, can “play a certain role in bringing” both Damascus and the Kurds, who control many areas rich in natural resources and who are supported by the US, to the table to conduct a “mutually beneficial economic dialogue”.
Rebuilding Syria constitutes an important strategic dimension for Moscow as well, said Mohammad Fayez, a researcher in Russian affairs at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Strategic Studies Centre.
Speaking to Gulf News, Fayez said Russia has many options to fulfil its goal of “boosting its strategic gains from Syria” including gas exploration and seeking funds from China, which has huge foreign reserves and several financing institutions.
“China, also, has a big interest in being present in Syria,” Fayez said.
“Beijing seems to be still formulating its approaches, analysing prospects and modalities for Syria’s incorporation into the ambitious Chinese ‘One Belt, One Road’ project,” said Matveev. “Until now, the Chinese have been indicating interest to participate in the recovery of selective sectors of the Syrian economy, like the energy sector and the production of cars. Here, Russia could hypothetically participate in joint projects, bringing some unique technologies and technical expertise.
I believe, similar constructive approach should be applied towards Iran: division of roles and effective cooperation is always better than aggressive rivalry and competition,” said Matveev.
Russia, meanwhile, is attempting to re-emerge as a superpower in different regions, including recently South America, through Venezuela. Under such circumstances, it is not expected to reduce its military presence where it already exists, said analysts.
This applies to Syria at a time when there is a shift in alliances.
Commenting on Russian ambitions, Matveev said, “Russia is obviously seeking a more important role in the MENA region. Especially in Syria, taking into account the long history of bilateral relations dating back to the Soviet times. I do not think Moscow specifically intends to oppose or confront Washington but sometimes, this happens as a result of of foreign policy and existing conflicts of interests.”