In a scathing April 22 column in the Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is affiliated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Rif’at Ibrahim Al-Badawi accused Syria allies Russia and Iran of individually pressuring Syria politically and economically to accept their political proposals—even if it means suffering for the Syrian people.

Al-Badawi argued that the once-hidden Russia-Iran disagreements are now out in the open, and that the two countries are now in a “hectic race” to convey messages promoting divergent initiatives to the Syrian leadership. While Iran is attempting to improve, and even revive, Syria-Turkey relations, with the aim of forming a regional alliance, Russia, he said, is working to nudge the Assad regime closer to Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries, with the aim of weakening Iran’s influence on Syria and in the entire region.

The following are excerpts from Al-Badawi’s column:

“The frequency of the visits to Damascus by Iranian and Russian officials, one after the other, is not incidental. These visits were a hectic race to convey messages to the Syrian leadership, including proposals aimed at reaching an arrangement with Syria. … [The proposals of] each [Russia and Iran] are in accordance with the language and perspective [of each vis-à-vis Syria] … It is clear that Syria is in no hurry … and that it is judiciously examining the new proposals to see which are compatible with Syrian interests—for fear that it will become embroiled in disputes and conflicts of interest and [will then be subject to] additional pressures, especially in light of the severe fuel crisis in the country because it is besieged.

“It is also clear that this time, the messages of Syria’s allies [Russia and Iran] are coming from opposite directions, reflecting the unique and separate view of each. What is certain is that generous proposals from [two] rival [countries], Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have been streaming into Damascus, and are aimed at establishing routes for political and security cooperation; they have been described as positive.

“Damascus, [as noted,] is diligently considering all options and initiatives. Tehran is pushing Damascus to adopt what it calls a high-quality initiative, which is aimed at reshuffling the cards of the conflict between Syria and its neighbors, chief of them the [Turkish] Ottoman neighbor. The purpose of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif’s [April 16, 2019] Syria visit was to relay [reciprocal] messages between Ankara and Damascus, as part of an Iranian effort to promote political and security arrangements to the point where relations between the two countries are revived—even if initially limited to intelligence cooperation …

“Russia, [on the other hand,] seeks to bring Damascus’s positions closer to those of Riyadh, by pushing Syria to implement U.N. Resolution 2254 and to accelerate the formation of the constitutional committee [so that this will happen] prior to the Sochi summit slated for the end of the month [April]. Russia is depicting this effort as serving the interest of rapprochement among the Arab states, preparing ground for Syria’s return to the Arab League and contributing to breaking the political siege [on Syria] and defusing the existing conflict [between Syria and the Arab states], in preparation for a future resolution of the crisis.

“However, it is impossible to separate the fast pace of events and the influx of initiatives to Damascus from [the fact] that these countries … [are seeking] to strengthen their roles and their alliances and secure their strategic interests—even if it causes suffering for the Syrian people.

“From Iran’s efforts with its Ottoman neighbor, it can be learned … that Iran is acting [now] with absolute determination to create common interests among countries that border [it], so as to ensure the broadest possible coordination [among them], and also to secure the interests of the peoples, primarily those linked to Iran via Islam and ideology. This would assure Iran a larger role, and grant it considerable political influence in laying out the characteristics of the region, especially with regard to the struggle with the Israeli enemy.

“Thus, the [once-]concealed disagreements among Syria’s allies are now out in the open. It is no longer a secret that Russia, in response to a clear demand from the Gulf, aspires to weaken Iran’s influence, which is growing and expanding at the expense of the influence of Arab Gulf states in the region—a situation that explains the Russian-Saudi rapprochement in the face of the Iran-Turkey rapprochement. It is now clear that the glut of initiatives is not for political purposes alone, because the outcomes will be translated into economic profits …

“In light of the tangle [of interests and relations of the various forces operating within it], Syria is experiencing a true crisis and a suffocating siege, amid the slump in the import of crucial fuels … This crisis cannot be isolated from the pressure Syria is experiencing to actualize the aims of the initiatives and proposals presented to it. This is because the fuel crisis currently facing Syria did not happen even at the peak of the war there; thus, one wonders at its timing.

“There are strident voices from [Syria’s] Russian ally giving excuses for [Russia’s] refraining from supplying fuel to Syria, claiming that transporting it is costly—even though it is half the distance from Russia’s ports to Syria’s ports than from Iran’s ports to Syria’s ports. [Even though] transporting fuel from Iran to Syria costs much more than transporting it from Russia, Syria consistently [manages to] pay this cost.

“As for Iraq’s failure to help Syria in this crisis regardless of its geographic proximity to it, our Iraqi brothers replied that they are committed to the U.S.-Saudi resolution [prohibiting providing fuel] to Syria that is aimed at ratcheting up the pressure on it.

“What is happening in the Syrian arena in the wake of the suffocating crisis is deliberately planned by Syria’s allies and rivals, together and separately, with the aim of pressuring [Syria] into accepting either the Russian or the Iranian proposal. That is, the boycott on Syria is a disguised boycott aimed at achieving particular aims that will secure the interests of one of the allies …

“As we await the opening of the envelopes [containing] the proposals and arrangements, we say to those so expert at fishing in murky waters and at seizing opportunities to play upon people’s pain and whose shrill voices are heard on social media and elsewhere: Play no part in pressuring Syria. [Rather,] come to its aid, because what [Syria’s] rivals and allies have not accomplished with bloodshed they will not accomplish today with a disguised boycott, whose goals are now clear.

“We say with full confidence that the Syrian leadership will consider only a proposal that guarantees that the heart of the Syrian Arab Republic will continue to be fully Arab.”