September 3, the White House’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated at the press briefing about awareness of Russian activity in helping Assad regime in struggle against ISIS. “We're monitoring those reports quite closely”, Earnest announced. “I will just say as a general matter that any military support to the Assad regime for any purpose is both destabilizing and counterproductive”, he added. The official called Russia for supporting to international coalition against ISIL, leaded by the US. According to official position of the White House, path to stabilization in Syria lies through “transition in the political leadership” in this country. So, Moscow’s aid to the existing regime interferes to this plan.
Next day, President Vladimir Putin made his cross-application on Syrian question, while opening the Eastern economic forum in Vladivostok. He underlined that reaching of “positive results in certain territories” would be impossible in case of “quarrels on quasidemocratic principles and procedures”. Putin rejected the possibility of direct Russian participation in operations against ISIS, but noticed that “[Russia] still provides to Syria rather sensible supply in military equipment and training”. Organizing of common front against terrorism is impossible without negotiations inside Syria, between the government and “healthy opposition”. “The President of Syria agrees with it, up to parliamentary elections and cooperation with opposition. But first of all this is an issue of internal development, we can’t impose anything”, Putin stated.
On Saturday, September 5, Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in order to discuss Syrian problem. After the announcement on Department of State website, Kerry emphasized the official position that military assistance to Assad “could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIS Coalition operating in Syria.” It is noticeable that the Russian side has not published details of this conversation. Kerry and Lavrov agreed that discussions would go on during their meeting in New York this month.
Despite the lasting close cooperation between Russia and Syrian regime, which has been taking place since the conflict has started in 2011, Moscow seeks contacts with the local opposition. So, in August 31 Lavrov met representatives of the latter on the “Moscow site” of inter-Syrian consultations and gave speech to them. As the main message, he declared Russian allegiance to “Syria’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity” and Geneva agreements of 2012. This in fact means that Russia still bets on Assad’s government and won’t deprive Damascus from help and alliance.
In situation of rapprochement of the USA-Iran relations and certain success in negotiations on nuclear program of the Islamic Republic and sanctions against it, Russia needs it’s almost the last ally in the region. The activity of ISIS reaches not only post-Soviet republics of Middle Asia, but the very territories of Russia. Also, Moscow will never agree to join the US-led coalition, which may mean loss of freedom of action and influence in Middle East. In the light of mentioned above, Russia will do its best to secure Assad’s regime survival and allow only those changes in Syria which won’t harm Kremlin’s interests. Lavrov’s contacts with the “healthy opposition” are a display of seeking for “friends” in possible post-Assad Syria.