Syrian president Bashar Assad is continuing to face mounting pressure to resign from office. This time it appears that the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Syrian rebels have been talking about ideas for removing Assad from office, though it remains to be seen if Russia can be completely trusted amid conflicting signals about its true feelings on the issue.
The countries have been discussing a plan since June that would have Assad placed into a position as the interim head of the state until elections could take place. Russia has been a longtime ally of Assad, and the country has resisted previous plans of a similar nature. The rise of ISIS has supposedly resulted in a change of ideology for the country.
Vice President of the Middle East Institute in Washington Paul Salem said, “There’s a convergence on the threat of ISIS. This convergence wasn’t there when they last tried diplomacy two years ago.”
However, it remains unclear if Russia is fully on-board with such a plan. Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov recently said, “Only the Syrian people can decide the fate of Syria, not some outside countries."
Additionally, Russia reportedly sent an advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Syria last week, the latest arms shipment the country has sent. Western countries believe that this is part of an effort to support troubled Syrian president Assad.
Meanwhile, Lebanese officials have observed troops from Russia participating in military operations on behalf of Assad’s regime. While Russia has yet to comment on these reports, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated at a news conference that Russia was sending military equipment to assist Assad against Islamic State Fighters.
Russia keeps its only Mediterranean naval base at Tartus on the Syrian coast. Protecting this base is a major strategic objective for Russia and could explain its sudden interest in the region.