TASS writer Tamara Zamyatina on Wednesday published a report denying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claims to the effect that Russia’s aim in Syria is to create a mini-state around Latakia province, where the Alawite Assads will continue to rule, safe from the genocide that’s certain to be the lot of the Alawites otherwise. The TASS pundit said this is nothing but propaganda, intended to weaken Moscow’s influence on the Syrian crisis and the peace negotiations.
The Alawites, who are estimated at 1.5 to 3 million, constitute about ten percent of Syria’s population. They are settled in the strategically vital coastal provinces of Tartus and Latakia. President Assad, his family and most members of his inner circle are Alawites.
Addressing Turkish ambassadors in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan argued that Russia was planning to create a small state around Latakia province, and for that purpose Moscow was dealing strikes against Syria’s Turkomans in an attempt to oust them from the area. Back in September, Erdogan said that President Bashar Assad’s aim was to create a dwarf state taking up about 15% of the original Syria, incorporating Damascus, Hama, Homs and Latakia — the territories with an Alawite majority or where such a majority could be arranged.
“Erdogan’s fantasies about Moscow’s alleged plans for creating an Alawite state in Syria have nothing to rely on, but for the fact that Russia’s air group is based in Latakia and been dealing strikes against the line Latakia-Tartus-Hama-Homs with the aim to recapture them from the militants,” Vladimir Akhmetov, the senior research fellow at the Oriental Studies Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, told TASS. Although, once all the “militants” are dead, they could be replaced by non-militants, and those could very well be Alawites…
But Akhmetov believes that the rumors about Putin’s plot to create an Alawite state in Syria were timed for the forthcoming round of the International Syria Support Group talks in Geneva, on January 25. Russia plays a key role in the talks alongside the United States. “Erdogan’s purely propagandistic move against the Kremlin is expected to strip Russia of support from other participants in the Syrian settlement talks and to weaken its positions in international affairs in general,” Akhmetov told TASS.
Clearly, if Assad receives his mini-state as a gift from the West, it would be much smaller and less significant, militarily, politically and economically, than if the Russians acquire it for him, at which point the new state would include most of what matters in Syria, with the exception of Aleppo.
Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Middle East Institute, struck a more believable note when he told TASS: “If Bashar Assad were to choose between the risk of Alawites falling victim to genocide and the creation of a mini-state, he would possibly accept. But now the balance of power has begun to change in his favor with support from Russia’s Air Group. In the meantime the real purpose of Russia’s participation in the operation in the Middle East against international terrorism is not Latakia or the Alawites, but protection of its own security.”