Russia’s Influence Has Risen But Iran is the Real Winner in Aleppo by Martin Chulov, The Guardian
As the green surrender buses trickled out of Aleppo last Wednesday, Bashar al-Assad’s two biggest backers reacted very differently.
Russia, which had brokered the deal with Turkey to allow the refugees to leave, was urging the convoy on towards the countryside, where the first of the city’s final refugees were to be disgorged. Iran, on the other hand, was looking for ways to stop it.
To Moscow, the ceasefire was the pinnacle of Russia’s intervention in Aleppo, a moment when it could mount a new case as a peacemaker, after bombing opposition groups to capitulation for 15 months. To Tehran, allowing remaining civilians and rebel fighters to leave was a potential loss of leverage – at precisely the time that Iranian influence on the battlefield had started to eclipse that of Russia’s.
The divergence marked a seminal moment in the Syrian war; the mutual interest in securing Assad that had brought the two countries together had suddenly given way to a feud about who calls the shots now that the war is nearly won. The Russian air force matters little now. The Iranian revolutionary guards count for more.
Besieged populations have been bargaining chips throughout the six-year conflict, and Iran has played a direct role in turning the fate of cornered opposition communities into political victories that secure Assad and strengthen its own hand.
Allowing the last desperate holdouts of Aleppo to leave, without first seeking terms, was not in the Iranian playbook. And, within hours of Turkey and Russia announcing a deal, Iran had sabotaged it, demanding the lifting of a siege of two Shia villages north of Aleppo, Fua and Kefraya, which had been surrounded by the al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. It also wanted a trade of prisoners and bodies of slain Hezbollah and Iraqi militants under its tutelage…