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Kremlin and Soleimani

Analytics

09 January 2020, 14:58

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Did the assassination of the Iranian general harm Russia?

On January 2nd, General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds special forces unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, was killed in Baghdad by the US drone strike. He was called one of the most influential people not only in Iran, but throughout the Middle East. It was he who became the architect of the Iranian “hybrid war” which included the creation of the so-called “irregular armies” in neighboring states posing as local “militias” and allowing Iran to control other countries through these formations. It was this idea that Moscow borrowed in the use of its covert forces in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

Soleimani is called the savior of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and it is believed that it was he who initiated the official intervention of Russia in the Syrian war in 2015 (according to unofficial data, Russian special forces have been present there at least since 2012). In the West, Soleimani was accused of the deaths of hundreds of US troops in Iraq and involvement in attacks on Israel, as well as threats to wipe off the Jewish state from the face of the Earth. The United States included him, along with other Iranian officials, among the terrorists accused of conspiring to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington in 2011. In Iraq, Al-Quds and Soleimani himself were accused of brutally suppressing the protests.

Crying over Soleimani

All analysts agree that the murder of a senior general and, in combination, a war criminal will significantly weaken Iran’s influence in the region. As for Moscow’s position in the Middle East, as the Russian political analyst, orientalist, Doctor of Historical Sciences Elena Galkina said in the interview with the Free Russia Forum, with the death of Qassem Soleimani, the Kremlin lost an established channel of communication with Iran. It is also true, as Elena noted, that this loss is unlikely to be critical for Moscow.

Russia, for its part, has shown restrained indignation and grief over US actions both at the official level and in state media. Thus, immediately after the death of Soleimani, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that “this step by the United States lies outside any legal framework” and makes the world “face a new reality.” Pro-Kremlin analysts predict that the United States will lose influence in the Middle East and further weaken its foreign policy position. Orthodox radicals from Tsargrad TV channel went even further and proclaimed Soleimani and his militants “Iranian heroes” fighting “against the servants of the coming Antichrist – the invaders of the Holy Land and their overseas curators and minions”; and also once again envied the Iranian example of “the possibility of theocracy in the modern, largely godless world.”

However, let’s try to figure out if the assassination of the Iranian general actually caused real damage to Moscow.

Why Kremlin valued Soleimani

Russians are not hiding the fact that the assassinated general was a valuable figure for Moscow, and that many of his operations and crimes were useful not only to the Iranian authorities, but also to Russia. At the same time, unlike official propagandists, military analysts describe the “merits” of the deceased much more honestly. In particular, the authors of the Military Review website, close to the Russian Ministry of Defense, list among Soleimani’s main “virtues” his effective “hybrid” war against the United States in Iraq, which caused the death of many American soldiers, as well as the cultivation of Hezbollah and the rescue of Assad.

“They also managed to seriously arm the rebels … The Iranians very quickly created IED’s and set up their production and delivery to Iraq. These mines easily hit the monstrous American armored cars and claimed the lives of hundreds of American soldiers. And this was also Soleimani’s work… In addition to the war aimed at weakening the United States, Soleimani was committed to ensuring that a strong government capable of threatening Iran would never be established in Iraq, and he succeeded in that. In 2011, as the result of his efforts, the US officially ended the occupation of Iraq by minimizing its presence in this country,” – Russian military analysts praised the Iranian general.

Nevertheless, the authors of the Military Review note one “mistake” by Soleimani: the involvement of Al-Qaeda in operations against the United States – and this only because it “led to the attacks by its militants on the Iraqi Shiites.” However, according to the Kremlin’s military experts, it was a forgivable blunder, because, quoting verbatim: “However, they also killed Americans, so it was not a serious mistake.”

 “Few people know that until around 2016, Iran “carried” almost the entire war on land, since the Syrian army at some point almost completely lost its combat effectiveness… Soleimani also greatly strengthened Quds’ ties with the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, getting more help for this movement from Iran, including Iranian recruits,” – the author continues to list the General’s “merits”.

This article is shocking not because it lists examples of Soleimani’s crimes — one can learn about them from other sources — but by the  fact that the Russian military openly describes them as valiant and concludes on their basis that “no peaceful coexistence with the United States is possible, attempts to achieve such is a waste of time.” There is no doubt that the Kremlin really valued Soleimani and participated with him in many war crimes. And yet this does not mean that at this stage, contrary to apparent damage, the death of the Iranian general may not play into the hands of Moscow.

A tip from Putin?

Some American analysts suggest that, paradoxical as it may sound, the Americans determined the location of Soleimani… with the help of a tip from Putin!

“The Kremlin offered a statement about the call that Mr. Putin thanked Trump for information helping Moscow thwart a terrorist attack and said the relationship was bilateral. Question: had Moscow supplied information in return?  If so, it could not have been a warning of the next rocket attack on a US base in Iraq; or the US embassy compound rioting. What was provided in return, if anything? Might it have been Suleimani’s location information? Would Moscow share it? Why?”, wonders American military analyst Michael Woodson.

This hypothesis is not as improbable as it might seem at a first glance. The Kremlin, so fond of reproaching the United States for not observing any agreements and easily betraying its former allies, uses the same methods. Yes, Soleimani was indeed the creator of many terrorist groups that Russia used for its own purposes. Together with Moscow, he supported the Assad regime and participated in the reprisals against the Syrian opposition. But it is entirely possible that Putin had already received everything he wanted from the Iranian general, and further decided to act on the principle: “The Moor has done his job, the Moor can leave.”

This is partly recognized by the already mentioned authors of the Military Review. In particular, they write about the current situation in Syria: “Russia has been able to create its own ground forces not controlled by Iran in this country.” Moscow is unlikely to need Soleimani for ties with Hezbollah either; according to Israeli analysts, the Kremlin has long been working directly with this organization.

In addition, Putin likely needs chaos in the Middle East, rather than a strong Iranian influence, in the region where Moscow does not mind strengthening its own positions. So, 4 years ago, experts from the Belarusian Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies indicated that Russia was interested in escalating tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to the director of the Center Arseny Sivitsky, the main motive of Moscow is the positive impact of instability in the Middle East on the world oil prices. At the same time, as Arseny Sivitsky points out, the Kremlin very skillfully exploits regional conflicts along the Shiite-Sunni axis and alternately supports various sides in the conflict in order to maintain a certain level of tension in the hope that it will contribute to rising oil prices.

At the same time, the Russian military themselves admit that Soleimani, “by controlling the banks and oil supplies in Iraq, and then in other places, has made his military empire self-financing.” However, the oil empire, under the control of a strong state, is not able to create the degree of chaos that is beneficial to Moscow.

At the same time, a new round of confrontation between Iran and the United States will lead not only to the weakening of Iran, but also the United States, which cannot but please Putin. Russian military analysts are considering two possible scenarios. The first may be the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. In Russia, they are even entertaining the theory that Trump killed Soleimani specifically in order to divert attention from impeachment and at the same time provoke the corresponding demand of Baghdad, as this will allow him to “get out of the Middle Eastern quagmire.” No matter how hard Kremlin experts try to convince everyone that such a development is not good for Russia, it is logical to assume that a decrease in American influence in the region, combined with the weakening of Iran, will automatically lead to increased Russian influence.

The second option, according to Moscow, could be the further “sucking in” of the United States in the Middle East wars;  Russian military analysts do not conceal their goal, which is to get the Americans “bogged down” in this region and not be able to influence other world events (in particular, in Eastern Europe). Therefore, whether or not Kremlin will benefit from the assassination of Qassem Soleimani ultimately depends on the policy of the United States.

Kseniya Kirillova for M.News World

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