Lavrov’s visit to Damascus raises spectre of transitional phase

The Russian FM’s visit to Damascus would be his first since 2012.
Monday 07/09/2020
A February 2012 file photo shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after talks in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
A February 2012 file photo shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after talks in Damascus, Syria. (AP)

DAMASCUS – Arab sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that the Syrian regime’s circles are apprehensive about a planned visit of a high-level Russian delegation that includes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Damascus on Monday.

They explained that the Syrian regime is concerned that Lavrov’s presence could mean that the Russians are preparing to tell Bashar Assad’s regime to take certain actions soon.

These decisions include accepting the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254, which means preparing for a transitional phase in Syria in light of the drafting of a new constitution.

Lavrov’s expected visit to Damascus was announced within the context of meetings held last week in Geneva of the committee in charge of drafting a new Syrian constitution.

The UN secretary-general’s envoy to Syria, Norwegian Geir Pedersen, participated in those meetings and noted that the Syrian regime showed no hurry in discussing the drafting of a new Syrian constitution under which Syrian presidential elections would be held in June 2021.

Lavrov said that his country, as a guarantor country of the Astana process, will continue to help the Syrians in the task of changing the constitution within the framework of Security Council Resolution 2254.

Prior to his recent meeting in Moscow with Pederson, Lavrov said that “not all problems have been resolved and there has been no agreement on all matters related to future work, but in general the (Geneva meetings were) very useful and fruitful.”

Arab sources closely monitoring the Syrian situation noted that the Russian foreign minister’s visit to Damascus would be his first since 2012.

They indicated that the Russian delegation is going to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov.

The delegation will also include Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is known not to be a fan of the Syrian regime like Lavrov, according to a prominent Arab figure familiar with the entourage of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, welcomes Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for the talks in Moscow, Russia, on August 30, 2018. (AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, welcomes Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for the talks in Moscow, Russia, on August 30, 2018. (AP)

The trip to Damascus is said to have been decided by Lavrov himself and comes at a time when the Syrian capital is witnessing tensions between the Assad family and the Makhlouf family. In 2013, the Russian foreign minister received his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Moscow and chided him for the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta.

The Arab Weekly has learned that the family feud in the Syrian capital is likely to deepen in light of Mohammad Makhlouf contracting the coronavirus infection.

According to Syrian sources, the life of Mohammad Makhlouf, father of Rami, Hafez, Iyad and Ihab, is in danger due to his old age.

Makhlouf is Bashar Assad’s maternal uncle and has been a powerful influence in Syria for a long time, playing a major role in providing advantages to the Alawite community in Syria in order to buy their loyalty to the regime. In recent years, however, relations between the Assad family and the Makhlouf family have deteriorated dramatically. The Makhlouf clan, now led by Mohammed Makhlouf’s eldest son, Rami, controls a significant part of the Syrian economy.

The tension between the two families was made worse by the rise to prominence of Assad’s wife, Asmaa Akhras Assad, who wanted to take exclusive control of certain lucrative sectors of the Syrian economy traditionally dominated by the Makhlouf family.

A Syrian figure reported that Hafez Makhlouf, a former Syrian security officer, had returned to Damascus after several in exile in Moscow due to disagreements with Assad.

Hafez Makhlouf was next to Bassel Assad, the eldest son of former Syrian President Hafez Assad, in a deadly car accident that killed the latter in 1994. Hafez Makhlouf has returned to Damascus and brought along a Russian medical team to try and save his father.